Carotenoids Linked With Decreased Risk Of ALS, Study Finds

02/01/2013 10:39am ET

The nutrient responsible for the bright colors of certain fruits and vegetables has been having a moment -- recent research has suggested it could play a role in protecting against Type 2 diabetes and lowering women's risk of breast cancer.

And now, a new study in the Annals of Neurology suggests carotenoids could slow -- or even prevent -- the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.

"Our findings suggest that consuming carotenoid-rich foods may help prevent or delay the onset of ALS," study researcher Dr. Alberto Ascherio, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard University, said in a statement. "Further food-based analyses are needed to examine the impact of dietary nutrients on ALS."

ALS is a condition where the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord die and are unable to send signals to the muscles of the body. This then leads to movement problems, paralysis and weakening of muscles (including the chest muscles, which can then lead to breathing problems), according to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

About one in 10 cases of ALS is genetic, but the causes of the other nine in 10 cases is unknown, the Mayo Clinic reported. However, known risk factors include age (it's typically only seen in people between ages 40 and 60), being a woman (in people younger than 70, it's more common in females), smoking, military service and exposure to lead.

In this new study, researchers wanted to see if nutrients in foods had any sort of association with ALS risk.They used data from five different groups -- including the Nurses' Health Study, the Cancer Prevention Study II-Nutrition Cohort and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, to analyze their consumption of certain nutrients and their risk of developing ALS.

Among all the people in the study, 1,093 developed ALS. Researchers found an association between carotenoid intake and lutein intake and ALS risk. However, they did not find an association between vitamin C intake, lycopene intake, or beta-cryptoxanthin intake and ALS risk.

Researchers also found that the people who were the most likely to consume the most carotenoids were also the ones to generally consume more vitamin C, exercise more, have obtained an advanced education degree and take supplements for vitamins C and E.

However, it's important to note that researchers only found an association -- more study will be needed to see the impact, if any, nutrients have on ALS risk.