San Francisco – Veterans have an increased risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to research that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology 56th Annual Meeting in San Francisco, Calif., April 24 – May 1, 2004.
The study found that men who served in the military were 60 percent more likely to develop ALS than men who did not serve in the military. The study examined men who entered the service as early as 1906 and as late as 1982.
“Two recent studies suggested that the risk of ALS is increased among Gulf War veterans,” said first author Marc Weisskopf, PhD, of Harvard School of Public Health. “We wanted to find out whether military service prior to the Gulf War was associated with an increased risk of ALS.”
The study involved 268,258 men who served in the military and 126,414 men who did not serve. There were a total of 274 deaths from ALS. Men in the study were participants in an investigation started by the American Cancer Society in 1982. Researchers tracked deaths from ALS from 1989 through 1998 via the National Death Index. The results were adjusted for age and smoking, which has been suggested as a risk factor for ALS.
The increased risk was similar among men who served in the Army and National Guard, the Navy and the Air Force. The risk was increased for men who served in the second World War, Korea, or Vietnam, although there were not enough Vietnam veterans for the numbers to be statistically accurate Weisskopf said.
“This study shows that the increased risk of ALS among military personnel does not appear to be specific to service during the Gulf War,” Weisskopf said. “More research is needed to confirm this increased risk for men in military service in general, and eventually to determine its causes.”
Weisskopf and his colleague Alberto Ascherio, MD, DrPH, senior author of the study, are seeking funding to conduct further research to confirm these preliminary findings and to investigate the potential prophylactic effect of vitamin E. Men and women who regularly used vitamin E supplements were less likely to develop ALS than non-users of these supplements. These results will also be presented at the AAN meeting.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 19,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as stroke, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, autism and multiple sclerosis.
For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit www.aan.com.
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Editor's Notes: Dr. Weisskopf will present this research during a scientific session at the 56th Annual Meeting at 2:30 p.m. PT on Wednesday, April 28, in Room 310 of the Moscone Convention Center. He will be available for media questions during a briefing at 10:00 a.m. PT, also on Wednesday, April 28, in the on-site Press Interview Room, Room 214.