Experts do not know exactly what causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Currently, the disease can’t be prevented, but researchers are looking into the idea of possible prevention methods.

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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This progressive condition affects the motor neurons that control the voluntary muscles in the body. As ALS advances, a person may lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, and move their body.

Eventually, ALS may cause widespread paralysis, ultimately shortening a person’s life. Keep reading to learn more about what causes ALS, whether or not this disease can be prevented, and what risk factors increase your chance of developing it.

Here’s more in-depth information about ALS.

Currently, ALS cannot be prevented.

Researchers point out, however, that ALS shares aspects with the aging process. They propose that lifestyle measures, like eating a healthy diet and prescribing individualized exercise plans, may help with prevention, though far more study is needed.

More specifically, experts share that there’s research supporting the use of certain supplements for both the treatment and potential prevention of the disease.

These supplements include:

Research suggests these supplements may combat inflammation and reduce oxidative stress, thereby delaying the onset of ALS by delaying cell damage. More research is needed to substantiate these claims, but initial reports look promising.

In the meantime, experts say that the best method of addressing ALS is early diagnosis and treatment to prevent advanced motor neuron damage. If you think you may be at risk, consider familiarizing yourself with the early signs of the disease, like muscle twitches, slurred speech, and trouble swallowing.

In some people, ALS is caused by genetic mutations, specifically to the SOD1 or C9ORF72 genes.

Some research suggests that ALS may be triggered by a number of situations, including:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that none of these potential triggers has a solid link in the research.

People with a family history of ALS may be at a slightly higher risk of developing the disease. There are around a dozen gene mutations associated with ALS, which end up being responsible for 5–10% of cases overall.

Current research is targeted at people who have the following situations that put them at higher risk of developing ALS:

  • people with frontotemporal dementia
  • people with motor impairment
  • people with other neurological diseases in the family (like schizophrenia)
  • veterans or others with certain environmental exposures

Additional risk factors:

  • environment: exposure at work or home to things like agricultural chemicals, heavy metals, radiation, and solvents
  • race: risk is increased for white and non-Hispanic people
  • sex: people assigned as male at birth are more likely to develop ALS than people assigned female at birth
  • age: onset can happen at any age but is more likely between ages 55–75

ALS is considered a progressive disease. What this means is that it gets worse over time. While individual outcomes will vary, most people with ALS live for between 3 and 5 years after their symptoms start.

How common is ALS?

ALS is the most common motor neuron disease. It affects up to 31,000 people in the United States with around 5,000 new diagnoses each year.

Is there a cure for ALS?

No. This condition does not have a cure. Treatment is to address symptoms and prolong a person’s life.

At what age does ALS most often crop up?

People have been diagnosed as early as in their 20s to as late as in their 70s. The average age at the time of diagnosis is between 55 and 75 years old.

Researchers are working to discover effective prevention methods for people with risk factors for ALS. More study is needed to support early claims of certain supplements or lifestyle changes that may help. If you have risk factors for ALS, make an appointment with your doctor.

Early detection and treatment can help slow the progress of the disease and improve your quality of life.