Terry Wahls, MD
Terry Wahls grew up on a small family farm in Iowa. She got her medical degree from the University of Iowa, and then worked at the Marshfield Clinic and as a professor at the University of Wisconsin before moving back to Iowa to work at the VA in Iowa City in 2000. That same year, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Wahls was always active: she ran marathons, climbed mountains and did cross-country skiing, but within 3 years of her diagnosis, she was using a wheelchair. Wahls tried many different conventional medical interventions for MS without success. She was continuing to deteriorate when she made radical changes to her diet which she credits with reversing her symptoms. Her practice is now focused on functional medicine and the Wahls Protocol Diet in particular.
Terry Wahls’s Diet
After decades of following a vegetarian diet, Wahls returned to eating meat as part of her attempt to improve her MS symptoms, but she still continued to decline. It was only after she cut out grains and legumes in a modified version of the Paleo diet that she saw improvement. Wahls believes the modern Western diet has caused many chronic diseases, and that a return to a simpler diet can cure these disorders. Wahls’ Protocol is centered around eating a lot of vegetables. Protein should come in the form of grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish. All foods should be organic, pastured and as close to nature as possible. Dairy products, eggs, grains, legumes, starches and sugars are limited. Certain vegetables such as those in the nightshade family are also restricted. While research is limited, Wahls claims success with her patients. Wahls says this diet can help with other autoimmune disorders as well as other conditions, including obesity, heart disease, autism and depression. The Wahls Protocol has 3 levels which increase in strictness, but most people stick with the first 2 levels. Wahls also engages in intermittent fasting, following either a 12- or 16-hour window during which she does not eat.
- Low Carbs 10% 10%
- Low-Medium Fat 30% 30%
- Medium-High Protein 60% 60%
Feed Your Brain
Wahls quickly discovered the nutrients needed for a healthy brain and the powerhouses in your cells known as mitochondria can be found in veggies, fruit and wild, organic meats.
One of the primary features of Wahls’ Protocol is to eat 9 cups of vegetables and fruit every day: 3 cups of leafy greens, 3 cups of sulphur-rich vegetables (like onions, garlic, and cabbage), and 3 cups of brightly-colored vegetables and fruit.
Strict, Stricter, Strictest
On the level 1 Wahls Diet, gluten, dairy, eggs, processed food and artificial sugars are avoided, but legumes, soy and gluten-free grains are okay. With level 2 Wahls Paleo, you are meant to eat organ meat, fermented foods and seaweed, while legumes, gluten-free grains and starchy vegetables are reduced. In level 3 Paleo Plus, all grains and legumes are avoided completely, and fruits are limited to berries.
The Power of Antioxidants
Wahls says that antioxidants are needed both to reduce and prevent inflammation as well as to keep your cells healthy. Healthy cells equals a healthy body.
Omega-3s to the Rescue
Wahls says that while we need all types of omega fatty acids, our ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is out of whack. Where early humans ate about a 1-to-1 ratio, the typical Western diet today is around 15-to-1. She says to aim for a 4-to-1 ratio.
No Eggs In Her Basket
Eggs are not part of the Wahls Protocol, which is one difference from Paleo, and this is because Wahls herself is allergic to them.
What to Eat
Dark leafy greens
Sulphur-rich vegetables: garlic, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mushrooms, etc.
Fruit, esp. berries
What to Avoid
Nightshades: eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, etc.
Wahls On Her Aha Moment Regarding Diet
‘It occurred to me that I should get my long list of nutrients from food. That if I did that…that would be helpful to my brain and my mitochondria.’
Wahls On The Connection Between Diet, Lifestyle And Disease
‘Certainly the evidence is slowly building that there are many elements of our diet and lifestyle that influence disease activity.’
Wahls On Foods That Impact Health
‘The amount of salt…the amount of vegetables…the amount of white processed foods, the amount of food additives…all have an impact on relapse rates, on brain volume on quality of life, on disability scores.’
Wahls On Overhauling Your Diet
‘Your best strategy is to eat these radical things called vegetables.’
Terry Wahls’s Fitness Routine
Weekly Workout Routine
Every Rep Is A Step
We all know exercise is good for us, but do you know all the different ways? Exercise grows muscle and burns fat, improves energy levels and mood, boosts immune function, and it also stimulates the growth of new mitochondria.
Wahls’ Protocol is more than a diet. It is a complete lifestyle change. But Wahls points out that if you have a degenerative condition, it is important to find the right kind of exercise.
Wahls uses electrical stimulation as part of her health protocol, and says many people with neurological issues or neurodegenerative conditions can benefit from e-stim. Self-massage is also part of Wahls’ Protocol.
After 3 months of changing her diet and adding in meditation, Wahls was able to get out of her wheelchair and walk with a cane. In 6 months, she walked without the cane and after 9 months, she was able to ride her bike.
A Terry Wahls Routine
Light to moderate aerobic exercise such as yoga, walking, etc.: daily
Self massage: daily
Wahls On Exercise
‘Exercise promotes the release of hormones in the brain called nerve growth factor. These hormones are needed to keep our brains big and well-connected.’
Wahls On Early Vs. Modern Humans
‘Our ancestors traveled 6-15 miles a day, walking, running, and carrying as they hunted and gathered food. Today, however, medical problems and jobs that require us to sit most of the day have led to a significant decrease in the amount of physical activity we get.’
Wahls On Healing
‘The power of healing is within you.’
Terry Wahls’s Supplements
coenzyme Q10, carnitine and creatine
While Wahls advocates eating whole foods to get your nutrients, if your diet is less than idea, you can still consider supplementing to improve your nutrition. She initially took coenzyme Q10, carnitine and creatine and saw some improvement in her symptoms.
vitamins C, A, K and B
As she did more research, her list of supplements grew to include things like omega-3s to reduce inflammation and promote brain health, antioxidants such as vitamins C, A, K and B, and a greens supplement
if you don’t get your 9 cups daily for proper functioning in the mitochondria. Wahls also wants people to spend more time outside, but even so, she says for those who can’t get out enough or live in northern climates, a vitamin D supplement may be necessary.
On the Wahls Paleo diet, calcium may be a bit low, making supplementation necessary, especially for older individuals.
Magnesium can also reduce muscle spasms and improve sleep quality.
B vitamins do many different things in the body, including promote brain and heart health.
Wahls says iodine is essential for brain cells and that up to three-quarters of adults do not get enough.
To reduce toxic load, Wahls also recommends selenium.
Wahls also believes that the microbiome in our digestive tract is very important to health, and so a probiotic supplement can help improve digestion and keep things moving through, also reducing toxins.
Wahls recommends extra fiber, including ground flaxseed and chia seeds to reduce the risk of constipation.
Terry Wahls’s Lifestyle
In addition to revamping her diet, Wahls began meditating daily, which she says helped to improve her condition even more rapidly.
Wahls says that in order to sleep well at night, she must meditate every evening in order to quiet her mind.
Don’t Stop Believing
Wahls’ doctors told her there was no hope of recovery, and she herself did not believe she could get better. Yet she continued with her protocol and saw improvement despite her skepticism.
Disturbing MS Facts
Wahls says there are about 400,000 people in the US with MS with the rate of diagnosis increasing and the age of diagnosis getting younger all the time. She believes autoimmune diseases are a result of an overload of toxins in our system and low levels of vitamin D.
Manage Your Stress
Whahls says stress can have a significant impact on health and recovery. She recommends spending time in nature, gardening, prayer and journaling to help manage stress.
Wahls On Her Deterioration On Conventional Medicine
‘I saw the best people, took the newest drugs, but I went steadily downhill.’
Wahls On Her Struggles With Accepting Reality
‘What a lot of people don’t realize is that it’s a natural part of the process when you have a progressive disease. You go through anger, denial, bargaining, and you finally get to a place of acceptance…And you just take each day as it unfolds.’
Wahls On Her Miraculous Recovery
‘It wasn’t until the day I got on my bike and biked around the block. I’m crying, my wife’s crying, my kids are crying…I’m crying now too, because I always get emotional thinking back to that day.’
Wahls On Taking Charge Of Your Health
‘You don’t have to be a victim…Your body can heal itself — if you give it the tools.’
Wahls On Longevity
‘I think all of us want to have our brains working really well into our 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 100.’
Wahls On Priorities
‘I care much more about my health-span than my lifespan.’
Wahls On The Sunshine Vitamin
‘Physicians have made us terrified of the sun, so people are putting on sunscreen, which is toxic in itself, and blocking the tan also blocks the ability to make vitamin D.’
The Wahls Protocol
The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life
Minding My Mitochondria
Electrical Stimulation Unit