5 Things You Need to Know About Familial ALS

1. Inheritance Pattern

The majority of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) cases show no genetic link, but a small percentage–5 to 10 percent–show a distinct inheritance pattern. In this form, one of your parents, or others in your immediate family, has ALS. Several different forms of familial ALS have been discovered. Most forms of ALS do not affect people until middle age or later, so ALS symptoms in past family members may have been mistaken for other conditions or not recognized at all. If someone in your family had ALS, you can be genetically tested for any of the familial forms known.

2. Two Familial Forms Occur in Younger People

While most forms of ALS, including most familial forms, do not show symptoms until later in life, there are two known inherited forms that occur in younger people. And while most cases of ALS progress quickly, with symptoms becoming more severe as time goes on, these juvenile-onset familial ALS forms progress much more slowly. If your child seems to be experiencing chronic or progressive symptoms, including weakness, difficulty swallowing or shortness of breath, see a doctor for a comprehensive examination.

3. Prenatal Testing

The decision to have children is a personal and complex matter, made more difficult when faced with the potential of passing along a life-threatening disease. Prenatal testing can help to determine the risk of your child developing ALS. If you have a family history of ALS or other similar neurological disorder, talk to your doctor about genetic testing for the known forms of familial ALS. A genetic counselor can also review your family’s health history with you to help you understand the risk factors and chances of passing along any known health conditions to your child.

4. Antioxidant Damage

One familial form of ALS has been associated with damage to a specific chromosome, one of 24 distinct, physically separate microscopic units. This damage affects the function of superoxide dismutase (SOD), an important antioxidant in the body that protects nerve cells from free radical damage. Only 40 percent of cases of familial ALS are associated with mutations to SOD. Research on this form of ALS, however, indicates that free radical damage likely plays a very large role in development of any form of ALS. Be sure that you include extra antioxidants in your dietary supplement regimen to help protect your brain and nervous system from free radical damage.

5. Protect Yourself

Remember that not everyone with the familial form of ALS will develop symptoms. This indicates that there are some as yet unknown “triggers” that you may be able to protect yourself against. And while there is no known treatment or cure for any form of ALS at this time, it is believed that combinations of therapies will be most beneficial. Protect yourself by supplementing with antioxidants like coenzyme Q10 and alpha-lipoic acid to protect your body from oxidative damage, and avoid exposure to environmental toxins (including alcohol and cigarette smoke) whenever possible.

About this Author

Dr. Nancy Steely is a licensed naturopathic physician–a graduate of world-renowned Bastyr University. Her focus is on education to prevent illness and foster optimal health. Nancy has taught health-related seminars throughout the Las Vegas area and currently writes and consults for the nutraceutical, cosmeceutical and wellness industries.