Results of a recent clinical trial suggest that vitamin E may cause a slight delay in the progression of ALS — bittersweet news for people who've followed the hopeful treatment's long history.
In the trial, led by neurologist Claude Desnuelle at CHU de Nice Hospital in France, 289 people with ALS received either vitamin E (500 milligrams) or a placebo twice daily for one year. All trial participants were also taking riluzole (Rilutek).
Vitamin E had no effect on survival or on the loss of muscle function. But participants taking vitamin E were less likely to progress to severe ALS within the one-year study period.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant, a substance that helps clean up free radicals. It became a popular treatment for ALS in 1940, when baseball legend Lou Gehrig took large quantities of the vitamin, on the advice of physicians.
The use of vitamin E gained more support in the mid-1990s, when researchers found evidence that ALS might be caused by oxidative stress, a toxic buildup of free radicals. Shortly afterward, geneticist Mark Gurney, then an MDA grantee at Northwestern University in Chicago, found that vitamin E could slow disease onset and progression in mice with ALS.
Since then, many physicians and patients have hoped that vitamin E might protect against human ALS by reducing oxidative stress. In the French trial, analyses of chemicals in the blood suggested that participants taking vitamin E did indeed experience lower levels of oxidative stress.
The trial results were published in the March issue of ALS and Other Motor Neuron Disorders.