The health benefits of eating a healthy balanced diet now extend to fighting off debilitating illness.
Researchers say foods like fruits and vegetables, that are high in antioxidant nutrients and carotenoids, can slow the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the baseball player diagnosed in 1939.
A study conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and published in JAMA Neurology says ALS patients who took part in this type of diet had improved functioning at the time of diagnosis.
The study was among the first to examine diet in association with ALS function.
ALS, a severe neurodegenerative disorder, causes atrophy, paralysis and eventually respiratory failure. While 10 to 20 percent of patients can live longer than 10 years, the median survival for ALS patients ranges only from 20 to 48 months.
More than 300 participants recruited at 16 clinical centers throughout the United States completed a questionnaire which tracked nutrient intake. Then, the links between nutritional intake and the severity of ALS for patients, with symptoms for 18 months or less were examined. This provided a measure of ALS severity and respiratory function.
“It appears that nutrition plays a role both in triggering the disease and why it progresses,” said Dr. Jeri W. Nieves, PhD associated professor of Epidemiology, who along with the co-authors conducted the study. “For this reason, ALS patients should eat foods high in antioxidants and carotenes, as well as high fiber grains, fish, and poultry.”
Other dietary food groups adversely affected ALS patients. Researchers found that milk and lunch meats resulted in lower measures of function and more severe disease symptoms.
“The foods and nutrients that may help reduce the severity of ALS are very similar to the recommendation to prevent many other chronic diseases,” added Dr. Nieves.
The study may not be completely representative of an actual daily diet. But Dr. Nieves believes that those who manage the nutritional care of ALS patients should still recommend a diet high in fruits and vegetables for the benefits of the antioxidants and carotenes.
“Future studies will look at follow-up data on both dietary intake and progression of ALS,” said Dr. Nieves.