I know someone who suffers from ALS, and it’s terrible. Is there any promising new research coming out of Israel? I.C.W., Canada
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich replies:
ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease or motor neuron disease – is indeed tragic and terminal. The initial symptoms can vary from person to person. One sufferer may have trouble holding a pen or lifting a glass of water, while another person may experience a change in vocal pitch when speaking. ALS is typically a disease that involves a gradual onset. In addition, the rate at which it progresses in sufferers also differs. Symptoms can begin in the muscles that control speech and swallowing or in the hands, arms, legs or feet.
Not all people with ALS experience the same symptoms or the same sequences or patterns of progression. However, progressive muscle weakness and paralysis are universally experienced.
A generally painless, gradual muscle weakness that gets worse is the most common initial symptom in ALS. Other early symptoms vary but can include falling over things, dropping things, abnormal fatigue of the arms and/or legs, slurred speech, muscle cramps and twitches and/or uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying. When the breathing muscles become affected, ultimately, people with the disease will need permanent ventilatory support to assist with breathing.
It was named for the great New York Yankees baseball hero, Lou Gehrig, because he contracted the disease and was forced to retire in 1939, at age 36. He died just two years later. While there is no cure yet, Israeli researchers have been prominent in efforts to fight the disease. A breakthrough that offers hope for the treatment ALS was made by researchers at Tel Aviv University, who identified a previously unknown mechanism involved in the development of the debilitating, fatal neurological disorder.
The researchers found that the motor neurons of ALS patients are destroyed by muscular toxins. They have also found an innovative approach that is the basis for a possible future drug – a specific microRNA molecule silences the genes that cause toxin secretion. The research focuses for the first time on a specific microRNA whose levels were found to decrease as a result of ALS-causing muscular mutations.
The study was led by Dr. Eran Perlson of the physiology and pharmacology department at TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and conducted by TAU doctoral students Roy Maimon and Ariel Ionescu. Their work was published this year in the prestigious Journal of Neuroscience. While they do not claim they have brought and end to suffering from ALS, they have certainly moved the field forward.
Researchers have had much difficulty understanding the specific underlying mechanisms of ALS. Some have focused their efforts on the metabolism of microRNAs (miRs) – small molecules that regulate the translation of proteins and play an important role in many other cellular processes.
Recent work has shown that the alteration of miRs is involved in many neurodegenerative diseases, including ALS. The TAU study identifies a new mechanism related to ALS pathology in which the muscle secretes toxic molecules that kill axons and neuromuscular junctions and thus leads to muscle atrophy. They showed in lab work and on mouse models that they could successfully alleviate ALS symptoms using this miR as a potential drug.
Another Israeli team that has been working on ALS for years is Prof. Dimitrios Karousis of the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem and of Brain-Storm Cell Therapeutics, a company working on the use of injected stem cells. The company’s experimental product, NurOwn, has been proven safe and well-tolerated, slowing progression of the disease and improving the conditions of a relatively small group of patients.
So while ALS has not yet been defeated, there is hope coming from Israel.
I have not had any success with medical doctors telling me about the proper way to get rid of heavy metal mercury out of my body, and I don’t believe in taking any kind of toxic prescription drugs. It seems to me that I have read that dark green leafy vegetables could help to chelate or reduce the heavy metal mercury in my body. Is this true? Are there other kinds of foods such as essential oils, herbs or spices, that can help me? W.N., Nahariya, Israel.
Veteran Israeli pharmaceutical consultant Howard Rice answers:
I assume that W.N. has had his body mercury content assessed, and that his doctor recommended a treatment because of the inherent danger he faced. If this is the case, despite his apprehension, I would advise him to abide by the proven protocols of EDTA, (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid), DMSA (Dimercaptosuccinic acid -succimer,) or DMPS (2,3-Dimercapto-1-propanesulfonic acid), since otherwise the results of mercury poisoning can be very difficult, certainly more so than the treatment.
These products are chelating agents that bond ions and molecules to metal ions. They are sometimes used in combination that combine with heavy metals, form water soluble complexes. Chelates can be easily and successfully eliminated from the body despite the sometimes-unpleasant abdominal pain and disturbing bowel effects.
If, on the other hand, he just feels it may be necessary because of the concern over mercury in fish, formerly used injection preservatives or dental amalgam for example, he could try a diet of foods rich in folates (vitamin B6), such as chickpeas, spinach, avocado and broccoli, and sulfur such as garlic, onions, walnuts kale and eggs. All of these are thought to help eliminate heavy metals, including mercury, from the body.
I would like to emphasize that eating a well-balanced diet is always helpful for keeping the body free of toxins. So is a good night’s sleep.
If you want an Israeli expert to answer your medical questions, write to Breaking Israel News health and science senior reporter Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at firstname.lastname@example.org with your initials, age, gender and place of residence and details of the medical condition, if any.