DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Do you have any information on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

My younger sister has been diagnosed as having it. I have never known anyone who had it. My sister’s speech is now affected.

Have any strides been made in treating this disease? I appreciate any input you can give. – E.M.

The public knows amyotrophic lateral sclerosis as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was one of baseball’s truly great players and truly great human beings. In 1941, he was forced to retire from the game because of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – ALS. Forever, he will be remembered not just for his athletic talents but for being the symbol of this illness.

In ALS, the nerves that control muscle movement are destroyed. Those nerves are found in the brain and the spinal cord. Profound weakness results and necessitates wheelchair use.

Not only are the arms and legs affected, but swallowing and speech muscles eventually are involved. Patients end up as hostages in their own bodies, unable to do anything for themselves. They almost always retain clear mental function and are in touch with others.

More than 5,000 people are diagnosed with this illness yearly in Canada and the United States.

No medicine as of yet has been able to completely stop the progression of the illness or reverse the damage it has done. Rilutek can extend life somewhat for patients. It represents a breakthrough in treatment and offers promise of greater breakthroughs, but it is not a cure.

If you want in-depth information on this mysterious illness, contact the ALS Association. Not only does the association provide information, it provides scientists with assistance in finding the cause of and eventual cure for ALS. The association’s toll-free number is 800-782-4747 and its Web site is:

If you’d like to read a touching account of ALS, get Mitch Albom’s book “Tuesdays With Morrie.”

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband loves to grill, and my family loves his grilling. During the summer we have about one grilled dinner a week.

I have heard that grilled meat can cause cancer. If this is the case, we’ll stop grilling. If it isn’t, we’ll continue. Which should we do? – A.M.

There is concern that cooking meats at high temperatures creates chemicals that might induce cancer. Those chemicals are heterocyclic amines. The time that meat is subjected to high temperatures is a big factor in production of those amines.

Furthermore, during grilling, fat drips from the meat onto the hot coals. That produces other chemicals with the potential for causing cancer. Those chemicals are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

How great is the danger? Not terribly so. One grilled meal a week during the summer doesn’t have your family headed for the hospital.

You can reduce the production of cancer-causing chemicals by microwaving meat for two minutes immediately before grilling it. Flipping the meat frequently when it’s on the grill also cuts down on the production of those chemicals.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Every year, doctors have to stretch my esophagus because it doesn’t want to stay open. Swallowing becomes difficult. This is getting old. Isn’t there a permanent solution? – Anon.

I’m hamstrung. I have to know the name of your condition. Lots of disorders make swallowing difficult, and many of them require stretching of the esophagus to relieve the problem.

For example, esophageal ulcers form scars that contract the esophagus. Gastroesophageal reflux disease – also known as GERD and heartburn – can produce scarring that needs dilation. Achalasia, a degeneration of nerve cells in the esophagus’s wall, can make food passage close to impossible. It’s treated by dilating the esophagus with an inflatable balloon.

This is just a sample of potential disorders that call for esophageal stretching. Let me know the name of your problem, and I can give you more information.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 16-year-old girl who plays soccer for my school. I would like to strengthen my neck muscles for the few times I use my head to hit the ball. My brother tells me to buy a head harness that holds weights. I can’t afford that. Is there any other way? – K.D.

ANSWER: Loop a towel around your head and hold the ends in front of your head with both hands. Bend your neck backward while exerting pressure on the towel to resist the bend.

Hold the bent position for 10 seconds, and repeat the exercise 10 times. You can vary the amount of resistance you give to the towel, and you can vary the towel’s position so you exercise the front and side neck muscles.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from