Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that may reduce the course of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease—a neurological disease that impacts motor neurons.
According to research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that was published in the journal Neurology, ALA, a nutrient that can be found in foods like flaxseeds, walnuts, chia, canola, and soybean oils, can aid in the treatment of ALS.
Since our bodies cannot produce ALA independently, it is absorbed from foods, drinks, or supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids play a significant role in the membranes that enclose each cell in our body.
They have several functions, including in the heart, blood vessels, lungs, and immune system, in addition to providing calories that provide body energy.
"Prior findings from our research group have 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," says lead author Kjetil Bjornevik.
"These findings, along with our previous research, suggest that this fatty acid may have neuroprotective effects that could benefit people with ALS."
How was the study conducted?
In the clinical study, 449 ALS patients were examined. Researchers determined the subjects' blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and divided them into four groups, ranging in omega-3 fatty acid levels from highest to lowest. The groups' physical functioning and survival per the clinical experiment were monitored 18 months later.
Of all the omega-3 fatty acids, they discovered that ALA had the most positive effects since it was most closely associated with a slower rate of aging and a reduced chance of mortality. Thirty-three percent of the 126 people who passed away within 18 months of the study's start belonged to the group with the lowest levels of ALA, whereas only 19% belonged to the group with the highest levels.
The researchers found that people with the most significant levels of ALA had a 50% reduced chance of mortality throughout the study period compared to those with the lowest levels of ALA after controlling for variables such as age, sex, ethnicity, BMI, symptom duration, and family history of ALS.
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, were two more fatty acids that were linked to decreased risk of mortality over the research period.
Senior author Alberto Ascherio concludes: "The link our study found between diet and ALS is intriguing."
"We are now reaching out to clinical investigators to promote a randomized trial to determine whether ALA is beneficial in people with ALS. Obtaining funding will be challenging because ALA is not a patentable drug, but we hope to get it done."
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Omega-3 fatty acids linked with slower progression of ALS
- National Institute of Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution