Doctor Terry Wahls is besides a clinical professor at the University of Iowa a patient with secondary MS, which confined her to a wheelchair for 4 years. She fully restored her health however using diet and lifestyle changes and now pedals back to her work every day. How this happened, Kevin asked her.
27-01-2015 - by Kevin Van der Straeten
Doctor Terry Wahls is besides a clinical professor at the University of Iowa a patient with secondary MS, which confined her to a wheelchair for 4 years. She fully restored her health however using diet and lifestyle changes and now pedals back to her work every day. How this happened, I asked her myself.
Hi Doctor Terry, welcome to our studio.
Hello, thank you for having me.
You suffered from secondary progressive MS. Do I say it correctly?
You say it correctly. I had relapsing and remitting MS diagnosed in 2000, though by 2003 the disease had transitioned to secondary progressive MS.
What I always thought is that MS is a disease that could not be cured.
Well, let's say that that's still true. I am very careful to say: I am not cured. But my disease is very well managed by diet and lifestyle. If I fall away from my diet and lifestyle I again have severe horrific pain, worsening fatigue and growing fog, so I get a pretty prompt reminder to stay very thoughtful on my diet and lifestyle choices.
A couple of years ago you were still in a wheelchair for 4 years.
Yes, that is absolutely right.
And now you're biking back to work.
Five miles each way.
That's impressive! You already mentioned that you did it by changing your lifestyle, your diet. But what exactly did you do?
When I first hit the wheelchair in 2003, I went back to reading the basic science. I started adding some vitamins and supplements based on what I was reading, that was working for mice. And I slowed my decline. I was very grateful for that, but I was still declining. I'd also note that in 2002, the year before I hit the wheelchair, my neurology team told me about Loren Cordains work and the Paleo Diet. So after 20 years as a vegetarian I went back to eating meat. And I gave up all grain. all legumes, all dairy, but I continued to decline. In the summer of 2007 I discovered the Institute for Functional Medicine and took there a course on Neuroprotection. I had a longer list of vitamins that I was taking. And then I had the insight in November that I should get these nutrients from the food that I was eating. So it's more a research to figure out where these 20 things were in the food supply. But I reorganized my diet using Paleo-principles, to get these 20 nutrients. And that really becomes what I now call the Wahls Level 1 diet. So it's lots of vegetables: 3 cups of green leafy vegetables, 3 cups of sulphur-rich cabbage family, onion family vegetables, 3 cups of deeply coloured things like carrots, beets, berries, and then sufficient protein. Yeah, about 6 to 10 ounces of meat every day.
But you still eat meat now?
Yes, I still eat meat. Grass-fed meat, wild fish, wild game.
If you look at traditional medicine; not many doctors describe this type of diet.
Yes very few. We get almost no nutrition education or lifestyle education during medical school and during training, so all of this I had to research and learn myself. The average medical student has less than 10 hours of nutritonal education in their 4 years of medical school.
But isn't that a pity? Because a lot of doctors are subscribing a lot of pills. But sometimes good food can be so much better.
You know, if we look we have thousands of papers that tell us: all of our chronic diseases; high blood-pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, dementia, mental health problems and auto-immunity, in 95% of the cases relate to just three things: diet quality, smoking status, physical activity level. Those are the things that doctors need to be telling patients. That should be the beginning of treatment for every chronic illness. But it rarely is.
I am very glad that you as a clinical doctor are telling this story, because a lot of people tell this story but they won't get believed. You also studied medicine; you know how it works.
Yeah look, it really is perfect because as an academical medicine doc I did the aggressive conventional treatment for 3 years. With good results, actually for 7 years with steady decline. And I'm also a physician scientist. I was still doing clinical research in another area. So I'm the perfect one to get ill, dramatically so, then discover that diet and lifestyle are the keys to restoring your health. And now I use that in my clinical practice and that's the clinical research that I now study.
Okay, you still can say: "you're a miracle. Something miraculous happened". But do you see the same things happening with your patients, for example?
It's actually quite wonderful. We have a clinical trial, where we took 20 people with progressive MS. Either secondary progressive or primary progressive, and use the same protocol. We had the first paper published. The second paper is under review. We have two more papers that will be coming out from this study. And we have very exciting, very promising results showing that people can adapt this, in that many people have marked improvement in multiple domains. And I also have a lifestyle clinic in the hospital where I practice. And so I use these concepts to treat things like lupus, arthritis, psoriasis, obesity, diabetes, mental health problems, PTSD, traumatic brain injury... Again with very striking success I know you wrote a book on the subject. The book is the Wahls Protocol; how I beat progressive MS using Paleo-principles and functional medicine. And in this book a share a very intimate look at my decline and recovery. And I talk about conventional medicine, functional medicine. We talk about how to transition from your current diet into progressively more health promoting diets. And then I also talk about the other lifestyle things. And these are the things that I use in my clinics and in my clinical trials. Again: with tremendous success.
You mentioned something that caught my attention. You said: moving progressively into a healthy diet. I would assume you just start from day 1 in eating healthy.
Well, I try to make it into sequential steps. So we talk about the foods that you want to remove from your diet, that are really inflammatory, such as the gluten-containing grains; wheat, rye, barley, which does include beer. Which is going to be difficult for...
For a lot of people that's difficult, yes.
And milk and eggs. And then we ramp up the vegetables in the green sulphur colour and some high quality protein. At the next level I start talking about making sure you get grass-fed meat, wild fish, organ meats, seaweed, and that if you're eating nuts or sunseeds that you soak them for at least 24 hours. And then in the third level, we talk about a ketogenic diet, where you ramp up the fat, ramp down the carbohydrates even further. Where people are still not doing as well as they want, we have them take away the nightshade family of vegetables, which is: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and potatoes.
Terry, thank you very much for this interview and for your research.
You're very welcome.
And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week!