Are pollutants ramping up the ALS progression rate?
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive disease that specifically targets nerves in the spinal cord and brain. In a normal person, these nerves allow the transmission of electrical impulses to the muscles. ALS progressively destroys these nerves, leading to impaired muscle function and atrophy. As if that’s not enough, the ALS progression cycle actually amplifies these effects. Over time, the person will completely lose most or all voluntary muscle control. Just imagine not being able to eat, speak, move or breath properly!!
According to worldwide stats, most ALS victims won’t survive more than 5 years after diagnosis. Now, there are some who make it past 10 years, but they’re the lucky ones. Most victims aren’t that fortunate. But the worst part is the fact that there’s no proper cure for it. As a result, ALS sufferers generally have to resort to various forms of therapy. These aim to just manage their symptoms and improve their overall life quality. Now, studies have flagged a certain class of environmental pollutants in relation to ALS. They’re actually responsible for increasing the rate of ALS progression. That’s certainly not good at all, and we’ll be looking at it in this post.
What causes ALS in the first place?
It isn’t possible (yet) to pinpoint ALS to one specific cause. There are actually various factors which could be responsible. Among them are biochemical issues and even environmental triggers. At least 90% of ALS cases are sporadic with no apparent cause or triggers. The remainder simply inherits it through their family. For such people, genetics really aren’t working in their favour. Now, although the exact cause isn’t known, research has focused a lot on environmental factors. A 2016 study at the University of Michigan went deeper into this. It showed that pesticide exposure could make someone more likely to develop ALS. This same research team has now found polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to have the exact same effect. Not only that, but PCBs also speed up the ALS progression cycle in those already suffering.
Drawing important links
The 2016 study examined blood samples from nearly 160 ALS sufferers. To make the investigation fair they did exactly the same with nearly 130 controls who had no disease. To their surprise, those with ALS had far higher blood serum pesticide levels. To further prove this, researchers divided them into groups based on their levels of blood pesticides. Those with the highest pesticide concentrations had the lowest survival expectancy. On the other hand, those with the lowest had the highest survival expectancy. Of all pollutants studied, organochlorine pesticide (OCP) exposure had a profound effect on ALS progression. This was particularly true concerning PCBs.
How to treat ALS in the future
This information in and of itself certainly isn’t a cure. But it does help point ALS research in the right direction. PCB production began in the 1930s but many countries restricted/banned them in the 1970s and ‘80s. This was simply down to concerns about their negative health effects. In that 50-year gap, millions of tonnes of PCB were produced. It takes these chemicals decades to undergo environmental breakdown. As a result, the effects of PCBs might still be evident today. Exposure to PCBs from the environment can lead to bioaccumulation in the body. Over time, this is magnified and could gradually accelerate ALS progression.
But this isn’t just about PCBs alone. Humans have changed the environment so much as a result of our actions. I once wrote an earlier post about this. We are all at greater risk of chemical pollutants than ever before. Therefore, research into ALS needs to factor this in carefully. The first step is to work out exactly how these chemicals affect our bodies. Afterwards, we would then be in a good position to develop effective treatments in the future.