Cutting calories may speed the progression of the fatal neuromuscular disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) because of changes that occur at the molecular level, a study from York University has found.
The research, which looked at the effects of caloric restriction in a mouse model of ALS, found that restricting caloric intake to 60 per cent of the usual mouse diet significantly hastened the onset and progression of ALS, as well as death. It is the first study to demonstrate that caloric restriction in animal models of ALS produces molecular-level changes that lead to cell death.
The study was published today by the open access peer reviewed journal Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE). Former York graduate student Barkha P. Patel (MSC ’09), supervised by Professor Mazen J. Hamadeh (left), led the research at York’s Muscle Health Research Centre, in collaboration with researchers at McMaster University.
“Research has shown that restricting calories can extend lifespan in animals, so we were surprised to find during an earlier study with the same animal model of ALS that it actually hastened the clinical onset of the disease,” says Hamadeh, of the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in York’s Faculty of Health. “In this study, we set out to discover how caloric restriction actually led to changes at the molecular level.”
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is characterized by degeneration of motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord, and is associated with an increase in oxidative stress – the physiological stress on the body that is caused by damage from free radicals that are not neutralized by antioxidants.
The study sought to unravel the mechanism behind the acceleration of the clinical onset and progression of ALS when calories are restricted. It found that caloric restriction shortens lifespan through an increase in protein involved in lipid damage, inflammation and cell death.
If the results from the animal model of ALS are extrapolated to patients with the disease, caloric restriction would be contraindicated, Patel says.
For more information about nutrition research in ALS at York, click here.