Lou Gehrig And His Killer

Lou Gehrig was born on June 19, 1903 in New York City.  He was the son of two German immigrants, Christina and Heinrich Gehrig.  In his youth he showed incredible promise in the sports of football and baseball, which ultimately led to a football scholarship at Columbia University.  While attending Columbia he also joined the baseball team where he became known as “Columbia Lou” for his incredible pitching ability and his uncanny ability to hit home runs.  These abilities ultimately led him to joining the Yankees in 1923 with the likes of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio.  He was deemed the “Iron Horse” by his teammates and his fans for his determination to play in spite of injuries.

In his career he boasted a lifetime batting average of .340 and in 1934 he won the batting “Triple Crown”.  This is when a player leads the league in runs batted in, home runs, and batting average.  He also, helped the Yankees to win six World Series championships.  However, his career was cut short when in 1938 he noticed he was having trouble tying his shoe laces and was diagnosed with ALS by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  He retired the following year and died in his sleep on June 2, 1941.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord.  It was first discovered in 1869 by Jean-Martin Charcot, a French neurologist.  However, it was not in the public eye until Lou Gehrig was diagnosed in 1939, effectively ending his career.  ALS usually presents itself between the ages of 40-70 and currently 20,000 people in the United States have the disease.

The disease itself is split into two categories: sporadic ALS and familial ALS.  Sporadic ALS is most common and makes up about 90-95% of all cases.  However, one of the gene mutations found in familial ALS is quite common in sporadic ALS.  ALS is caused by oxidative stress that can cause oxidative damage to proteins, lipids, and DNA.  This oxidative stress is caused by Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) that are a by-product of your body’s normal functions.  In your body Mitochondria produce ATP and energy that your cells use to survive, and as a result ROS are produced as well as other molecules that can cause oxidative stress.  If this oxidative stress is countered by your body it can cause problems and diseases such as ALS.

Your body has natural antioxidants such as SOD1 that turn ROS into normal molecules that are found in your body.  When there are mutations in these molecules, or they are malfunctioning this can lead to an accumulation of ROS that can cause damage to motor neurons, mitochondria, and RNA/DNA.  This damage to RNA/DNA can cause further problems in other natural processes that can accelerate ALS.

ALS is a terrible neurodegenerative disease that does not have a cure and the only hope is to prolong life as long as possible.  Please visit www.alsa.org to donate or participate in a fundraiser to fight this disease.