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Researchers Tested Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet on Mice

April 21, 2006 -- Tests on mice link a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet to slower progression of Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

ALS is often called Lou Gehrig's disease, after the famed baseball player who died with the condition in 1941. ALS, currently incurable, is a progressive, degenerative neurological disorder.

In ALS the nerve cells, called motor neurons, of the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement gradually deteriorate, for reasons not yet understood. As a result, muscles waste away, leading to paralysis and death, usually in two to five years.

The new ALS study only included mice, not people. The report, published online in BMC Neuroscience, doesn't make any dietary recommendations for people with ALS.

About the Study

The researchers included Giulio Pasinetti, MD, PhD, of the Neuroinflammation Research Laboratories at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Pasinetti and colleagues studied two groups of male mice with ALS. The researchers fed one group of mice a standard diet. The other group of mice got a diet that was higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates.

The special diet was designed to force the mice to break down fat for energy. During the process of breaking down that fat, the body makes substances called ketones.

The mice on the high-fat, low-carb diet gained more weight, had over 3.5 times higher levels of ketones in their bloodstream, and had a slower worsening of muscular motor function.

Motor function was measured by the length of time that the mice could run on a treadmill in their cages.

The mice on the special diet also had more motor neurons in the spinal cord than the other mice.

However, survival was similar between the two groups, the researchers note.

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