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Study supports safety of high calorie diets for tube-fed ALS patients

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients struggle to maintain their quality of life throughout the length of their illness. A study released by Lancet on Feb. 28 suggests that a high calorie diet for tube-fed ALS patients is both safe and tolerable. The study is titled "Hypercaloric enteral nutrition in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 2 trial."

The plaque of Lou Gehrig as seen in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes ALS as

a rapidly progressive, invariably fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscles (muscle action we are able to control, such as those in the arms, legs, and face).

They estimate that about 5,000 Americans are diagnosed with the condition each year and that, in total, about 30,000 Americans have the condition. In less than ten percent of the cases, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is inherited. In the vast majority of cases, no risk factors have been found to be associated with the development of the illness.

The most famous individual to have ALS was the legendary baseball star Lou Gehrig. ALS is often called "Lou Gerhig's disease." The ALS Association notes that the average age of diagnosis is 55, and that the condition is 20 percent more common in men than women. Half of all patients diagnosed with ALS will die within three years. Just ten percent of all patients will live longer than ten years.

A study done at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2011 found that, contrary to expectations, mild obesity in ALS patients contributed to longer survival. The Lancet study explored the differing diets that an ALS patient being tube-fed could be offered, and how enteral nutrition can contribute to survival. The study involved just 20 patients but it found, in general, that a high calorie diet was safe for the patient and well tolerated. The authors suggest that their findings support the concept of nutritional interventions in the early stages of ALS.

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