rich in calories and carbohydrates may slow progression of the lethal,
degenerative Lou Gehrig's disease, according to a small-scale study reported in
Formally called amyotrophic
lateral sclerosis (ALS) or motor neuron disease, the disorder affects nerve
cells that control muscle movement.
Patients become tired and weak and lose the
power to move and eventually breathe; they die three years on average after
The new study follows up on suspicions that
ALS patients may be placed at even greater risk if they lose weight. They find
it hard to eat and swallow, and eventually have to be fed with a tube directly
into the stomach.
Rich in fat
Experiments on mice genetically engineered
to display ALS symptoms have found that those given a high-calorie diet rich in
fat survived longer.
Building on this work, researchers in the
United States tested 20 volunteers with advanced ALS who were at the stage of
The patients were divided into three
right carbs boost health
One was a "control" group which
received a nutritional formula designed to keep their weight stable, while the
other two received 125% of the calories they needed to maintain their weight.
Of these two groups, one received a
high-calorie diet rich in carbohydrates, and the other a high-calorie diet rich
The diets lasted for four months, and
patients were followed for a further five months afterwards.
Fewer adverse events
Patients on the diet that was high in
calories and carbs did far better than counterparts in the two other groups,
the researchers found.
They experienced fewer "adverse
events" – health problems ranging from pneumonia to muscular pains or
They also gained more weight, picking up
390 grams (0.8 pounds) per month on average, compared to a gain of 110g (0.24
pounds) in the control group and a loss of 460g (1.01 pounds) in the
high-calorie high-fat diet group.
During the five-month follow-up, no deaths
occurred among the high-calorie, high-carbohydrate group, compared with one in
the high-fat group and three in the control group, said the study.
The experiment was only conducted on a
small scale and its chief goal had been to see whether ALS patients could
safely change diet, rather than testing how effective the switch might be.
"This pilot study demonstrates the
safety of a novel, simple, low-cost treatment for a devastating disease where
currently very few treatment options are available," said lead researcher
Anne-Marie Wills at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
"The adverse outcomes that we feared
might result from weight gain, such as diabetes or heart disease, were not
observed in our study period."
The team called for larger trials among
patients at an earlier stage of ALS, to see whether these optimistic but
cautious findings hold true.
carb or not to carb
the low-carb lifestyle