Smoking Cigarettes May Trigger ALS

Smokers more likely to develop Lou Gehrigs disease while alcohol drinkers are less likely

(RxWiki News) It is common knowledge that smoking cigarettes is bad for you. For those with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, smoking can be especially damaging.

A recent study seeks to understand the link between smoking and/or drinking and ALS.

The study found that smoking increases the risks of ALS while drinking decreases the risks of ALS.

"Speak to your physician about quitting smoking."

Lead author of the study, Sonja W. de Jong, MD of the Department of Neurology, University Medical Center Utrecht, and team performed a large population-based study that included 494 ALS patient and 1,599 controls. The study was conducted between 2006 and 2009 in the Netherlands.

Questionnaires were given to the study participants. The questionnaires recorded data on cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and highest level of education.

Detailed information gathered included age at the start of smoking and alcohol consumption, age when participant quit smoking and/or drinking, daily number of cigarettes smoked and daily units of alcohol consumed.

The researchers found an increased risk of ALS in smokers with an odds ratio of 1.38.

An odds ratio is a way to describe the likelihood of an event occurring when compared to another group. An odds ratio of 1 means the event is equally likely to occur in both groups, an odds ratio greater than 1 means the event is more likely to occur for the group indicated, and an odds ratio less than 1 means the event is less likely to occur in the group indicated.

The results also showed shorter survival time among current smokers living with ALS with an odds ratio of 1.51. This finding is crucial as around 50 percent of ALS patients die within three years after the onset of symptoms, mostly from respiratory failure.

The results indicated that those who consumed alcohol had a reduced risk of ALS with an odds ratio of 0.52

Although red wine is known to have antioxidant effects, the reduced risk of ALS was not due to this as there was no significant difference in the amount of red wine consumed by patients when compared with controls.

These results are surprising as one would expect alcohol to contribute to the development of ALS instead of preventing it because it is a toxic substance.

Future research is important to understand how quitting smoking can increase survival in ALS patients. It is also yet to be understood what component of smoking triggers ALS.

The paper was published in the July edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The study was supported by Prinses Beatrix Fonds and the Netherlands ALS Foundation.

The authors report no conflict of interest.

Review Date: 
August 22, 2012