I am honored to have the pioneering Dr. Terry Wahls as a guest blogger for my blog. Dr. Wahls is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa where she conducts clinical trials. She is also a patient with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, which confined her to a tilt-recline wheelchair for four years. Dr. Wahls restored her health using a diet and lifestyle program she designed specifically for her brain and now pedals her bike to work each day. She is the author of The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles (paperback), and the cookbook The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life: The Revolutionary Modern Paleo Plan to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions.
My future was very clear. The picture was grim. I would end up bedridden and demented. It was only a matter of time.
A very unpleasant milestone was approaching. I was facing medical disability due to progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). In 6 months, I would be reassigned to the traumatic brain injury clinic, where I would serve as the primary care physician on that team. I would no longer supervise residents. Instead I would be seeing patients directly.
However, it was unlikely I had the physical strength or stamina to do that job. Because of MS, I had been steadily declining for seven years. I was too weak to sit up in a regular chair and I was beginning to struggle with brain fog. I was worried about how much longer I would be able to work.
The people I worked for were too; this reassignment was probably my chief of staff’s way of telling me that the VA and the University were done redesigning my job to accommodate my illness. Once I was expected to see patients directly instead of teaching residents, I wouldn’t be able to function well enough to complete my workload. Seeing patients would be too much for me, and I would have to apply for medical disability. There was nothing more to do other than start my new position and accept that I would be unable to do the work. Then I’d apply for disability and hopefully get it, though there were no guarantees.
For 7 years, I had been getting progressively more disabled, despite taking the newest, latest drugs, including the newest biologic drugs. I was in a tilt-recline wheelchair, with no hope of restoring my ability to walk.
During my steady decline, I began to read the scientific literature about the basic science on neurodegenerative diseases and the mitochondria. At first I focused on drug studies. Then I realized I should read about the basic science of things that I could access–things like vitamins, supplements, stress reduction, and exercise. Based on the literature, I created an intensive program to support the health of my brain cells and my mitochondria, the power plants of the cells. I did all of this not to recover, but instead to slow my decline.
All of my neurologists at the Cleveland Clinic and the University of Iowa had told me that progressive MS is steady and irreversible. There would be no spontaneous recovery, only decline, and functions once lost were gone forever. So my goals were simple. I wanted to keep what I had, to be able to walk a few steps, for a few more years.
Miraculously, that is not what happened. My intensive diet and lifestyle program did the impossible. Three months after starting my program, my fatigue was gone. So was the brain fog. After six months, I was walking without a cane. After one year, I could bike 20 miles with my family.
I have changed the focus of my clinical practice and the focus of my research. I ran a therapeutic lifestyle clinic where we used these principles to treat people with autoimmune disease, metabolic diseases (like diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease), traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, and mental health problems – all with remarkable success. For many of our patients, pain declined, blood pressure and blood sugar normalized, and symptoms reduced. The need for medications also steadily declined. All because of diet and lifestyle changes.
We have conducted pilot clinical studies testing my protocol in others with progressive MS. These studies show that people can implement the diet and lifestyle program and experience a reduction in pain and improvement in energy, mental clarity and mood, and motor function.
The key message is that the food we eat creates the health we have or do not have. We teach people how a lifetime of diet choices and environmental exposures create health or disease, depending upon how our genes interact with our environmental exposures. Then we teach them why and how to eliminate inflammatory foods (especially sugar, gluten, and casein) and which foods will help them heal (green leafy vegetables, sulfur-rich vegetables, and deeply pigmented vegetables and berries).
I have made it my mission to teach the public that their health depends not on their physician, their health insurance companies, or the government. Their health depends on their decisions about what to eat and what to do each day. If you want to learn more about the Wahls Protocol® and how to implement these concepts in your lives, you can attend in person seminars that I offer to the public, or pick up my book, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles, and the companion cookbook, The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life. Begin your healing journey today.
Instead of becoming bedridden, I am riding my bike. Instead of being demented, I am writing books and grant proposals and conducting clinical trials. My terrible future was rewritten not by drugs, not by stem cells, not by surgery. It was rewritten by changing what I ate and what I did. You could do the same.
You can learn more about her work from her website, www.terrywahls.com. She conducts clinical trials that test the effect of nutrition and lifestyle interventions to treat MS and other progressive health problems. She also teaches the public and medical community about the healing power of the Paleo diet and therapeutic lifestyle changes that restore health and vitality to our citizens. She hosts a Wahls Protocol Seminar every August where anyone can learn how to implement the Protocol with ease and success. Follow her on Facebook (Terry Wahls MD) and on Twitter at @TerryWahls. Learn more about her MS clinical trials by reaching out to her team MSDietStudy@healthcare.uiowa.edu.
Clinical trials in which my team is participating
The links to our National MS Society funded research
Two studies in Bastyr University that are asking patients with MS or Parkinson’s disease about whether they are following the Wahls diet.