Every once in awhile I come across a study that blows my mind. A study that should have been talked about in the media, and certainly in the medical literature. But for some reason, it slipped past the system that needs to work in order for science to matter. It was a study that found that acetyl-L-carnitine, a widely available and well-researched health supplement, prolonged the lives of people with ALS.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig disease, is the disease that affects Stephen Hawking. Its cause is unkonwn. There is no cure. And it eventually kills everyone who gets it. That is because it affects the neurons, or nerve cells, that control voluntary muscles. That includes the muscles of breathing, which are the last to go. People slowly weaken, muscle by muscle, until they need a machine to help their rib muscles do the work of breathing.

In a study done at the Mario Negri Institute in Milan, researchers randomized 82 people with ALS to take pills containing acetyl-L-carnitine , also called ALCAR, or a placebo. The results were astounding. The placebo group lived for an average of 22 months. The ALCAR group lived for 45 months. This little vitamin prolonged the lives of the study group by 23 months. For comparison, riluzole, the only drug approved for treating ALS, prolongs life by 3 months.

ALCAR works in many ways. Its primary role seems to be to deliver fuel to our cells’ engines – by carrying fats into mitochondria where they are turned into energy. But it also works like acetylcholine, triggers cell membrane repair, removes toxins from inside cells and a few other complicated things. All good.

ALCAR is good for the brain. It may benefit people with dementia, but the research on this is not conclusive. Studies have shown benefits in neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia, depression, and ADHD. Other conditions that may improve with ALCAR include kidney and liver problems, angina and heart disease, and sperm quality in men.

The ALS study is not a definitive trial. It was a small sample, and a larger needs to be done to confirm their results. But ALCAR is safe, cheap and virtually risk-free. Some minor GI complaints can occur, but there are no known serious risks. People with ALS should be offered ALCAR now. If you know someone with ALS, help them find a local provider who can help them decide if it is right for them. If they need help, they can call us.

We will be working with ALCAR, using oral and IV treatment to support and heal the brain. I look forward to reporting more soon. Meanwhile, we will try to get in touch with Stephen Hawking.

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