Exciting new research from the Harvard School of Public Health reveals that increased consumption of carotenoid antioxidants present in bright-colored fresh vegetables and fruits may prevent or delay the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Between 20,000 and 30,000 Americans have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, while another 5,000 patients are diagnosed annually.
ALS is a progressive disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spine that control voluntary muscles, known as motor neurons. As these motor neurons die, the muscles they control slowly weaken and waste away - leading to muscle paralysis and leaving the individual literally trapped in their body.
The bright orange, red, or yellow colors in fruits and vegetables are because of the colorful carotenoids they contain, particularly beta-carotene and lutein. Carotenoids are a source of dietary vitamin A.
Previous studies have reported that oxidative stress plays a role in the development of ALS. High antioxidant intake has been known to lower ALS risk - which is why the role of carotenoids and vitamin C was examined in this study.
Data from five prospective study groups with more than one million participants were examined and a total of 1093 ALS cases were identified.
The research team found that a greater total carotenoid intake was clearly linked to reduced risk of ALS. Individuals who consumed more carotenoids in their diets were also more likely to exercise, have an advanced degree, have higher vitamin C consumption, and take vitamin C and E supplements.
Subjects with diets high in beta-carotene and lutein - found in dark green vegetables - also had a lower risk ALS risk. However, lycopene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and vitamin C did not reduce ALS risk and neither did long-term vitamin C supplement intake.
Clearly, regular consumption of bright-colored fresh vegetables and fruits can help prevent or delay the onset of ALS, although further studies are needed to understand how exactly they impact ALS risk.