Could omega-3 fatty acids be the secret to slowing down the progression of ALS in patients who face the rare neurodegenerative disease?
Local researchers have found that consuming omega-3 fatty acids — particularly alpha-linolenic acid, a nutrient found in flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia, canola, and soybean oils — may help put the brakes on the progression of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
According to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, people living with ALS who had higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had a slower decline in physical functionality and lower risk of premature death.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) showed the strongest link to slower disease progression, the researchers found. Those with higher levels of ALA had a 50% lower risk of dying during the 18-month study period compared to those with lower levels of ALA.
Previous research had shown that a diet high in ALA and increased blood levels of this fatty acid may decrease the risk of developing ALS.
“In this study, we found that among people living with ALS, higher blood levels of ALA were also associated with a slower disease progression and a lower risk of death within the study period,” said lead author Kjetil Bjornevik, assistant professor of epidemiology and nutrition.
“These findings, along with our previous research, suggest that this fatty acid may have neuroprotective effects that could benefit people with ALS,” Bjornevik added.
The researchers examined 449 people living with ALS who participated in a clinical trial.
The researchers measured the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in participants’ blood and placed the participants into four groups, from highest to lowest omega-3 fatty acid levels. They then followed up 18 months later to track the groups’ physical functionality and survival according to the clinical trial.
The scientists found that ALA showed the most benefits of all the omega-3 fatty acids, as it was most strongly linked to slower decline and decreased risk of death. Of the 126 participants who died within 18 months of the study’s onset, 33% belonged to the group with the lowest ALA levels, while 19% belonged to the group with the highest ALA levels.
Adjusting for factors, the researchers calculated that participants with the highest levels of ALA had a 50% lower risk of death during the study period compared to participants with the lowest levels of ALA.
Two other fatty acids were also tied to reductions in risk of death during the study period: eicosapentaenoic acid, another omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish and fish oil; and linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
“The link our study found between diet and ALS is intriguing,” said senior author Alberto Ascherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition. “We are now reaching out to clinical investigators to promote a randomized trial to determine whether ALA is beneficial in people with ALS.”