Published February 28, 2014
A small study has found that a diet high in calories and carbohydrates may improve survival for patients with advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, HealthDay News reported.
A rapidly progressing neurodegenerative disease, ALS attacks the body’s motor neurons – nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. Over time, patients with ALS experience muscle weakness and atrophy, eventually leading to difficulty swallowing or chewing, paralysis, and usually death from respiratory failure.
Because many patients lose the ability to eat on their own, they often require a feeding tube and lose a significant amount of weight. According to study author Dr. Anne-Marie Wills, as ALS patients lose weight, they start burning their own muscle.
"Giving your patients more energy [calories] than they necessarily need or are burning could help them prevent disease progression, and it might actually help improve their survival," Wills, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, told HealthDay News.
In their new study published in The Lancet, Wills and her team conducted a small pilot study of 24 patients who received either a high-calorie, high-carbohydrate diet (HC/HC), a high-fat hypercaloric diet (HF/HC) or a normal diet. They found that patients who received the HC/HC diet had significantly fewer adverse events than the control group and the HF/HC group. Additionally, half of the patients in the control group died during the course of the study, compared to none in the HC/HC group.
Furthermore, those on the HC/HC diet gained some of the weight they had lost and showed a slowing of their disease progression.
Though Wills said their results are far from definitive, she argued that it’s important to closely monitor ALS patients’ weight loss/gain.
"We need larger trials to see if patients should be trying to gain weight, but until that happens, I think all ALS patients should try aggressively to avoid weight loss,” she said.