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Golf and gardening may be linked to ALS risk. Here’s how to do it – National | Globalnews.ca

With the arrival of spring, Canadians may look forward to resuming hobbies like gardening and golf. But researchers warn of potential health risks associated with these hobbies, especially those that increase exposure to pesticides.

Research published in the Journal of Neurological Sciences Earlier this year, it was discovered that outdoor recreational activities, such as golf, woodworking and hunting, could increase the risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), particularly in men.

Of all the hobbies examined in the study (like pottery and swimming), golf was associated with a three times higher risk of developing ALS in men.

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

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He emphasized that while research has linked ALS risk to such outdoor recreation, it shows “an association, not causation.”

“We don’t know exactly what the causal mechanism is or if there is a causal link. We need to dig deeper and explore further,” he told Global News.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a debilitating disease that gradually immobilizes people as the brain loses its ability to communicate with voluntary muscles. As muscles deteriorate over time, people with ALS experience a gradual loss of mobility, speech, and the ability to eat, swallow, and eventually breathe.

Each year, approximately 1,000 Canadians are diagnosed with ALS, and a similar number die from the disease, according to ALS Canada. And about 80 percent of people diagnosed with ALS die within two to five years of diagnosis.

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There is no cure for the disease, but there are currently treatments such as riluzole, which have been shown in clinical trials to increase survival by approximately six to 19 months.

And on Tuesday, Health Canada approved review of a new ALS treatment, called tofersen, that targets a rare genetic cause of the disease. The treatment is not yet approved, but a regulatory decision is expected in early 2025.

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The precise cause of ALS remains unknown, but the study conducted in Journal of Neurological Sciences highlights a growing recognition that disease results from a complex interplay of genetic predisposition and environmental influences.

“There is already a strong link between ALS and factors such as exposure to metals and pesticides,” Goutman said. “There is also some likelihood that physical activity is linked to ALS. These are some of the things that we may have made assumptions about in our data.

The researchers wanted to explore this topic further, investigating the possible link between ALS and people’s hobbies.


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Canadian researchers explore targeting inflammation as a possible treatment for ALS


To find this information, they surveyed 400 people living with ALS and nearly 300 without the disease between June 30, 2010 and February 2020 to assess their hobbies and non-work-related activities.

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They found that among men, participation in activities like golf, gardening or gardening, woodworking, and hunting was associated with an increased risk of ALS.

According to the study, no recreational activity has a significant association with ALS in women, depending on gender. None of the hobbies were linked to early onset or death from ALS, regardless of gender.

“These activities may pose risks to women but do not reach statistically significant thresholds due to the small number of women engaging in these hobbies,” the authors said.

Why these specific hobbies?

Hobbies such as golfing, gardening or gardening, Goutman said, can add risks due to pesticide use. Previous studies have also linked occupations related to golf course and garden maintenance to an increased risk of ALS, he said.

The study also linked woodworking to a potential risk factor for the disease “given the use of formaldehyde and organic solvents during the process.” Additionally, he argued that some wood species naturally emit organic chemicals, including highly volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde.

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Concerning hunting, the study notes that this activity could be a source of exposure to lead. The shot can lead to the aerosolization of metals, including lead, antimony, manganese and boron, depending on the composition of the bullet, the statement said.

Dancing was also associated with ALS risk, although the study indicates that this link may merit future investigation. The role of physical activity has been debated as an environmental risk factor in previous studies.

“Indeed, some types of recreational dancing can achieve moderate to intense levels of physical activity, which is significant given the potential role of intense physical activity as a risk factor for ALS,” the study states.

David Taylor, vice-president of research and strategic partnerships at the ALS Society of Canada, says the latest research highlights environmental factors that could be altered to alter the trajectory of ALS.

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“Of course, in studies like this, it’s really difficult because the associations are definitely not causation,” Taylor cautioned. “And these studies have many limitations, especially in the case of a disease like ALS. I think it highlights the fact that we still understand a lot about how physical activity or other aspects may be related to ALS, and we’re still trying to understand that.

He added that, as someone who constantly thinks about ALS, he “will definitely continue to play golf” and stressed that this study is not meant to scare anyone but to deepen our understanding of the disease.

Goutman believes the study reveals a “fingerprint” of potential exposures resulting from activities such as golfing and gardening.


Click to play video: “Ask the Doctor: Explaining ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease”


Ask the Doctor: Explaining ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease


The question now, he says, is whether being an avid golfer or a skilled carpenter increases sensitivity to chemicals or fertilizers.

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“It’s not the woodworking itself, it’s not the hunting and shooting itself, but maybe exposure to metals and chemicals related to it. These may simply be markers of the types of chemicals or toxins that may cause a higher risk of ALS.

He expressed hope for additional research funding to further explore these activities and identify precisely what aspects of these hobbies are associated with ALS.

“A lot of people play golf, a lot of people do gardening,” Goutman said. “And these activities certainly have health benefits, whether it’s cardiovascular health or mental health. And so, we have to be careful not to suggest behavioral modification before we really understand the cognitive mechanism.



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