Breakthrough ALS Blog
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New Research: Eating More Fruits and Veggies Can Lower ALS Risk
Scientists have previously concluded that a healthy diet, one rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, can help reduce the risk of various health issues, including cancer and heart disease. Research shows that a diet filled with carotenoids, which is found in many fruits and vegetables, can also reduce the risk of ALS.
ALS is a neurological, degenerative and fatal disease, so the new evidence suggesting that an antioxidant-rich diet could prevent the disease is certainly significant.
Dr. Alberto Ascherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and his team analyzed data from five long-running studies that contained a total of one-million+ participants. The researchers used data from five different groups: the National Institutes of Health (NIH), AARP Diet and Health Study, the Cancer Prevention Study II-Nutrition Cohort, the Multiethnic Cohort, the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses' Health Study. The results of these studies were published in the Annals of Neurology.
The scientists examined participants' nutrition habits and health issues to determine how (and if) diet impacted ALS development. The researchers found that people whose diets were high in carotenoids were less likely to develop ALS than people who ate diets low in these nutrients.
Carotenoids are antioxidant compounds that help prevent some illnesses and enhance the immune response to fight infections. Carotenoids give fruits and vegetables their red, yellow, bright orange or deep green colors.
Some carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, convert into vitamin A in the body, while others can increase levels of vitamins C and E. Bright-orange beta-carotene is the most important carotenoid for adequate vitamin A. Carotenoids are found in red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots and summer squash.
Some carotenoids, such as lycopene, don't convert to vitamin A, but are still considered to be powerful antioxidants and relevant to reducing ALS risk. Lycopene-rich foods include tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and red cabbage.
Lutein, an oxygen-rich carotenoid, is found in deep green vegetables like broccoli. Foods like kale, collards, pumpkin, spinach and Brussels sprouts contain both beta carotene and lutein.
The study also showed that a diet rich in vitamin C, found in oranges and sweet peppers, did not lower ALS risk. Similarly, Vitamin C supplements taken over a long period of time were not shown to reduce the risk of developing this disease.
The researchers found that people who ate a diet filled with healthy carotenoids were generally more educated and adopted other healthy habits, as well. For instance, this population tended to consume higher levels of vitamins overall. They were also more likely to exercise regularly and to hold an advanced educational degree.
Approximately 20,000-30,000 Americans have ALS currently, and thousands more are diagnosed with the disease each year.