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High calorie diet offers hope for motor neurone disease

A high calorie diet may slow down the deadly progression of motor neurone disease, research has shown.

The condition, suffered by top physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder affecting the nerve cells that control muscles.

Loss of weight is a common symptom of motor neurone disease, also known as Amylotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (AML).

Now a new study has found that a diet rich in carbohydrates and calories can reduce serious adverse events suffered by patients, including death from respiratory failure.

Patients given the high-carb diet also gained slightly more weight than those fed a normal diet.

Dr Anne-Marie Wills, from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who led the research published in The Lancet journal, said: “There is good epidemiological evidence that, in ALS, survival is determined by nutritional status.

Dr Anne-Marie Wills

Dr Anne-Marie Wills

“This pilot study demonstrates the safety of a novel, simple, low-cost treatment for a devastating disease where, currently, very few treatment options are available. The adverse outcomes that we feared might result from weight gain, such as diabetes or heart disease, were not observed in our study period of five months.”

The authors point out that the findings should be interpreted “with caution” and have called for larger trials.

The study involved 20 patients at 12 centres in North America, Ireland and Israel.

Previous research has found that mildly obese ALS patients tend to live longer. Animal studies have also shown that mice with the condition live longer when fed a calorie-rich fatty diet.

 

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