There has been a recent flurry of stories of celebs and past Presidents getting soaked with a bucket of ice water to raise money for “ALS” research. ALS stands for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” after the famed Yankee hitter from the 1930s whose career came to an abrupt end when he developed the mysterious muscle disease that now bears his name.
Coincident with the latest fundraiser of the ALS association is a research report from Harvard Medical School that linked a diet low in omega-3 fatty acids, both the fish and the plant forms, with increased risk for developing ALS. Although very far from proving that a high omega-3 diet will prevent or slow the development of the disease, this is the first hint that a dietary factor MAY be involved with the cause of the disease. If so, then some controllable lifestyle factor (diet) might be brought to bear in the quest to eradicate the disease.
The researchers did not measure blood omega-3 levels in this study, only dietary questionnaires (from over 1 million presumably healthy people), and then they calculated how much omega-3 (EPA, DHA and the plant-derived ALA) each person was apparently consuming. Importantly, past studies have clearly shown a very strong correlation between the amount of omega-3 EPA+DHA in the diet and the Omega-3 Index, the blood test offered by OmegaQuant Analytics. So had blood samples been available in this study, the researchers would likely have found that a low Omega-3 Index was at least 1 factor that characterized people who went on to develop ALS (which in this study was less than 1 person in 1000). Future ALS studies will hopefully include measurement of the Omega-3 Index, which is a much more reliable measure of omega-3 intake than a diet questionnaire.
Marine omega-3 fatty acids are found most commonly in cold water fish like salmon, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna… so maybe there actually IS a connection between ice water and omega-3!