A population-based case-control study of the rare but devastating neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has shown that the risk of such disease is increased among smokers, as has been shown previously. However, surprisingly, the risk of ALS was found to be markedly lower among consumers of alcohol than among abstainers.
Forum reviewers thought that this was a well-done and important paper, as it is a population-based analysis, with almost 500 cases of ALS, a very large number of cases for this rare disease. They were especially struck by the magnitude of the difference in risk of ALS between alcohol consumers and never drinkers: the risk among drinkers was about one half that of non-drinkers. Said one reviewer: "The results in this study are astonishing in this mysterious disease. One should expect that alcohol, as a toxic agent, rather should contribute to the development of ALS than to prevent it. The lower risk among drinkers compared with non-drinkers is remarkable"
Forum reviewers cautioned that the results of this paper should not be used to prompt people to consume alcohol just to prevent ALS, as it is such a rare disease. However, this paper presents important data that could help scientists understand the etiology of ALS and perhaps other more common diseases.
Reference: de Jong SW, Huisman MHB, Sutedja NA, van der Kooi, AJ, de Visser M, Schelhaas HJ, Fischer K, Veldink JH, van den Berg LH. Smoking, alcohol consumption, and the risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis:A population-based study. Am J Epidemiol 2012;176:233-239
Comments on this paper were provided by the following members of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research:
Yuqing Zhang, MD, DSc, Epidemiology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA
Giovanni de Gaetano, MD, PhD, Research Laboratories, Catholic University, Campobasso, Italy
Harvey Finkel, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Boston University Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA
Arne Svilaas, MD, PhD, general practice and lipidology, Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway
Andrew L. Waterhouse, PhD, Marvin Sands Professor, Department of Viticulture and Enology, University of California, Davis; Davis, CA, USA
R. Curtis Ellison, MD, Section of Preventive Medicine & Epidemiology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA
Erik Skovenborg, MD, Scandinavian Medical Alcohol Board, Practitioner, Aarhus, Denmark
For the detailed critique of this paper by the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research and a listing of references, go to www.bu.edu/alcohol-forum, click on Recent Reports, and select Critique 087 - 8 August 2012.
The specialists who are members of the Forum are happy to respond to questions from Health Editors regarding emerging research on alcohol and health and will offer an independent opinion in context with other research on the subject.
Helena Conibear co Director
The International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research