Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a rare condition that affects the function of nerves and muscles. A little over 5,000 cases of ALS are diagnosed each year. In 5 to 10 percent of cases, ALS is considered hereditary, while the rest of cases have no known cause.
There is a need for increased awareness of what ALS is, what causes it, and whether it can be prevented so more people can recognize its symptoms and implement ALS prevention measures in their lives.1 It’s a very challenging disease that has broad-reaching impact on the people living with ALS, their families, friends and communities. Our family at Jenny Craig has been impacted by this disease, and we hope that by bringing awareness to ALS, we can help support the pursuit of a cure.
Read on as we discuss ALS symptoms, risk factors and research around ALS prevention.
The word “amyotrophic” is rooted in Greek and provides clues to ALS’ side effects. According to the ALS Association, “a" means “no.” "Myo" refers to muscle and "trophic" means nourishment. Together, these elements are translated as "no muscle nourishment.”
ALS is a neurodegenerative disease, where the nervous system’s or brain’s cells lose their ability to function.2 ALS is progressive in nature, meaning that it becomes more severe as it develops. ALS affects the nerve cells in both the spinal cord and the brain. When an individual develops ALS, muscles begin to lose their nourishment, which leads to muscle atrophy. As muscles atrophy, their fibers shrink, which causes them to slowly deteriorate.3
As its name indicates, ALS affects the lateral area of the spinal cord. This lateral region houses the portions of nerve cells that control and signal muscles within the body. As nerve cell degeneration occurs, the area becomes hardened or scarred, which is referred to as sclerosis.4
Two types of ALS
There are two different types of ALS that can affect individuals: sporadic ALS or familial ALS.
- Sporadic ALS: is the most common form of ALS in the United States and accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all cases. Sporadic ALS can manifest itself in anyone at any given time during their life.5
- Familial ALS: is inherited. In families with a history of familial ALS, there is a 50 percent chance that a child will inherit the gene for ALS and may develop the disease. Familial ALS accounts for five to ten percent of all ALS cases in the United States.5
Common symptoms of ALS
ALS symptoms can vary depending upon how quickly the disease progresses and the unique manifestation of its symptoms.6 However, the ALS Association identifies several common symptoms associated with the onset of ALS, including:
- Progressive muscle weakness
- Dropping things
- Abnormal fatigue of the arms and/or legs
- Slurred speech
- Muscle cramps and twitches
As ALS progresses, individuals typically experience muscle weakness and paralysis. Once the muscles that control breathing are impacted, individuals with ALS often require permanent support to assist with and maintain normal breathing patterns.6
ALS risk factors
While there is still much to learn about this disease, scientists and researchers have been able to identify several risk factors:
- ALS often develops in individuals between the ages of 40 and 70 and the average age of diagnosis is 55.
- Military veterans are roughly twice as likely to develop ALS compared to the general public. Researchers believe this may be connected to physical trauma or exposure to toxins.7
- ALS is 20 percent more likely to occur in men than in women.8
With this knowledge, recent studies continue to uncover information about treatments and methods to reduce the risks of developing ALS.
Reducing the risk for developing ALS
Scientists and researchers have not yet found methods to prevent or cure ALS, but they continue to make progress with different treatments and medications to lessen the risk of its development and ease its symptoms. One study published in the Annals of Neurology indicated that a greater consumption of carotenoids, specifically beta-carotene, may be associated with a reduced risk of ALS.9 Beta-carotene is found naturally in pumpkin, spinach, sweet potato, collard greens, kale, turnips, winter squash, and cantaloupe.10 Adding more of these foods to your diet is a healthy way to get more essential vitamins and antioxidants and maybe help fight against developing or potentially delaying this disease.11
Raising awareness with Augie’s Quest
One of Jenny Craig’s board members, Augie Nieto, was diagnosed with ALS in March 2005. As one of the most successful innovators and entrepreneurs in the fitness industry, Augie’s diagnosis of ALS gave him a new mission: conquering his devastating disease. Augie’s Quest, together with the ALS Therapy Development Institute, is an aggressive, cure-driven effort singularly focused on ALS treatments and cures. To date, the nonprofit institute has identified a potential treatment for the disease, developed in-depth research databases, and launched the Precision Medical Program to bridge the gap between scientists and those with ALS.11
If you’re interested in helping to find a cure, you can donate to Augie’s quest here. 100% of your donation will go directly to help fund research to develop treatments to end ALS. We appreciate your support!
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. A San Diego native and an endurance sports enthusiast, you can usually find her swimming, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple.
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and reviewed by certified professionals.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.