Some Leisure Activities Pose Greater ALS Risk for Men

by Staff Writer
March 15, 2024 at 9:33 AM UTC

New research suggests some activities, like golfing, gardening/yard work, woodworking, and hunting, may increase the risk of developing ALS.

Clinical relevance: New research suggests certain recreational activities, like golfing, gardening/yard work, woodworking, and hunting, may increase the risk of developing ALS, particularly in men.

  • The study, published in The Journal of the Neurological Sciences, surveyed 400 ALS patients and 300 others without ALS to identify hobby-related risks.
  • Environmental exposures, such as pesticide use in golfing and gardening or yard work, are thought to contribute to ALS risk, part of a broader concept termed the “ALS exposome.”

Some men might want to reconsider what they do in their free time. New research from the University of Michigan School of Medicine proposes that certain recreational activities, such as golfing, gardening or yard work, woodworking, and hunting, might be linked to a higher risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

The Journal of the Neurological Sciences published the study in its February issue.

“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,” study lead author Stephen Goutman, MD, director of the Pranger ALS Clinic and associate director of the ALS Center of Excellence at University of Michigan, said in a press release.

Methodology

The UM researchers polled 400 ALS patients – and roughly 300 others without the disease – to discover their hobbies and other non-work-related activities. 

The survey results linked golf, for example, with a three times greater risk of developing ALS among men. Other hobbies that appear to pose a greater ALS to men in particular include:

  • Gardening or yard work.
  • Woodworking.
  • Hunting.

Surprisingly, none of the activities posed a greater risk for women. Additionally, the researchers failed to identify any link between the hobbies and earlier onset of – or death from –  ALS for either gender.

“It’s surprising that the risk factors we identified appear to be specific to males,” Goutman added. “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.”

A Growing Environmental Threat

This study’s results are the latest in an accelerating amount of research that seems to indicate that environmental exposures intensify the risk of someone developing ALS. Scientists have started calling this “lifetime accumulation of exposures the ALS exposome.”

Goutman adds that activities such as golfing and gardening or yardwork might transfer greater risk because of the growing use of pesticides. Earlier research – which tied golf and landscape maintenance jobs to greater ALS risk – reinforces that theory.

The researchers also hinted that the formaldehyde used to treat certain wood products might pose an environmental threat to woodworkers.

“Our goal is to understand what occupations and hobbies increase ALS risk because identifying these activities provides the first step towards ALS prevention,” said senior author Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the ALS Center of Excellence at U-M and James W. Albers Distinguished University Professor at UM. “For a disease like Alzheimer’s, we know that a list of factors — including smoking, obesity, and high lipids — can increase risk by 40%. Our goal is to establish a similar list for ALS to create a roadmap to decrease risk…We want to change that.”

Other researchers have already launched additional studies to expound on this latest project. The study’s authors insist that it’s still too early to advise that people should stop golfing or woodworking.

More ALS Bad News

These findings follow news that Amylyx Pharmaceuticals Inc. has announced that it might be pulling its ALS drug, Relyvrio, from the market. The announcement comes after its Phase 3 clinical trial, dubbed Phoenix, showed that it failed to perform better than a placebo.

“We are surprised and deeply disappointed by the Phoenix results,” Justin Klee and Joshua Cohen, co-CEOs of Amylyx, announced in a press release. “Over the next eight weeks, our team will continue to engage with regulatory authorities and the ALS community to discuss the results from Phoenix. We will be led in our decisions by two key principles: doing what is right for people living with ALS, informed by regulatory authorities and the ALS community, and by what the science tells us.”

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