Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – Everything You Need to Know
What prompts your thoughts when you hear the mention of Stephen Hawking?
You can doubtlessly associate Hawking with his revolutionary research on general relativity (GR) and quantum mechanics (QM). As you may know, he was a research director at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology until his death in 2018. The center is at the University of Cambridge.
You may also know that Stephen Hawking lived a better part of his life ailing from a motor neuron disorder. He endured ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) or Lou Gehrig's disease doing what he loved most, theoretical cosmology research. Doctors gave Mr. Hawking a lifespan of two to three years after diagnosing him with ALS, only to beat them by living beyond 50 years.
What is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)?
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a degenerative disease of the nerve cells that keep on advancing with severe symptoms. The disease affects the functioning of the nerves and voluntary muscle movement.
The eponym of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is Lou Gehrig's disease, named after the famous American baseball player Henry Louis Gehrig. Gehrig died from ALS about three years after diagnosis.
When ALS affects the nerve cells, the brain fails to transmit messages to the spinal cord, and then to the muscles.
What does Amyotrophic mean?
The word amyotrophic, when broken down, means muscle nourishment - with "myo" meaning muscle and "trophic" meaning nourishment. In ALS, the motor neurons die from a lack of nourishment. Due to inactive neurons, no messages can be sent to move the muscles. The muscle immobility can lead to muscle atrophy over time, a condition of the muscles that can cause ALS and eventually paralyze.
Other diseases that affect motor neurons include progressive muscular atrophy, progressive bulbar palsy, and primary lateral sclerosis. (We will discuss in detail in a later article).Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Facts
ALS is one of the rare motor neuron diseases caused by gradual degeneration by deteriorating and dying of motor neurons. Motor neurons are the nerve cells that connect the brain, spinal cord, and muscles.
Other motor neuron diseases include:
- Primary lateral sclerosis
- Pseudobulbar palsy
- Progressive bulbar palsy
- Progressive muscular atrophy
- Spinal muscular atrophy
Two types of motor neurons that control the muscles movements are:
- Upper motor neurons which are brain nerve cells
- Lower motor neurons which are the spinal cord nerve cells
Approximately, 15 new diagnosed cases of ALS are diagnosed daily. The data translates to about 5,600 people with ALS yearly. The disease causes two deaths in 100,000 people annually.
The condition begins as a simple muscle twitching, progressing to limb weakness, slurred speech, and eventually loss of muscle control. The symptoms continue advancing to paralyzing all the muscles.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is not contagious. Neither does the disease affect the mental state of the patient. The brain and all the senses continue functioning as the disease advances.
The deterioration of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord affects the activation of the muscles. The condition weakens body functions such as walking, talking, eating, swallowing, and breathing.
There are two types of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis:
Sporadic ALS – It is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that occurs without any history in the family. Between 90 and 95 percent of ALS cases are sporadic. The disease happens randomly with no apparent cause or risk factor. Sporadic ALS patients show symptoms in the late fifties to early sixties.
Familial ALS – It is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that is inherited. 5 to 10 percent of ALS cases are familial type. The familial ALS rarely develops symptoms in childhood or at the teenage. Signs and symptoms can first appear in the late forties to early fifties.The word amyotrophic, when broken down, means muscle nourishment - with "myo" meaning muscle and "trophic" meaning nourishment. In ALS, the motor neurons die from a lack of nourishment. Due to inactive neurons, no messages can be sent to move the muscles. The muscle immobility can lead to muscle atrophy over time, a condition of the muscles that can cause ALS and eventually paralyze.
Other diseases that affect motor neurons include progressive muscular atrophy, progressive bulbar palsy, and primary lateral sclerosis. (We will discuss in detail in a later article).
What Causes ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis)?
Body muscles can malfunction when ALS affects the nerve cells in the gut, brain and spinal cord.
Some factors are suspected to cause ALS:Genetic Factor
About 10 percent of people who have ALS may have inherited the disease.Immune Abnormalities
Some studies have shown immune abnormalities affecting the central nervous system, the blood, and cerebrospinal fluid of a patient with ALS. The abnormal immune response could damage nerve cells and hence cause ALS.Dysfunctional Proteostasis
Proteostasis is the proper regulation production and degradation of protein in the body. The process is essential for cell health and survival. Failure of the nerve cells to process proteins correctly can cause dysfunctional proteostasis.
Dysfunctional proteostasis or proteostasis collapse can damage the nerve cells leading to a high possibility of motor neuron disease such as ALS.Glutamate Receptor Imbalance
Glutamate plays an essential role in stimulating brain cells. It is a neurotransmitter that enables you to process information, to learn, think, or talk.
A high concentration of glutamate receptors can cause inflammation of the brain and nerve cells. The occurrence can lead to chronic neurodegenerative (neuron) diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
What are the Risk Factors of ALS?
Some risk factors associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) include:
Mid-aged people between 40 and mid 60 years old are at high risk of ALS.
There is a high risk of men developing ALS than women. The ALS prevalence in male then begins to decrease at 70 years.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Hereditary
About10 percent of people with ALS are likely to have inherited the disease from parents. There is a 50 percent likelihood of developing ALS from your parent which makes ALS a hereditary risk.
Genetics is another risk factor for ALS. Some genes are known to associate and identify with familial ALS. The GSTP1 and the EPHX1 SNP can affect your possibility of triggering ALS. We do DNA health testing which could help detect this potential and many others. If you are concerned that you might have the possibility, then give us a call and we can set up a DNA health assessment test.Antibiotics
One study of 2019 concludes that repeated use of antibiotics can be a high risk of ALS linked to gut health. If you are concerned about the high use of antibiotics you could come in for an assessment or phone for a consultation. Nature provides alternatives for all kinds of infections, detoxing and nourishing.
Environmental Exposure to Toxins
There is a high possibility that exposure to environmental toxins such as lead and other toxic substances can cause ALS. The toxins risk factor mostly affects military and sports players. Further study on the environmental toxins risk factor is still underway.
We recommend a Live Blood Analysis and scan to look for Heavy Metals in the body.Lifestyle Risk Factors
Some ALS lifestyle risk factors include:Smoking
Smoking is a lifestyle risk factor although still under further research and studies. One analysis reports that smoking women in post-menopausal age are at risk of ALS than any other age.Body Mass Index
A lower body mass index is a risk factor of ALS according to one Swedish study. A higher BMI rate of reduction has been a prognosis indicator after diagnosing ALS.Vigorous Physical Fitness
Some studies have indicated that there is a high risk of ALS among footballers, athletes, and other individuals in strenuous physical activities. Take the case of the famous baseball player Lou Gehrig. His vigorous physical activities could have caused ALS.Chronic Trauma
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Early Symptoms
Symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are a gradual onset. However, it is essential to note the initial suspected signs of ALS so that you can arrest the condition before generating into other uncontrollable symptoms.
Some of the initial signs of ALS include:
- Muscles twitching
- Intermittent slurred speech
- Limbs weakness
Other gradual symptoms vary with each individual. Some of the common symptoms include:
- Whole leg weakness especially at the foot or the ankles
- Hand weakness and lack of muscle coordination causing clumsiness
- Muscles twitching and cramps of the arms, shoulders, and tongue
- Trouble swallowing
- Slurred speech
- Trouble breathing
- Crying, laughing and yawning inappropriately
ALS does not cause numbness or loss of sense of feeling and hence the patient can feel pain when hurt.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Diagnosis
ALS is a challenging disease to diagnose at once and conclude the findings. The doctor would require various tests and full details of the signs and symptoms you are experiencing. The doctor would include a physical examination to note any physical signs.
The early stage of ALS might reveal signs and symptoms similar to other motor neuron disorders. Further tests would be necessary to ascertain and establish the particular ailment causing the symptoms. The examinations would include:Electromyogram (EMG) Muscles Test
Your doctor would conduct muscle fibers tests by inserting an electrode needle into the muscle tissue. This process detects electrical activity on muscles contracting and relaxing. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis EMG testing can pick any abnormalities or unresponsive muscles.Muscles Biopsy
Through tests such as EMG, your doctor notes any problem with the muscles. Further examination would be necessary to rule out other neuron diseases.
Your doctor may then suggest a muscle biopsy. Muscle biopsy is the removal of a portion of your muscle for analysis.Nerve Conducting Study (NCS)
NCS is a test to check any electrical activity on the ability of the nerves in sending signals through the nerves to the muscles. Some abnormalities in transmitting nerve signals could translate to possible peripheral nerve impairment (peripheral neuropathy). Also, it can be a muscle disease (myopathy) instead of ALS.
Further tests would help in a correct diagnosis to establish the disease causing the symptoms.Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test your doctor may choose to conduct to get all the brain and the spinal cord details. The Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis MRI would produce real images by using a magnetic field and radio waves.
The test can also reveal other abnormalities such as a tumor in the spinal cord, spinal cord cyst, or neck herniated disk that can share symptoms with ALS.Laboratory Tests
Your doctor can order laboratory blood and urine tests to check out other health conditions that might be causing the same signs and symptoms as ALS.Spinal Tap
A spinal tap is a process of removing some spinal fluid for samples in laboratory testing. The process involves inserting a needle in your spinal cord between two lower back vertebrae. Your health practitioner would use a special needle to draw the spinal fluid for testing.Other Tests
Other tests may include:
- Swallowing examination to check on the performance of throat muscles
- Breathing examination to check on the health of lung muscles
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis genetic testing
What is the Treatment for ALS?
So far, there has been no record of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cure but, research and study are ongoing to come up with a long-awaited cure. It is, therefore, essential to control symptoms and to prevent the generation of other severe ones.
It is crucial to living the best life as much as you can to compensate for the challenging moments when dealing with symptoms.
Therefore, the treatments mentioned below would alleviate some of the symptoms, slow the disease degeneration, and prevent other health issues that might weaken the body further.Medication
Your doctor can prescribe some drugs that would help in managing ALS symptoms. Some of the symptoms are stiffness, muscle cramps, excessive saliva, and uncontrollable emotions such as crying or laughing.
The doctor can also prescribe medications to ease the pain, depression, constipation, and other symptoms.Physical Therapy
Low impact activities such as walking, stationary bicycling, and swimming would help in maintaining cardiovascular health. Exercises can also strengthen and maintain the unaffected muscles to deal with depression and fatigue.
Physical therapy such as stretching exercises can help to prevent painful, shortened muscle, and stiffness due to spasticity. Spasticity is a condition where muscle contract continuously due to brain damage. The muscle stiffness and hence hinder movement.
Consult a professional therapist to assess or suggest the devices to use for easy mobility and other movements. The occupational therapist can then suggest the best therapy procedures to undertake the particular ALS stage.Speech Therapy
Consult a speech therapist to assist in teaching adaptive ways to communicate effectively. The speech therapist can also suggest any essential device or aiding tool that would help in communication depending on the progression of the disease.Breathing Support
ALS degenerates to weaken breathing muscles and sometimes shortness of breath which can be a challenge to breathing especially during physical activity. Your doctor may recommend the use of noninvasive ventilation (NIV). NIV can extend the survival of ALS patients.
In a critical stage of ALS, the breathing muscles can weaken more. Your doctor may recommend the use of a respirator (mechanical ventilation) to inflate and deflate the lungs to assist breathing.Nutritional Support
A person with ALS would need a special diet that would boost energy and BMI (body mass index which defines the body mass in kg). While striving for the right nutrition, emphasis should be on providing enough fluids, fiber-rich food, and enough calories.
At a complicated stage of ALS, swallowing muscles may be affected. Provide easy-to-swallow soft foods to avoid choking. When swallowing seems to be difficult, your doctor can suggest the use of a feeding tube to support feeding.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
ALS symptoms management is slowly improving. Despite various studies and research by scientists, conventional treatment for ALS is yet to be formulated.
Complementary and alternative therapies have significant improvement with successful results in the wellbeing of ALS patients.
There is a link between ALS, weight loss, and low BMI (body mass index). Weight loss weakens the patient which can lead to death within the 2nd to the 5th year of diagnosis.
One study reports that ALS patients who use supplements report significant improvement in weight gain and vitality. The successful supplements have antioxidants, which can be beneficial for ALS patients. Some of the supplements include:
Catechins – Strong antioxidants that destroy free radicals in the brain tissue to increase nerve cell protection.
Omega-3 fatty acids – reduces damaging and inflammation of the nerve cells by toxins and chemical imbalances.
Vitamin A – Retinoic acid in vitamin A is essential in motor nerve development and activity. Vitamin A is, therefore, a critical nutrient in the brain development.
Vitamin E – Vitamin E can delay ALS symptoms onset and also prevent ALS development. However, you must observe caution when using vitamin E as it can cause bleeding risk. Consult your health professional on how to use it.
CBD oil from hemp – cannabinoids in CBD oil from hemp can benefit the patient therapeutically by slowing ALS disease progression. Cannabinoids are antioxidants and hence effective in managing ALS symptoms successfully.
Acupuncture – Acupuncture treatment for motor neuron disease has proved to be successful. The method can be useful in treating, reversing, or stopping the ALS symptoms from progressing.
Acutherapy – Acutherapy differs from Acupuncture. It simultaneously produces mechanical, thermal and electrical stimuli that work together to create a chain of electrochemical reactions. This sets off a chain of electrochemical reactions that stimulates the production of neurotransmitters.
The messages are sent to the brain to organize the proper peptides to restore the body to its homeostatic (physical and chemical) state. This method activates the neurotransmitter response to the brain and in turn helps new muscle memory response.
Chelation – Chelation is the process of removing heavy metals from the body and further removing metal toxins. We recommend herbal chelation which is much easier on the body and not as invasive. Please contact us and we can recommend a treatment.
Island Healthwork's Recommended Two-Part Therapy
1.Healing Leaky Gut and Digestion
Work on healing leaky gut and digestion first. There are more neurotransmitters in the gut than in the brain & spine combined. We look at gut health first. If the gut isn't healthy the brain cannot function well and the neurotransmitters can be affected. The leaky gut needs to be repaired before getting healed.
UltraBiome DTX - improves critical gut and intestinal function and primes detoxification pathways to help eliminate toxins. It also fuels the growth of healthy bacteria, supporting microbiome balance and healthy intestinal permeability, by strengthening and tightening the gut's cellular wall.
Bacillus Coagulans - is an earth spore probiotic that is naturally heat-stable.
Protein Digestive Aid - supplements the body's own digestive secretions. It is designed to help individuals break down and better digest proteins.
Rejuvenaid - Helps in energy metabolism and tissue formation. Helps in collagen formation to maintain healthy bones, cartilage, teeth and/or gums. Helps to maintain proper muscle function and tissue formation.
2.Repairing the Damage
Repairing the damage that has been done by the neurotransmitters not firing and communicating with the body. We recommend the following:
Gotu Kola - promotes circulation and supports connective tissues. Provides nervous system support.
Collatrim - is a product containing bovine collagen—the fibrous protein in bones, tendons, and connective tissues.
Chi-Toni Mineral Formula - Tonic herbs balance the meridians as well as nourish the adrenal glands, major managers of energy powering the "electric" human body. Minerals, particularly those known as the electrolytes (potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium) have positive and negative electrical charges.
The electrolytes are responsible for every electrochemical reaction in the body, from muscle contractions to the firing of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Magnesium Complex - is essential for calcium absorption, as well as for every biological function, including glucose metabolism, production, and balance of cellular energy, and muscle function.
Some complications can occur due to ALS such as:
- Breathing problem
- Eating problem
- Speaking problem
- Choking from food or fluids which can be fatal
- Weight loss and low BMI (Body Mass Index)
- Pressure sores due to prolong sitting
Although ALS prevention remains under observation, there are some proven ways to prevent and slow ALS progression.Eating the Right Nutrients
Daily use of vitamin E supplements can reduce the chances of getting sporadic ALS disease.Retinol Binding Protein 4 (RBP4) and Vitamin A
Retinoic acid in vitamin A is essential in motor nerve development and activity. Vitamin A is, therefore, a critical nutrient in the brain development.
RBP4 (retinol-binding protein 4) is a transporter for vitamin A or retinol. According to one German study, a high protein RBP4 level in the body significantly protects the body from ALS developing and progressing.
The study then suggests that protein RBP4 could be effective in protecting against ALS disease and probably a future therapy for treating ALS.Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Possible causes of ALS disease may include:
Chemical imbalances - high level of glutamate, a brain chemical messenger near the motor neurons. The imbalance can cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord nerve cells.
Immune abnormalities – Some studies have shown immune defects such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis autoimmune which can affect the central nervous system, the blood, and cerebrospinal fluid. The abnormal immune response can damage nerve cells causing ALS.
This is why it is so important to make lifestyle changes that can support your immune system and other immune disorders. DNA health testing is a fabulous way to find out if you have the potential. Once this has been determined, it's relatively easy to find the exact supplementation for your personal needs.Who is most likely to get ALS?
The following are at high risk of getting ALS:
Age - Ages between 55 and 75 years are more likely to develop symptoms, although on infrequent occasions other age groups can also reveal the symptoms.
Gender – Men are more likely to develop ALS disease than women.
Ethnicity and race – Non-Hispanics and Caucasians are more likely to develop ALS disease than others.Does ALS go into remission?
Although the symptoms may not show at an early age and especially with Familial (genetic) ALS, the symptoms will show eventually. The symptoms may remain the same for a specified period. Later the symptoms may begin progressing until death within two to five years and on rare occasions longer than that.Conclusion
ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that can leave you and your family or caregivers exhausted, frustrated, and sometimes depressed.
Quality life and eating high nutrient food can prevent ALS or delay symptom progression. Use supplements to boost some of your body's nutritional demands that you may lack in your regular feeding.
Not all vitamins and supplements you buy over-the-counter would meet the required nutrition standards. It is essential to use high-quality controlled herbs and supplements to ensure you get the necessary uncompromised nutrients.
Nature has all the answers to your condition. Using organic nutritional foods, vitamins, supplements, and natural herbal products is vital in supporting your body's immune system.
Remember, "Health is Wealth."
Elizabeth Njuguna: Researcher, Freelance Writer, with a Focus on Natural Health.
Sherry Robb: Print, Web and Social Media Designer Specializing in the Natural Health and Fitness Industries.
To learn more, contact Yvonne Dollard Perc at Island Healthworks. Yvonne offers phone consultations where she will develop an individualized health care program and lifestyle plan tailored to your specific needs through a personal health and lifestyle analysis.
Call 250-468-7685 to speak with Yvonne and set up a phone consultation!
Yvonne offers in-person consultations with assessment of your specific needs, health and lifestyle coaching, and the best of integrative natural health care. To book your in person consultation, please call 250-468-7685!
This article is intended for educational purposes and the information contained within is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any disease or health problem. Please seek appropriate medical attention for any health complaints. We cannot take responsibility for your health care decisions. Our intent is only to offer health information to help you with your search for better health.