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March 15, 2010

ALS — aka Lou Gehrig’s disease

Filed under: Health — Tags: , , , , , , — furtherglory @ 2:38 pm

The other day, I had occasion to look up whether or not a certain famous person was dead or alive.  There is a web site called Dead or Alive which gives this information.  There is also a section of the web site which lists the names of famous people who have died from various diseases, including ALS.  I have two distant family members (not related to me) who died of ALS, so I have an interest in this subject.

As I looked through the list of famous people that had died of ALS, I noticed that many of them were athletes, specifically baseball and football players.  It occurred to me that this might provide a clue as to the cause of ALS.  What do baseball and football players do that other folks don’t do?  Do they have a different kind of diet?  Do they take specific medications?  Are they exposed to chemicals that are used on baseball and football fields?

The most famous person ever to die of ALS was Lou Gehrig, a baseball player for the New York Yankees back in the 1920s and 1930s.  Lou Gehrig was nicknamed “The Iron Horse.” He played in 2,130 consecutive games between 1925 and 1939 without missing a day.  In other words he was as healthy as a horse.  Then one day, for no reason at all, he gets a disease that was virtually unknown back then, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Why would Lou Gehrig, the Iron Horse, get this disease and not his team mate, Babe Ruth? Babe Ruth did everything in his power to ruin his health.  He was up all night, drinking and carousing with loose women; he was a heavy smoker and didn’t watch his diet, as evidenced by the fact that he was grossly overweight.  So how come he didn’t get some rare disease?

Lou Gehrig, famous New York Yankees baseball player

Years ago, I read a book about Lou Gehrig because I wanted to find out what he might have done that caused him to get the disease that was named after him.  Lou’s picture was on every box of Wheaties back then, but he confessed in an interview that he never touched the stuff.  In fact, he never ate any grains at all: no rice or bread or cereal of any kind.  Now, that could be a clue.

Another famous person who had ALS was Chairman Mao of China. Out of the billions of people in China, he was the only person to ever have ALS, up to that time.  So what did he do that none of the other Chinese people did?  Mao had a Western diet, meaning that he didn’t eat rice and lots of vegetables; instead, he ate lots of meat.  He also had a Western doctor, meaning that he didn’t use Chinese medicine.  Now, we have another clue.  But which is it, a Western diet or Western medicine, that causes ALS?

Lou Gehrig’s favorite food was fried eel, which has the highest fat content of any food in the world.  His mother did all of his cooking; she even traveled with him when he went on the road.  She packed his lunch when he played home games and she usually included eel, his favorite food.  His second favorite food was shrimp; he used to lie on the floor and eat a whole meal of shrimp which he ate off of a newspaper because a plate couldn’t hold that much shrimp.

In the Chinese yin and yang method of classifying food, shrimp is the highest yang food that one can eat. (Yin foods are high in potassium and yang foods are high in sodium.) So Lou Gehrig had a diet that was extremely high in fat and sodium.  Then one day, his batting average dropped a few points, and his coach urged him to go to the Mayo Clinic for a checkup.  He was 35 years old and in the prime of life, but he was slowing down a bit.

Gehrig had recently gotten married and his new wife went with him to the Mayo Clinic.  He had a battery of tests and his health was fine except that his gall bladder was a bit sluggish.  The doctor recommended that he cut down on fat for the sake of his gall bladder.  So his new wife announced that she was going to take over the cooking, and he was no longer going to eat the high fat meals that his mother had been cooking for him.  Another clue.  Does switching from a high fat diet to a low fat diet cause ALS?

When I became interested in ALS a few years ago, I followed a discussion group for ALS patients.  Some of them said that they had been on a low carb diet before they got ALS. Others mentioned that, shortly before they got ALS, they had switched from a high fat diet to a low fat diet, after their doctors recommended it.  But what else did their doctors prescribe?  A person on a high fat diet is bound to have high cholesterol, so surely the doctor prescribed something to lower it.  Could it be that medicinal drugs somehow cause ALS? Specifically, drugs that lower cholesterol?

Regarding the two members of my extended family, one had recently had an operation and was taking many different medications; she was also on a low carb diet.  The other one sometimes ate meals consisting of nothing but shrimp, and he used to brag about never eating vegetables. Like Lou Gehrig, he never ate whole grains of any kind.

One other thing that I have observed is that ALS is a rich man’s disease.  People who get ALS  can afford expensive foods like beef and shrimp, and they go to expensive doctors, who know the latest drugs, such as the doctors at the Mayo clinic.  Poor people in Third World countries, who eat rice, or bread, with vegetables and beans, and never go near a doctor, don’t get ALS.

There is also familial ALS, which is ALS that is inherited.  How can a disease be both inherited and not inherited? Huntington’s disease is inherited, but can a person with no Huntington’s heredity get the disease?  I don’t think so.  Maybe it is the cookbook that is inherited in the case of ALS.

Here is a quote from this web site that explains ALS:

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rapidly progressive fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscles.

In ALS, both the upper motor neurons and the lower motor neurons degenerate or die, ceasing to send messages to muscles. Unable to function, the muscles gradually weaken, waste away, and twitch.

Eventually the ability of the brain to start and control voluntary movement is lost.

Individuals with ALS lose their strength and the ability to move their arms, legs, and body. When muscles in the diaphragm and chest wall fail, individuals lose the ability to breathe without ventilatory support.

ALS does not affect a person’s ability to see, smell, taste, hear, or recognize touch, and it does not usually impair a person’s thinking or other cognitive abilities.

No cure has yet been found for ALS. However, the FDA has approved the first drug treatment for the disease—riluzole.  Riluzole is believed to reduce damage to motor neurons and prolongs survival by several months, mainly in those with difficulty swallowing.

I personally follow the Chinese yin yang method of eating, and I never go near a Western doctor.


  1. Nice article. It would appear that sudden lifestyle changes (an operation, a change in diet, etc) would be something to look at it. Maybe its not so much the dietary change but the stress on the body caused by an abrupt change of any kind in the lifestyle.

    Comment by Jeff — July 12, 2015 @ 10:54 am

  2. This is what happened to me about 9 years ago. After I went back to a more normal diet the als symptoms disappeared. Except for muscle loss in my legs that I haven’t regained the als symptoms haven’t reappeared. Of course the neurologists don’t give my theory of the low carb diet leading to the als symptoms any credence.

    Comment by Mike Hausknecht — June 26, 2013 @ 5:10 am

  3. Hi my dad has Als and he was never on any diet he was overweight though but since he was diagnosed he has lost a lot of weight.

    Comment by Bronte — March 30, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

  4. ALS is all in the Cycads.

    Comment by Lewis Sckolnick — August 18, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  5. Very interesting article

    Comment by Jodi Morel — March 15, 2010 @ 10:01 pm

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