Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, most known as ALS, is a condition that interrupts the communication between the muscles of the body and the brain. The disease hinders the brain from sending instructions to the muscles which break it down slowly over time. With that, the muscles lose their function where it eventually leads to paralysis. While there are no cures for the disease, therapist, psychologists, and other healthcare professionals are doing their best in assisting patients with ALS. There are dedicated extensive researches that aim to understand and attempts to treat the disease.
What Causes ALS?
“This is a disease that has had not such a great track record in finding therapies,”says Dr. Jeffrey D. Rothstein, M.D. Ph.D., who is the founder and director of the Answer ALS program. “ALS takes someone in the prime of life, and they slowly — or rapidly — lose all their ability to move.”
Before starting the enumeration as to what causes ALS, it is essential to note that there are two types of the condition. There is the familial type, which is known to be a hereditary case and appears to be in at least 5% to 10% of individuals with ALS. Sporadic, on the other hand, is the most common condition where it affects individuals for approximately 90% to 95% of those patients who get diagnosed with ALS. But while the alarming percentage of sporadic ALS’s cause is still unknown, the familial type seems to have known facts that help direct current studies and research to possible treatment.
Increased Radicals and Damaged Protein Processing
Numerous risk factors, such as gender, age, and genetics, affect the majority of ALS. The probably of the development of the disease seems to increase as individuals increases in age. That is usually between 40 to 60 years old. The condition is also common in men than in women. However, the difference does not manifest over the age of 70.
In some cases, genetics execute a role in the attempt to identifying the cause of the condition. It is considered one of the risk factors due to genetic variations that include gene codlings for specific protein loss that are common in patients with ALS. In terms of the protein loss, it increases the free radicals that slowly damage the functioning cells in the body, such as those responsible for protein and energy production. That is due to the incorrect protein processing of the nerve cells that form clumps. It means that the abnormal protein accumulates in the body spread from cell to cell. The clogging up eventually contributes to cell degeneration and cell death.
Autoimmunity and Gene Mutation
Another avenue that attempts to understand the causes of ALS includes the method of looking through the malfunctioning immune system. Since the disease has something to do with muscle function, one explanation contributes to cell regeneration and gene mutation. These include the effect on the changes in the brain’s neural activity, which results in a senseless immune system. With this, the immune system begins to attack its own body where it kills all the functioning and nonfunctioning nerve cells at the same time. And speaking of mutation, another possible explanation involves it because it can become a factor for ALS that leads to glutamate toxicity. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that gets released from the brain. Usually, it can be found in high concentration near neurons of patients with the condition. That is because excessive exposure to the neurotransmitter damages the nerve cells structure.
Environmental Factors and Lifestyle Changes
While there are multiple genetic causes of ALS that gets backed up by scientific studies and research, its ecological roots are not that well understood. That is the reason why people with the condition do not often receive a piece of professional advice to change their lifestyle instantly. Perhaps that is because there is no specific healthy lifestyle that proves to decrease the risk of developing ALS. However, in some cases, links have been found between ALS and other factors. These include the exposure to electrical and mechanical trauma, exercise exposure to heavy metals and chemicals, military services, high levels of exercise, as well as cigarette smoking. There is also the possibility that the environmental factors work simultaneously with genetics to increase individuals’ chance of developing ALS. “There’s a lot we can do to manage the symptoms and improve the quality of life,” says Rabia Malik, MD, a neurologist at Rush.
Why It’s Hard To Cure ALS?
Up until today, ALS is still one of the most devastating and complex diseases to affect humankind. No one knows precisely how and why these cells die, and that is what makes ALS so hard to treat. “The medication does slow down the course of ALS, but it is not a cure,” says Dr. Greg Schaublin, M.D. In its 90% cases, the condition arises so sudden with no apparent cause that makes curing it takes the most critical medical and scientific challenges. Despite its many unknowns, the continued awareness for ALS is essential to help open up a new avenue for its treatment.