BMAA May Cause ALS

Did You Know…that a neurotoxin found in seafood may be the cause of ALS?

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a severely debilitating illness that destroys neurons in the brain and spinal cord, paralyzing its victims until they can no longer breathe or swallow.  It used to be quite a rare disease with no known cause, afflicting 2 out of 100,000 people a year.  Today, however, ALS diagnoses are on the rise, and research suggests that a neurotoxin found in seafood may be the culprit.

Blue Green Algae and BMAA 

BMAA is a toxin that proliferates in cyanobacteria, which is blue-green algae that thrives in aquatic environments.  Aquatic animals, from fish to crab to mollusks, feed on blue-green algae, and subsequently become a possible source of BMAA exposure for humans.  Test-tube experiments have revealed that BMAA can destroy motor nerve cells in the spinal cord—the very same ones killed by ALS!

Humans have most likely been exposed to BMAA throughout our evolutionary history, however industrial agricultural methods have increased the concentration of BMAA in seafood.  Fertilizers, animal waste, sewage, and eroded soil contaminate various aquatic habitats and threaten our health.

Scientists predict that BMAA exposure is only going to increase, and the rates of neurodegenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and ALS will increase right alongside them.  More and more research validates the link between BMAA and ALS;  in fact, BMAA has been shown to be present in the brain and spinal cord tissues of both endemic and sporadic ALS and Alzheimer’s patients.

Where’s the Proof? 

Wanting a clearer understanding of ALS, neurologist Elijah Stommel of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center tasked students with plugging in the addresses of 200 of his ALS patients into Google Earth.  The patterns that emerged were astounding!  Both his current and deceased patients lived around lakes and other bodies of water.  Many lower income families in New Hampshire fish from waters affected by cyanobacteria several times a week as a low-to-no-cost food source.  The incidence of ALS has increased by as much as 25 times in recent decades in these areas!

Wisconsin is also experiencing an increase in ALS incidence in people who eat fish at least once a week, 50% of which they catch fresh out of Lake Michigan, rife with blue-green algae.

In Maryland, three ALS patients lived on the same street in a small town just north of Annapolis.  But these ALS victims had more than just proximity in common.  They all ate fresh caught Bay Blue Crabs from Chesapeake Bay at least once a week.  Researchers tested the crabs and found that 2 out of 3 were positive for BMAA.

France, Finland, Guam—similar case studies have been reported around the world.

Reduce Your Risk

As of right now the link between BMAA and ALS is just a theory, but a strong enough hypothesis that 21 research teams from 11 countries are studying the effects of BMAA on human health.  While research is underway, experts advise limiting your consumption of fish and reducing your exposure to BMAA and mercury, which may have a synergistic toxic effect.  To stay up to date on the most sustainable and safe seafood, visit Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.