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ALS is a rare neurological disease that currently has no cure. This article outlines the effect of nutritional supplements on the progression of the disease, some of which have shown to slow down progression of ALS.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rare neurological disease that is characterized by loss of motor neurons, which are nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement.

Currently, there is no cure for ALS. However, it is known that proper nutrition is vital for the health of ALS patients as they are prone to malnutrition and that can worsen muscle weakness.

Hence, studies have looked at the effect of nutritional supplements (such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, natural food supplements, and other products) on the progression of the disease. In particular, researchers have investigated vinpocetine, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, selenium coenzyme Q10, zinc, fish oil, melatonin, creatine, alpha-lipoic acid, and L-carnitine.

1. Vinpocetine 

Vinpocetine, which is extracted from the periwinkle plant, plays a role in stimulating memory by enhancing blood flow in the brain. Vinpocetine is also thought to have neuroprotective properties and, therefore, can potentially help minimize motor neuron symptoms. However, no scientific studies to date have proven its benefits.

2. Vitamin E

Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant, which works to remove toxic substances in the body known as free radicals (which are known to be present at high levels in ALS patients). A clinical trial in 2011 showed that a high-dose of vitamin E can help slow down the progression of ALS. Furthermore, other studies have shown that vitamin E plays a role in the prevention of ALS and can be beneficial for managing symptoms. The recommended dose of vitamin E is 500 mg twice a day.

3. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is another antioxidant that plays a role in strengthening tissue function and maintain bodily function. Vitamin C also helps maintain glutamate levels in the body, a deficiency of which can contribute to nerve cell death.

4. Vitamin B12 

Vitamin B12, scientifically known as methylcobalamin, can help slow down muscle loss. Studies have shown that it is also important for the maintenance of muscles, energy levels, and nerve function.

5. Vitamin D

Similar to other vitamins, vitamin D is an antioxidant with potential neuroprotective properties. One particular study found that ALS patients that consume at least 2,000 IU daily of Vitamin D experienced a slower decline in the ALSFRS functional rating scale. Furthermore, other studies also indicate that vitamin D can help delay the progression of ALS. Vitamin D3, which is obtained from sunlight, is involved in maintenance of bone mass and calcium absorption (which helps maintain healthy bones).

6. Calcium and magnesium 

Intake of calcium and magnesium can help patients remove harmful heavy metals and toxins from the body. Furthermore, these metals work together to support muscle and bone health, which is particularly important for patients with ALS.

7. Selenium

Selenium is a mineral that helps reduce the concentration of mercury and other heavy metals in the body, thereby reducing the burden of toxic materials that have been linked to ALS.

8. Coenzyme Q10 ( CoQ10) 

CoQ10 has neuroprotective properties when taken by patients that have high levels of oxidative damage (caused by free radicals), such as patients with ALS. The recommended dosage for CoQ10 is as high as 3000 mg per day.

9. Zinc and copper 

Zinc and copper are present in high levels in patients with the SOD1 mutation (which is the cause of one of the common forms of genetic ALS). The mutant SOD1 enzyme takes away zinc, leaving only copper which is toxic to motor neurons. Studies that have shown that small amounts of copper with a moderate amount of zinc may help prevent neuron death and taking a moderate amount of both may help stabilize ALS symptoms.

10. Fish oil

As fish oil is rich in omega-3s and essential fatty acids, it can help reduce inflammation in the body, restore dead nerve cells and boost the body’s immune system.

11. Melatonin 

Melatonin is another compound that is also an antioxidant and can help fight free radicals that are high in patients with ALS. The general dosage should not be greater than 5 mg.

12. Creatine 

Creatine is thought to help fight against motor neuron loss in ALS, as well improve survival of patients and motor performance. In particular, creatine is effective when used in combination with some of the other drugs used to treat ALS, such as riluzone, celecoxib or minocycline. Half of the creatine in our body comes from protein breakdown within the body, and the other half comes from diet. Diet rich in creatine includes wild game, lean red meat and fish (particularly herring, salmon, and tuna). The doses of creatine supplements can range from 5-10 mg/day.

13. Alpha-lipoic acid

Alpha-lipoic acid is another antioxidant that has been shown to delay the impairment in motor function in a mouse model of ALS. The dose is likely to be 250 mg three times a day.

14. L-carnitine

This compound stope oxidative damage, delays symptom onset and prolongs motor function in a mouse model of ALS. The recommended dose is 4-8 grams a day.

  • Ascherio, Alberto, et al. "Vitamin E intake and risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis." Annals of Neurology: Official Journal of the American Neurological Association and the Child Neurology Society 57.1 (2005): 104-110.
  • Cameron, Amy, and Jeffrey Rosenfeld. "Nutritional issues and supplements in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other neurodegenerative disorders." Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 5.6 (2002): 631-643.
  • Silani, Vincenzo, Edward J. Kasarskis, and Nobuo Yanagisawa. "Nutritional management in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: a worldwide perspective." Journal of neurology 245.2 (1998): S13-S19.
  • Karam, Chafic, et al. "Vitamin D deficiency and its supplementation in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis." Journal of Clinical Neuroscience 20.11 (2013): 1550-1553.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth.com

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