What causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?
While researchers don’t know what causes most cases of ALS, A few lifestyle factors have also been found to influence who gets ALS. These include:
Smoking. Of all the possible lifestyle risks, only smoking has a strong likelihood of affecting who gets ALS. The risk from smoking appears to be highest for postmenopausal women.
Diet. A couple of nutrients have been linked to ALS risk. Research has found that people who regularly take vitamin E supplements have a lower risk of both getting ALS, and of dying from it. Eating a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids has also been linked to a reduced risk for ALS.
Athletics. Some studies have suggested a higher incidence of ALS among athletes — especially football and soccer players. Possible reasons for this connection are that athletes are more likely to have head injuries, engage in intense physical activity, and use performance-enhancing drugs. However, research hasn’t confirmed that athletes are at greater risk for this condition than non-athletes.
Profession. Workers in certain jobs are more likely to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, including:
- Construction workers
- Electrical workers
- Hair stylists
- House painters
- Lab technicians
- Leather workers
- Machine assemblers
- Power production plant workers
- Precision metal workers
- Rubber workers
People in these industries may be exposed to metals (including lead, manganese, iron, selenium, copper, and aluminum), chemicals, and pesticides that could increase their risk. However, no one specific substance has been proven to cause ALS.
Military service. Veterans are about twice as likely to die from ALS as people who did not serve in the military. This risk includes veterans who fought in every war. One possible explanation for the connection is that military service members may have been exposed to toxic substances in battle, but no specific risk factors have been confirmed.
March 16, 2020
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA