Background: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive, fatal neurodegenerative disease of the motor neurons. The etiology of ALS remains largely unknown, particularly with reference to the potential environmental determinants. Methods: We performed a population-based case-control study in four provinces from both Northern and Southern Italy in order to assess non-genetic ALS risk factors by collecting through tailored questionnaires information about clinical and lifestyle factors. We estimated ALS risk by calculating odds ratio (OR) with its 95% confidence interval (CI) using unconditional logistic regression models adjusted for sex, age and educational attainment. Results: We recruited 230 participants (95 cases and 135 controls). We found a possible positive association of ALS risk with trauma, particularly head trauma (OR = 2.61, 95% CI 1.19-5.72), electric shock (OR = 2.09, 95% CI 0.62-7.06), and some sports, although at a competitive level only. In addition, our results suggest an increased risk for subjects reporting use of private wells for drinking water (OR = 1.38, 95% CI 0.73-2.27) and for use of herbicides during gardening (OR = 1.95, 95% CI 0.88-2.27). Conversely, there was a suggestion of an inverse association with overall fish consumption (OR = 0.27, 95% CI 0.12-0.60), but with no dose-response relation. Consumption of some dietary supplements, namely those containing amino acids and, in the Southern Italy population, vitamins and minerals such as selenium, seemed associated with a statistically imprecise increased risk. Conclusions: Our results suggest a potential etiologic role a number of clinical and lifestyle factors with ALS risk. However, caution is needed due to some study limitations. These include the small sample size and the low number of exposed subjects, which affect statistical precision of risk estimates, the potential for exposure misclassification, and the uncertainties about mechanisms underpinning the possible association between these factors and disease risk.
Keywords: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; case-control study; diet; environmental factors; trauma.