She had access to expert medical care and embarked on drug treatment but her walking deteriorated to the point where she depended on canes and a scooter. By 2003, she had secondary progressive multiple sclerosis and underwent chemotherapy to slow it down. Her back muscles were weak, so she started using a tilt-recline wheelchair. The unexpectedly speedy progress of her disease made it clear that she would be bedridden.
To forestall that fate, Dr Wahls researched her illness. From her medical training, she knew that animal models of disease were often decades ahead of clinical practice. So she started using PubMed.gov to find cutting-edge MS research. Most studies, however, related to drugs years away from FDA approval.
How, she wondered, could she help herself right now?
Her mind turned to nutritional supplements shown in studies to help progressive brain disorders. She compiled a list and started taking them. Her decline slowed, but she was still sliding.
By autumn 2007, she could no longer sit in an ordinary chair. She was also misplacing things and afraid for her clinical privileges. But an epiphany was nigh.
Dr Wahls’ supplement experience drew her probing mind to food. Every cell is built from nutrients. If we eat the wrong ‘building blocks’, the construction and functionality of our cells are compromised.
Myelin is the fatty sheath that insulates nerve cells, improves the conduction of electrical impulses and maintains nerve health. In MS, it disappears due to inflammation. Impulses slow and nerves are damaged. Nerve-related functions (e.g. speech, eyesight, movement, writing, memory, etc.) deteriorate progressively as more neurons are affected.
Dr Wahls surmised that if she could design a diet to get those vital brain nutrients from food, she might also benefit from countless compounds in natural foods, as yet undiscovered by science, that could help repair myelin and nerve cells and top up neurotransmitters.
At the time, she was also learning about neuromuscular electrical stimulation and convinced her physical therapist to give her a session. It had never been tried on MS patients before and it hurt. A lot. But afterwards she felt euphoric, as her body released endorphins (inner opiates) in response.
She began her plan in December 2007. It consisted of targeted nutrition, progressive exercise, neuromuscular electrical stimulation and meditation to relieve stress. The results were outstanding.
Every few weeks she saw positive changes, progressively retiring her wheelchair, scooter and canes. By December 2008 she had regained the ability to walk unaided and completed an 18-mile bike ride. She was also conducting clinical trials and writing grants again.
Since then, she has been researching, teaching, lecturing and speaking about her journey and has conducted a pilot study on the use of intensive directed nutrition for MS sufferers. She uses elements of her protocol in her clinical practice and has noted, in particular, the positive effects of targeted nutrition on brain-injured war veterans and people with mental/emotional issues.
Dr Wahls’ plan is easy-peasy but she is adamant that cheating will not deliver results. She still describes herself as having MS. If she eats badly her symptoms creep back.
Eat daily (organically grown or raised)…
- Three cups of leafy greens, raw or lightly cooked (e.g. lettuce, kale, spinach, purslane, etc. – the darker the better!)
- Three cups of sulphur-rich vegetables, raw or lightly cooked (e.g. cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.; onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, chives, etc.; asparagus; mushrooms of all kinds)
- Three cups of colourful fruits and vegetables (e.g. berries, peaches, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, aubergines, etc. – vary the colours)
- Non-starchy vegetables of your choice
- Wild fish and grass-fed meat
- Green tea
- Organ meat once a week (e.g. liver, heart, etc.)
- Bone broths when possible
Do not eat…
- Dairy products
- Grains (especially gluten-containing grains – she seems to suggest in talks that rice and oats are OK occasionally)
- Processed food
- Junk food
- Soya foods
- White potatoes
- Caffeine (except green tea)
Lots more information:
- Terry Wahls, M.D.: The Wahls Protocol (TM) Defeating Progressive MS Without Drugs (check out her blog in the ‘Community Resources’ section for latest news)
- Terry Wahls, M.D. resources section: useful links to external resources
- The Wahls Foundation: Terry Wahls’ research, etc.
- The Institute for Functional Medicine
- TEDxIowaCity: Dr Terry Wahls: Minding Your Mitochondria: good introduction to Dr Wahls and her nutrition plan
- Terry Wahls, M.D. video resources section: includes some practical tips on implementing her plan
- Food As Medicine: Brain Health: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6: EXCELLENT: the most comprehensive explanation of Dr Wahls’ work (including her work with brain-injured war veterans)
NB Consult with your doctor before changing your diet, especially if you are unwell and/or on any medication.
Terry L Wahls MD is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, Iowa, USA, where she teaches internal medicine residents their primary care clinics. She also does clinical research and has published over 60 peer-reviewed scientific abstracts, posters and papers.