The risk of developing Lou Gehrig's Disease has been found to be markedly lower among people who regularly drink alcoholic beverages than among abstainers.
The findings – based on research conducted in the Netherlands involving nearly 2,000 people, including 500 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – indicated alcohol consumers had about half the risk of developing the condition as teetotalers.
The study also confirmed that smoking may increase the risk of developing the devastating neurological disease.
Researchers said they were especially struck by the magnitude of the difference in risk of ALS between alcohol consumers and never drinkers.
"The results in this study are astonishing in this mysterious disease,” they said. “One should expect that alcohol, as a toxic agent, rather should contribute to the development of ALS than to prevent it. The lower risk among drinkers compared with non-drinkers is remarkable."
Researchers cautioned that the results should not prompt people to consume alcohol just to prevent ALS, as it is such a rare disease. But it presents important information that could help scientists understand the mechanisms that lead to the development of ALS and perhaps other more common diseases.