You may be able to prevent amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, or at least delay its onset, by eating brightly colored fruits and deeply colored vegetables rich in antioxidants, says a new study.
Researchers found that increasing consumption of carotenoids, particularly beta-carotene and lutein, might reduce the risk for this progressive neurological disease, which attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
Carrots, yams and mangoes are rich in beta-carotenes, and spinach, collard greens and egg yolks are good sources of lutein.
The study found, however, that diets rich in the antioxidants lycopene, beta-cryptoxanthin and vitamin C do not apparently reduce the risk for ALS, which causes the muscles to waste away and eventually results in paralysis.
"ALS is a devastating degenerative disease that generally develops between the ages of 40 and 70, and affects more men than women," senior study author Dr. Alberto Ascherio, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, said in a journal news release. "Understanding the impact of food consumption on ALS development is important."
Analyzing information on more than 1 million people, the researchers identified nearly 1,100 cases of ALS. The researchers found that increased overall carotenoid intake — especially among those who ate diets rich in beta-carotene and lutein — seemed to be linked to a lower risk for the devastating condition.
Those who ate more carotenoids daily also were more likely to exercise, have an advanced degree, have increased vitamin C intake and take vitamin C and E supplements.
The researchers pointed out, however, that long-term vitamin C supplements did not lower people's risk for this degenerative disease.
"Our findings suggest that consuming carotenoid-rich foods may help prevent or delay the onset of ALS," Ascherio concluded. "Further food-based analyses are needed to examine the impact of dietary nutrients on ALS."
The findings, which used data from five previous studies, do not establish a cause-and-effect protective relationship between carotenoid consumption and ALS risk.
About 20,000 to 30,000 Americans have ALS, and 5,000 more are diagnosed with the disease every year, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
The study was published online Jan. 29 in the journal Annals of Neurology.