The ALS Association

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Carrie Munk
The ALS Association
(571) 319-3047



High Caloric Intake Is Safe in ALS, Setting Stage to Test for Effect on Survival

Washington, D.C. (March 3, 2014)—High caloric intake is safe and tolerable in people living with ALS with a feeding tube in place, according to a new study that sets the stage for a larger trial testing whether high caloric intake can slow disease progression. The study was published in the journal The Lancet.

ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects neurons (nerve cells) in the brain and the spinal cord. Eventually, people with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which often leads to total paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis. There is no cure and no life-prolonging treatments for the disease. 

Previous studies in a mouse model of ALS have shown that high caloric intake is associated with increased survival, and individuals with ALS who are slightly obese tend to have longer survival. That prompted Ann-Marie Wills, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to undertake an initial safety study in people with ALS who already had a feeding tube in place. Twenty participants received either their normal diet, or a high-carbohydrate diet, or a high-fat diet. Those in the high-carbohydrate group had the fewest adverse effects during the five-month trial. There were not enough participants to determine whether either treatment had an effect on survival.

“These encouraging results provide support for proceeding with a larger trial,” said Lucie Bruijn, Ph.D., MBA, Chief Scientist for The Association. “That trial will tell us whether this simple intervention can improve survival, an effect predicted from the animal model.”

In a separate publication leading from pilot studies The Association funded from 2000-2002 on caloric needs, ALS Association Certified Center Directors Edward Kasarskis, M.D, Ph.D.,  the University of Kentucky, Rup Tandan, M.D., the University of Vermont, and Zach Simmons, M.D., at the ALS Clinic at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and colleagues made detailed measurements of total daily energy intake involving 80 people with ALS. They utilized the data to create a model that can be used in the clinic to estimate energy intake in individuals with the disease. The data collected and the model developed will be useful for advising those with ALS on nutritional needs and counseling them on placement of a feeding tube.

"It is gratifying to see that the results from these important studies can be translated directly into better clinical counseling for those living with ALS,” said Kimberly Maginnis, Chief Care Services Officer at The Association.

About The ALS Association
The ALS Association is the only national non-profit organization fighting Lou Gehrig’s Disease on every front.  By leading the way in global research, providing assistance for people with ALS through a nationwide network of chapters, coordinating multidisciplinary care through certified clinical care centers, and fostering government partnerships, The Association builds hope and enhances quality of life while aggressively searching for new treatments and a cure.  For more information about The ALS Association, visit our website at

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