Since the much-publicized battle of baseball legend Lou Gehrig, ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, has persisted as a dreadful diagnosis. ALS destroys the nerves of the body, leaving the muscles weak and eventually paralyzed. Medicine has yet to uncover anything of significant help for this disease, however, an integrative approach may slow the progression of this otherwise grim prognosis.
The public saw the harsh reality of ALS when it took Lou Gehrig, a famous New York Yankee, as a victim. His record for most consecutive games played stood for decades. But once he started to show signs of ALS, he passed away within a few years. This has been the case for many, succumbing to loss of nerve function, weakness, paralysis and eventually death. Treatment has been bleak. Even nutritional approaches have not shown the success seen in many other chronic illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes.
Lithium is one of the few key nutrients found to slow the progression of ALS, perhaps even halt it [Source: Fornai]. This is wonderful news as nearly all attempts at medications, vitamins and supplements have fallen short. Lithium may help other nutrients work better as well. This nutrient was given in dosages needed to achieve blood levels of 0.4-0.8 mEq/liter (measured through blood testing). Lithium of this strength is available only by prescription, and at this level is typically well tolerated. Higher dosages are used for bipolar disorder, and are linked to tremors, high blood pressure or kidney problems. Lithium treatment should be monitored by a doctor, though many are still unaware of this research.
Again, many nutrients have been enlisted to try and combat ALS, with little success. The following do show promise.
- Creatine. Animal studies have shown prolonged survival with creatine powder. Human studies have not demonstrated much benefit, but the dosage used was small [Source: Shefner]. Dosage suggestions for creatine would be 5 g taken 3 times a day or 10 g twice a day.
- CoQ10. CoQ10 feeds the powerhouse of our cells, the mitochondria. It is used to fight many chronic diseases, including Parkinson’s disease. It is well tolerated in very high dosages and research is pending on its benefit for ALS [Source: Ferrante]. Dosage should be 300-400 mg daily.
- Vitamin D. This nutrient is very important for the brain. Dosage is 2,000-3,000 IU daily, with food.
Other nutrients, such as a good multivitamin, vitamin E, and alpha lipoic acid may also be helpful, though no nutrient other than lithium has really demonstrated significant success as a stand alone treatment for ALS.
Major concerns in relation to ALS are an overexposure to toxins such as pesticides, heavy metals and gasoline [Source: Kamel]. Various toxins damage nerves and the parts of the cells that make energy (like the mitochondria). ALS patients may lack the ability to handle these toxins and then fall into a cycle of chronic nerve damage. To be safe, everyone should take care to avoid direct exposure to toxins. Limit use of pesticides and herbicides and never handle them without gloves. Don’t use any chemicals, like paint, in a poorly ventilated area. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to keep the liver’s ability to detoxify optimized. Stay well hydrated with water and avoid artificial sweeteners and MSG (monosodium glutamate), a common ingredient used in processed foods. Basically, all suggestions for keeping a person active and healthy become drastically more important in a patient with ALS.
Another consideration for patients suffering from the symptoms of ALS is gluten intolerance. A case report from 2007 described a patient diagnosed with ALS, having its classic presentation. Further workup determined that it was in fact celiac disease and a gluten-free diet resulted in symptomatic improvement [Source: Turner].