Recent study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggests that a diet high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) may have potential benefits for individuals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells responsible for controlling muscle movement.
The lead author, Kjetil Bjornevik, mentions that higher blood levels of ALA were associated with a slower disease progression and hence, lower risk of death among people living with ALS.
Omega-3 fatty acids’ impact on symptoms and survival
For clinal trial, researchers enrolled nearly 449 individuals living with ALS.
The severity of their symptoms and the progression of the disease were assessed. Accordingly, they were scored on a scale from 0 to 40, with higher scores indicating milder symptoms.
The levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the participants’ blood were also measured.
Omega-3 fatty acids, including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid. It is found in certain foods such as flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and fatty fish.
Based on the omega-3 fatty acid levels in their blood, the participants were divided into four groups, ranging from the highest to the lowest levels of these fatty acids.
The study then followed up with the participants after a gap of 18 months. Evaluation was done on the following two main areas
- their physical functionality
- survival outcomes
The trail was done to investigate the association between omega-3 fatty acid levels, specifically ALA, and the progression of ALS symptoms.
The study observed that of the 126 participants who died within the 18-month study period,
- 33% belonged to the group with the lowest levels of ALA
- While, 19% belonged to the group with the highest levels of ALA
This suggests that higher ALA levels in the blood were associated with a lower risk of death.
To ensure the validity of these results, the researchers adjusted for various factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, body mass index (BMI), symptom duration, and family history of ALS.
By taking these factors into account, the researchers aimed to isolate the impact of ALA levels on disease progression and survival outcomes.
Finally, the researchers concluded that higher blood levels of ALA were associated with slower disease progression. And consequently, a reduced risk of death.
Balanced intake of different types of fatty acids
The study’s senior author, Alberto Ascherio, emphasizes the intriguing connection between diet and ALS based on the findings.
The study not only identified the benefits of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) but also revealed that two other fatty acids were associated with a reduced risk of death during the study period. These fatty acids are:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): it is also an omega-3 fatty acid. It is found in fatty fish and fish oil.
- Linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
Therefore, it highlights the potential importance of a balanced intake of different types of fatty acids for individuals with ALS.
Although the research surfaces the potential benefits of ALA in people with ALS. Yet it is important to note that further research is needed to establish a causal relationship between ALA and ALS outcomes.
Conducting randomized controlled trials would provide more definitive evidence regarding the potential benefits of ALA for people with ALS.
Nevertheless, these findings offer a promising avenue for future investigation and support the notion that dietary interventions, may have a role in managing ALS progression.