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Hobbies Can Increase ALS Risk

Impact Seems to Target Men

Hobbies Can Increase ALS Risk

By John Salak –

Just what triggers a disease or perhaps increases the risk of developing one can be difficult to grasp at times and frightening in its apparent randomness. Consider amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.

It is a horrifyingly serious disease that can be difficult to track and devastating in its consequences, usually claimimg a patient’s life in two to five years of their diagnosis. Not widely understood or recognized, it is better known to many as Lou Gehrig’s Disease after the iconic baseball player who contracted ALS in the 1930s. It’s estimated that perhaps 35,000 people in the U.S. currently deal with it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Incredibly, a study by Michigan Medicine reports that common recreational activities such as golfing, gardening or yard work, woodworking and hunting may be associated with an increased risk of developing ALS. Men were at particular risk.

“We know that occupational risk factors, like working in manufacturing and trade industries, are linked to an increased risk for ALS, and this adds to a growing literature that recreational activities may also represent important and possibly modifiable risk factors for this disease,” reported first author Dr. Stephen Goutman, director of the Pranger ALS Clinic and associate director of the ALS Center of Excellence at the University of Michigan.

“Future studies should include these activities to pinpoint how they can be understood in the context of ALS prevention, diagnosis and treatment,” he stressed.

The research team came to its conclusions after surveying 400 people with ALS and nearly 300 without the condition to assess their hobbies and non-work related activities.

Golf, for example, was associated with a three times greater risk of developing ALS among men. Participation in gardening or yard work, as well as woodworking and hunting, was also linked with a heightened risk for men.

When broken down by gender, no recreational activities had significant associations with ALS for females. Beyond this, none of the hobbies were linked to earlier onset of or death from ALS for either sex.

“Surprisingly, the risk factors we identified appear to be specific to males,” Goutman said. “While these activities may also increase ALS risk in females, the number of females in our study was too small for us to come to that conclusion.”

In general, for whatever reasons, men are already 20 percent more likely to develop ALS than women, according to ALSNewsToday.com.

The specific reasons for the apparent increased risk of ALS associated with common hobbies wasn’t identified. The research, however, indicates that the findings may support the growing evidence that environmental exposures increase the risk of getting the disease.

Hobbies such as golfing and gardening or yardwork, for example, may have an impact due to the use of pesticides, Goutman speculated. A past study noted that occupations in golf and garden maintenance to increased ALS risk. Other studies on woodworking lead researchers to believe that formaldehyde exposure during the hobby could be attributed to higher risk.

“Our goal is to understand what occupations and hobbies increase ALS risk because identifying these activities provides the first step towards ALS prevention,” added senior author Dr. Eva Feldman. “Our goal is to establish a list for ALS to create a roadmap to decrease risk.”

Both Goutman and Feldman noted that despite their findings, it is too early for clinicians to advise that patients stop doing any of these activities.





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