Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

February 3, 2017

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a rapidly progressive and a fatal neurological (nervous system) disease that attack nerve cells and causes muscle weakness and physical function. ALS is a disorder that causes death of the nerve cells.

ALS belongs to a group of diseases called motor neuron disease (MND). The nerve cells are called motor neurons and are located in the brain, brain stem, and spinal cord. These neurons serve as controlling units and vital communication links between the nervous system and the voluntary muscles of the body. As ALS progresses, these cells degenerate and die, ceasing to send messages to the muscles hence causing them to weaken and waste away.

ALS is characterized by stiff muscles, muscle twitching (called fasciculation), and gradually worsening weakness due to muscle wasting. This results in creating complications to speak, swallow and eventually breathe. When muscles in the diaphragm and chest will fail, people lose the ability to breathe without ventilator support. Most patients with ALS die from respiratory failure, usually within three to five years from the onset of disease. However, about 10-11% of those with ALS survive for 20 years or more.

ALS usually does not impair a person’s mind or intelligence. Several studies suggest that some people who suffer from this condition have depression or alterations in cognitive functions that involve decision making and memory. Neither does ALS effect a person’s ability to see, hear, and smell, control of eye muscles and bladder bowel functions though, in late stages most people may need help getting to and from bathrooms.

Causes of ALS:

Studies suggest that more than 12000 people in the US have definite diagnosis of ALS. It is one of the most common neuromuscular diseases worldwide, and people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are affected with ALS. It is more common among white males and persons aged 60-69 years, but younger and older people also develop this disease. Men are affected more often than women.

Following are two possible causes of ALS:

  • Gene Mutation: Various genetic mutations can lead to inherited ALS, which appears nearly identical to the non-inherited form.
  • Chemical Imbalance: People with ALS generally have higher than normal levels of glutamate, a chemical massager in the brain, around the nerve cells in their spinal fluid
  • Diagnosed Immune Response: Sometimes a person’s immune system begins attacking some of his/her own body’s normal cells, which may lead to death of nerve cells
  • Protein Mishandling: Mishandled proteins within the nerve cells may lead to gradual accumulation of abnormal forms of these proteins in the cell.

Symptoms of ALS:

The symptoms of ALS differ from person to person. The onset of symptoms may be so slight that at times they get overlooked, until they worsen i.e. to obvious weakness and atrophy. Common symptoms are:

  • Difficulty in carrying out daily activities, including walking or swallowing
  • Increased clumsiness
  • Cramping and twitching in the arms, shoulders, or tongue
  • Uncontrolled outbursts of laughing or crying
  • Weakness in the feet, hands, legs, and ankles
  • Difficulty with breathing
  • Slurring of speech and difficulty with voice projection

Early symptoms include clumsiness, abnormal limb fatigue, twitches, slurred speech, and muscle cramps.

Diagnosis of ALS:

ALS cannot be diagnosed with one single test; although the presence of upper and lower motor neurons signs is strongly suggested. The following tests are generally conducted for ALS:

  • Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction study (NCS) can detect electrical energy in muscles and the ability of nerves to send signals respectively. These tests prove to be a support for the diagnosis of ALS and rule out peripheral neuropathy and myopathy.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) may not reveal the evidence of ALS, but is used to show other problems that could be causing the patient’s symptoms. The problems detected can be spinal cord tumors and herniated discs in the neck.
  • Blood and Urine tests are also conducted at times, as well as tests of spinal fluid samples, extracted with a lumbar puncture.


Nutritional Therapy:

Nutritional Support is important when swallowing becomes an issue. Nutritionist can advise patients and caretakers on ways of replacing meals in order to make it easier to swallow. Suction devices and feeding tubes are employed in some cases if needed.

Medication for ALS:

Riluzole (Rilutek) is believed to reduce the damage of motor neurons by decreasing the release of glutamate. Research shows that riluzoleprolongs survival by several months. Riluzole does not reverse the damage already caused to the motor neurons and the patients taking doses of it must be monitored liver damage and other possible side effects, such as dizziness, gastrointestinal conditions, etc.

Baclofen (Lioresal) or tizandine (zanaflex) may also be prescribed, but its side effects include weakness, sedation and dizziness. Nonsterodial anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen may relieve general discomfort, but due to potentially severe gastrointestinal and cardiovascular side effects its intake should be only as instructed. Tramadol (Ultram) is often prescribed for pain relief.

Natural Supplements for ALS:

  • Vitamin C supports many bodily functions. Besides strengthening the immune system, it also strengthens deteriorating connective tissue. Vitamin C is also instrumental in detoxifying the body.
  • Calcium and Magnesium are essential supplements, as they stabilize aluminum and mercury, excessive amounts of which have been found in people with ALS. ALS patients have been found to have low levels of these important minerals.
  • B-Complex Vitamins and Vitamin E play an important role in muscle nerve function
  • Creatin has shown to be effective in increasing strength in those suffering with neuromuscular disorders.
  • Acupuncture is thought to be beneficial for nervous system function.
  • Herbs such as Lady’s slipper, Kava Kava, Valerian Root, Butcher;s Broom, Chamomile, Blue Vervian, and Passionflower help in repairing nerves.
  • Cayanne, Ginger, Cinnamon, Periwinkle, Manjishta Chaparral, Goldenseal root and comfrey root counteract sclerosis
  • ALS sufferers have too much acid in their system, due to poor diet. Therfore they ar recommended to follow an alkaline diet.
  • Spirulina and Chlorella help repair damaged cells.
  • Milk thistle, turmeric root, and dandelion root are instrumental in detoxing the liver

Eating and leading a life according to the needs of both our cells and biological equipment, correcting its deficiencies and imbalances, ultimately cure ALS.