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Wow, it's a shock that the key root causes of ALS are not being properly looked at in this patient population. The word needs to be spread on this information. Often the root causes of Lou Gehrig Disease ALS are not discovered until autopsy!
In this blog, you will learn about some of the hidden root causes of Lou Gehrig Disease ALS.
- How ALS can stem from an infection and that we should look for infection in cases of ALS
- The evidence indicating that an underlying infection, Lyme disease or mold illness can be the root cause of ALS
- How we can address and improve ALS using a Functional Medicine approach to these infections
Do your clients suffer from muscle weakness or stiffness? Do they have Lou Gehrig Disease ALS and struggle to perform normal daily activities? Are you wanting to help them get to the root cause? Then this blog is for you, as we present one possible missing link to treating ALS. Please read on for the details!
Do you get stuck clinically with symptoms of ALS with your patients? Would you like to have a larger impact on improving movement or coordination issues? The key to ALS treatment may be an individual approach using nutrition, lifestyle and exercise. If you want to improve your patient’s quality of life, you need a customized approach to address each patient’s unique needs. Our functional medicine course will teach you how to do this. Look into our functional medicine school (mindbodyfunctionalmedicine.com): we will educate you to have a greater impact on improving your client’s lives.
** Please note: If you want the short summary version of this article, then please click here **
ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It is also sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease, after the baseball player who was diagnosed with it in the 1940’s. The famous physicist Stephen Hawking also had ALS.
ALS Facts (Nat'l Org for Rare Disorders, 2021):
- ALS is a rare disorder that develops in 1.5-3 people per 100,000 every year in North America and Europe.
- Approximately 30,000 people are affected in the US, with approx. 5,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
- Approximately 10% of all cases of ALS are hereditary.
- ALS affects men more than women, with 60% of affected individuals being male.
- ALS is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
- It is a motor neuron disease, in which motor neurons gradually deteriorate and die.
Motor neurons are a type of brain cell located within the spinal cord and the brain. Motor neurons are responsible for carrying signals away from the central nervous system towards muscles to cause movement. They release neurotransmitters to trigger responses leading to muscle movement.
As motor neurons deteriorate, they stop sending messages to the muscles and the muscles gradually weaken, start to twitch and waste away. Over time, the brain loses the ability to control movement.
Early symptoms of ALS are muscle weakness or stiffness. Gradually all muscles are affected. The patient loses strength and the ability to speak, eat, move and eventually breathe.
ALS is fatal. ALS causes respiratory failure within 3 - 5 years from when symptoms appear. 10% of people with ALS survive for 10 or more years (Nat'l Institute of Health, 2021). Stephen Hawking lived for more than 50 years after he was diagnosed.
In conventional medicine, there is currently no known cure to stop or reverse ALS (Nat'l Institute of Health, 2021).
What is the Cause of ALS?
The cause of ALS is thought to be unknown. As always, genetics and epigenetics are both involved. It is thought that environmental factors; exposure to toxic or infectious agents, viruses, physical trauma or diet, may be involved. Exposure to toxins during warfare, or strenuous physical activity, are possible reasons why some veterans and athletes may be at increased risk of developing ALS (Nat'l Institute of Health, 2021).
In ALS, various physiological mechanisms malfunction to cause symptoms. These issues lead to damage and death of motor neurons and the symptoms of ALS (Nat'l Org for Rare Disorders, 2021). The mechanisms involved include (Nat'l Org for Rare Disorders, 2021):
- Dysfunction of protein balance, folding and transport
- Excessive neuron stimulation (excitotoxicity)
- Oxidative stress
- Dysfunction of mitochondria
Genetics may predispose someone to ALS (Alonso R, 2019):
- Many genes are involved in the pathology of ALS.
- Mutations in over 25 genes have been identified to play a role.
- This genetic predisposition to ALS could be related to susceptibility to microbial infection.
- Microbial infection occurs in the central nervous system (CNS) of ALS patients. Amyloid plaques have been found in the CNS of ALS patients.
- Amyloid is a strong antifungal and antibacterial agent that fights infection. Amyloid is present in other neurodegenerative diseases, especially in the brain in Alzheimer’s (see our article here).
Microbial infections are thought to stimulate the immune response and trigger the production of amyloid peptide. The idea of microbial infection is consistent with the neuroinflammation seen in ALS (Alonso R, 2019). It fits with the sudden appearance of ALS starting in mid-life.
The infection could trigger a stress response in neural cells, blocking the shuttling of proteins between the nucleus and cytoplasm and leading to cell death (Alonso R, 2019).
In addition, high levels of the enzyme chitinase have been found in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients with ALS. This enzyme is produced when chitin, a component of the fungal cell wall, is present. It indicates a fungal or mold infection. This cannot be justified simply by the idea that genes are the cause of ALS. It rather points to the idea that ALS is triggered by fungus that invades and spreads though the body.
Can Mold Illness Cause Lou Gehrig Disease ALS?
Mold is a type of fungus. Fungal toxins, or mold, produce mycotoxins (mold toxins). Fungal infections have been found in the central nervous system of ALS patients (Alonso R, 2015). This is because some types of pathogenic fungi sequester in tissue and release toxins that target and destroy CNS cells (Purzycki CB, 2010).
The dominant theory used to be that ALS was due to a poison. In looking for a specific poison, mycotoxins (mold toxins) were found (Reid, 2021). ALS patients often show signs of immune suppression. Mycotoxins often cause both neurotoxicity and immune suppression. In fact, mycotoxins may be able to explain the entire pathology in ALS (Reid, 2021).
Fungal infections are similar to neurodegenerative disease. They are usually chronic and progressive if untreated (Alonso R, 2015). The fungal pathogens in the CNS can provoke chronic inflammation, as well as a constant production of toxic microbial products (Purzycki CB, 2010). Both inflammation and microbial products can lead to neuronal degeneration and death (Alonso R, 2015).
Mycotoxins can cross the blood-brain barrier and directly damage nerve cells in the brain (Purzycki CB, 2010). The damaged cells release debris that triggers an immune response, creating more oxidative damage (Purzycki CB, 2010). This type of neuroinflammation is part of ALS (Alonso R, 2015).
A fungal infection could also cause the misfolded or incorrectly-processed proteins seen in ALS (Alonso R, 2015). This can depend on different factors:
- Which neural cells are affected
- Which fungal species has infected the CNS
- The genetic background of the patient and the state of the immune system
- The lifestyle of the individual
Differences in any of these factors could lead to different pathologies (Alonso R, 2015).
If different neurodegenerative diseases are caused by fungal infections, then they will share several similarities (Alonso R, 2015). We have written about and established evidence that mold, or a fungal infection, may be the root cause of Alzheimer’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
In the case of ALS, fungal proteins and DNA have been found both in the CSF, the CNS and brain samples of ALS patients (French PW, 2019). Fungal infection has even been found in some neurons of the CNS in some ALS patients. Test results identify several different fungal species (Alonso R, 2015).
A low burden of infection, and the fact that the fungal material is very small, explains why it can be so difficult to detect infection in ALS (Alonso R, 2015).
ALS is a heterogeneous disease. This means that it presents differently in each patient and clinical symptoms can vary widely (Alonso R, 2015). ALS can progress very quickly in some people, who die within one year from diagnosis. Other patients can survive several years after the onset of clinical symptoms. The presence of different fungal species in each patient may account for these differences (Alonso R, 2015).
Another symptom in ALS is neuroinflammation (Alonso R, 2015). Neuroinflammation is consistent with microbial infection. There is a systemic change in the immune system in patients suffering from ALS, which can be a result of microbial infection and its impact on the immune system (Alonso R, 2015).
Grass or soil-associated fungal infections have long been suspected to play a role in ALS (French PW, 2019). Clusters of ALS have been reported in soccer players, natives of Guam and farmers (French PW, 2019). Grass-associated fungi are known to produce a range of neurotoxins (French PW, 2019).
If a fungal infection can be confirmed as a root cause of ALS, then there is a straightforward treatment strategy for this fatal and previously incurable disease (French PW, 2019). ALS patients would likely benefit from antifungal therapies (Alonso R, 2015).
Can Bacteria be a Cause of Lou Gehrig Disease ALS?
It is likely that various microbial infections, which vary from patient to patient, are involved in ALS pathogenesis (Alonso R, 2019). This would explain why symptom severity can vary widely. Survival time after diagnosis is variable. Overlapping symptoms of different neurodegenerative diseases can be caused by an ever-changing mixture of microbial infections (Alonso R, 2019).
Having multiple infections and toxins may potentially worsen the severity and survival time of Lou Gehrig Disease ALS.
Signs of bacterial infection have been found in neural tissue in ALS patients. This shows the possibility of multiple microbial infections in the CNS of these patients. Different kinds of bacterial species can colonize the CNS and cause symptoms (Alonso R, 2019).
Is Lyme a Root Cause of Lou Gehrig Disease ALS?
The research on Lyme and ALS is somewhat conflicting. Some research says ALS can be caused by Lyme. Other sources strongly disagree with this conclusion. It is difficult to find a clear-cut answer to this question.
What is clear is that the diagnosis of Lyme disease can be very challenging. Lyme can mimic neurological disorders. It can mimic motor neuron disease and look like ALS (Burakgazi, 2014).
Borrelia burgdorferi is a bacterial species of the Borrelia spirochete. It causes Lyme disease and is transmitted to humans by infected ticks.
Borrelia burgdorferi may directly damage neurons and neural structures (Wirsching I, 2019). It may trigger autoimmune processes. A cross-reaction between Borrelia burgdorferi and neural antigens may be involved in the pathology of ALS (Wirsching I, 2019). In some cases of ALS in endemic areas, a correlation was found between Borrelia burgdorferi found in serum blood samples and ALS, yet this was not confirmed in later studies (Wirsching I, 2019).
There are cases of patients with motor neuron issues caused by neuroborreliosis (Lyme in the nervous system) (Wirsching I, 2019)
- A 63-year-old man was thought to have ALS (Wirsching I, 2019). However, CSF analysis showed it was actually neuroborreliosis. The patient had typical manifestations of motor neuron disease, but it was found to be acute neuroborreliosis (Wirsching I, 2019).
- A 61-year-old woman was thought to have motor neuron disease (Hänsel Y, 1995). But further testing indicated chronic infection from Borrelia burgdorferi. Symptoms improved after antibiotics. The initial diagnosis of ALS was revised to chronic neuroborreliosis (Hänsel Y, 1995).
In the case of neuroborreliosis, antibiotics treatment, or another Lyme protocol, can resolve or improve symptoms. In regions where Lyme disease is common, neuroborreliosis should be checked for and excluded in all neurological cases (De Cauwer H, 2009).
In Conclusion: The Way Forward for Lou Gehrig Disease ALS
The good news is that patients with ALS may not necessarily have to wait for new treatments or new medications to be discovered. They can simply start treatment for mold illness, Lyme disease or other antimicrobial protocols. In many cases, this would improve symptoms, and may even reverse ALS.
We regularly treat and resolve Lyme, mold and chronic microbial infections in patients of our Functional Medicine clinic. We have expertise in treating a range of infections, that could be causing ALS, or other neurodegenerative diseases.
** Please stay tuned for our next Blog! **
As always, please get in touch with us. If you or someone you know is struggling with coordination or muscle movement issues, ALS or ALS-like symptoms, contact our clinic today. We can work on any issue(s) and improve your health. Book a free health evaluation call with us today, to see how we can help you with your concerns. We can answer your questions and help you book an initial consult with one of the functional medicine doctors in our clinic.
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Dr. Miles Nichols and Dr. Diane Mueller have spoken for the following organizations: