Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a degenerative neuromuscular disease, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease after the famous baseball player who died from this condition. ALS affects the nervous system and destroys motor neurons (nerve cells that help control movement) while sparing the abilities to see, hear, feel, touch and taste. ALS is characterized by progressive dysfunction resulting in symptoms such as tripping, clumsiness, difficulty talking, slurred speech, muscle cramps, twitching and ultimately, paralysis. The most common cause of death among ALS patients is respiratory failure, which occurs when nerve damage eventually affects the muscles that control breathing. The average survival time after being diagnosed with ALS is three to five years (ALSA 2012).
There are two main forms of ALS: sporadic and familial. The sporadic form comprises 90 percent of all ALS cases. However, many scientists study the familial forms in order to try to understand the mechanisms of the disease. While familial ALS is typically caused by mutations in different genes (including a gene known as SOD1), researchers still do not completely understand the pathogenesis of sporadic ALS. Scientists are pursuing a number of theories including oxidative stress, glutamate toxicity, and mitochondrial dysfunction (Rowland 1994; Cleveland 1999; Rothstein 2009). Other possible risk factors include viral infections (Woodall 2004) and environmental toxins (Mitchell 2000). The current consensus is that many factors may converge to cause the motor neuron damage typified by ALS (Rothstein 2009).
Conventional medicine, which has fared poorly in the treatment of ALS, attempts to lessen symptoms by slowing disease progression. Currently, the only FDA approved drug in the United States for ALS patients is riluzole. Unfortunately, it has been shown to extend human life span by only two to three months (Miller 2007). By adding scientifically studied natural interventions to conventional therapies, one may be able to target pathogenic mechanisms of ALS from multiple angles in hopes of slowing disease progression and improving quality of life.