Are you or a loved one looking for a way to reverse MS or autoimmune disease symptoms? Dr. Terry Wahls is a widely celebrated physician and researcher who was able to turn back the clock on her own progressive multiple sclerosis with lifestyle changes and a specifically tailored Paleo-type diet.
(To hear Dr. Wahls explain her story in person, listen to this Wellness Mama podcast when I had the privilege of interviewing her.)
Her journey started as it does for many of us… searching for answers to the puzzling health problems that can turn our lives upside down.
Dr. Terry Wahls and How She Found a Way to Reverse MS
Dr. Wahls started to experience symptoms of MS while she was in medical school. Her first official diagnosis of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis came in 2000.
It started with episodes of facial nerve pain that were ultimately diagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia.
Over the years, these episodes increased in frequency and severity. In 2000, after developing weakness in her left leg, she was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS). She went to an internationally recognized MS center, saw the best doctors, and took the newest drugs, costing tens of thousands of dollars each month.
Unfortunately, these efforts did not stop her decline.
By 2003, this former national tae-kwon-do competitor needed a tilt-recline wheelchair. Her illness converted to the progressive phase, secondary progressive MS. Her physicians told her that functions once lost would not return. She agreed to take more potent drugs but continued to worsen.
The future looked grim. Dr. Wahls feared she would end up bedridden and demented, suffering from uncontrollable face pain triggered by light, sounds, touch, speaking, and swallowing. But she had two young children and was a devoted wife, and decided not to give up.
Fighting Her Way Back
Dr. Wahls began reading everything she could find about the science behind MS, ancestral health principles, evolutionary biology, and functional medicine.
Then, she began designing a diet and lifestyle program around those principles. Dr. Wahls had switched from a low-fat vegetarian diet to a Paleo diet four years earlier, giving up all grain and dairy and eating meat again. The Paleo diet did not prevent her from needing a wheelchair, but she continued on thinking it might take years for the change in nutrition to change the course of her disease.
Based on her theories that mitochondrial dysfunction was at the heart of progressive MS symptoms and decline, she began experimenting with a mitochondria-boosting cocktail of vitamins and supplements. Those supplements eased the fatigue and appeared to slow the rate of decline somewhat.
In the summer of 2007, she had her “aha!” moment: what if she redesigned her Paleo diet to focus on getting the specific nutrients she had been taking in supplement form from food?
After intensive research, she started this new, highly structured, modified Paleo diet.
The results stunned her, her family, and her medical team. Here’s what happened:
- Within three months, her fatigue, brain fog and face pain were gone. She began walking with a cane.
- After six months on the protocol, she rode her bike around the block.
- After one year, she completed an 18.5 mile bike ride with her family.
Dr. Terry Wahls knew she was onto something, and that millions of other MS sufferers needed what she had learned.
What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
What is this dreaded disease that strikes seemingly out of nowhere?
There’s still a long way to go in understanding MS, but it starts with the microglia, the brain’s immune cells, creating inflammation in the brain. This damages the brain and spinal cord.
Immune cells target the myelin, the fatty shield around nerve fibers in the brain, impeding communication between cells in the body and brain. This breakdown results in many debilitating symptoms, including problems with vision, pain, and/or muscle weakness.
Although the precise cause of MS is still unknown, there is increasing recognition that MS is the result of a genetic vulnerability combined with environmental triggers. These triggers likely include an infection that is not properly cleared by the immune cells, low vitamin D level, smoking history, and other environmental toxins, physical activity level, adverse childhood events, hormone levels, and other unknown environmental factors.
Dr. Wahls’ dietary and lifestyle protocol addresses many of these potential triggers.
The Wahls Diet Protocol: Hope for MS Sufferers
I met Dr. Wahls when I happened to sit next to her during a session at a health event we both attended. I found her so energetic and inspirational.
Her work now focuses on researching the impact of the protocol on others with MS and communicating her findings to the world. She conducts clinical trials at the University of Iowa and wrote a book, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles, to explain her complete protocol of how she got better. The advice in this book is great for anyone struggling with an autoimmune disorder of any kind.
The newly updated and expanded version of Dr. Wahls’ book gives detailed guidance for meat eaters, vegetarian, and ketogenic eaters. It’s one of my guides on topics like ketone testing, various approaches to fasting, calorie restriction, and time-restricted eating.
She has also written a cookbook, Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life: The Revolutionary Modern Paleo Plan to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions, with recipes that follow the protocol and can help restore health.
So what’s in her plan to reverse the symptoms of MS and go from barely surviving to thriving again?
Here are the highlights:
Dr. Wahls’ Dietary Protocol to Reverse MS
Mitochondria are the body’s power producers. They are inside each of our cells, driving the work of our cells, organs, and body. So it makes sense that Dr. Wahls pinpoints their role in optimizing brain and immune system health. The basic tenets of her protocol for MS and autoimmune-specific conditions are:
- Remove processed foods.
- Remove foods that trigger abnormal immune system response, especially these three: gluten (the protein in wheat and many ancient grains), casein (the protein in dairy), and albumin (the protein in egg whites).
- Eat 9 cups of vegetables and fruits daily (fresh, blended, or lightly steamed). Specifically:
- 3 cups of leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, lettuce, etc.)
- 3 cups of bright fruits or vegetables, each different colors, and colored all the way through (like beets, blueberries, and carrots) Bananas, apples, and pears do not count.
- 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, onions, and garlic.
- Consume bone broth and fermented foods daily.
- Eat high quality, wild-caught fish or grass-fed meat for dinner.
I love that Dr. Wahls focuses not so much on removing foods but on consuming nutrient-dense foods that support mitochondria function, which is so important for MS and autoimmune sufferers. Basically her message is: eat veggies, eat veggies, eat MORE veggies!
This protocol can not only help reverse symptoms of MS but can help anyone suffering from chronic disease, leaky gut, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, lupus, arthritis, psoriasis, chronic pain, diabetes, traumatic brain injury, depression, PTSD… and the list goes on. Food really is medicine!
Of course, getting support from your medical team is always key when you consider any protocol or dietary changes. Functional medicine practitioners and Wahls Protocol® certified health professionals can also be very helpful. They can assist with assessing your specific health concerns and personalizing the protocol to your unique issues.
Research, Help, and Hope on the Horizon
Dr. Wahls’ research is now receiving attention from the mainstream medical world. In 2016 the National MS Society awarded her a $1 million grant to conduct further research, a very exciting development for MS sufferers and the real food movement in general! You can read her research publications and see before and after videos showing improved walking abilities in study participants here.
More neurologists and neuroscientists are now recommending that all patients with multiple sclerosis begin dietary and lifestyle interventions to protect their brains and reduce the risk of early memory loss and dementia. The recommendations include improving diet quality, stopping smoking and reducing toxin exposures, adding a meditative practice, and increasing physical activity and exercise.
Sounds a lot like what Dr. Wahls recommends! Coincidence? I think not!
If you can’t tell, I am a huge fan of Dr. Wahls. If you want to check her out, take a few minutes to watch Dr. Terry’s viral TEDx talk from 2011. It’s worth the watch!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor of medicine and clinical researcher and has published over 60 peer-reviewed scientific abstracts, posters, and papers. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
What do you think of Dr. Wahls’ protocol? Do you struggle with an autoimmune condition or even MS, and have dietary changes helped you?
Discussion (52 Comments)
This video is absolutely amazing, I have been doing research on the Paleo diet myself, bc I have suffered from fibromyalgia for several years now, and I am trying to find a way to cure it with diet. This video is such an inspiration to me because it gives me hope back that I was beginning to lose, I know so many friends and family members that suffer from either fibromyalgia, MS, diabetes, or some other type of debilitating disease and it breaks my heart, and to know that all it takes is changes in your diet, instead of more medications is such a relief. We need more people like Dr. Wahls in the world, that are more interested in trying to cure people rather than mask the symptoms like other doctors and health care prof.
Yes. I suffered for thirty years plus from fibromyalgia but just found out it is MS. I had researched enough on my own to use an anti-inflammatory diet and have been trying to stay basically with that over the last few years. Then symptoms with eyes became worse and finally found ms through mri. Now my husband of thirty five years finally believes me because the fibromyalgia nobody believes, and that is so sad. Anyone with any advice I would like to hear. Thank y’all so much. From a 54 year old who is about on her last nerve ?
Great Article! With summer fast approaching, I wanted to ask since I just read your post on sunbathing and sun exposure. I agree in how sunlight is good for us. What I was wondering is, is it true sunlight leads to aging? If so, how can we prevent this?
Katie - Wellness Mama
Do you own research on this (or anything) but what I’ve read shows that sun exposure doesn’t lead to aging if diet is solid
I think it’s different for everyone, so please everyone use caution and common sense, but when I first went gluten-free, I stopped getting sunburns (and I am very pale).
The webinair link was broken… I am so disapointed I didn’t get to watch this.. Do you know if there will be a replay of it?
It’s on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLjgBLwH3Wc) you can also check out Dr Wahls’ website http://www.terrywahls.com.
Just watched the Dr. Wahls video. Am very impressed with this woman’s determination and success. I am one of the typical families that does not eat well, though I wish I could. My husband is a very picky eater and can hardly get him to eat any vegetables. Most of the veggies she mentioned I have never even tasted. It would be so nice if someone who is into healthy eating like that would have a one week retreat that served only these types of foods, along with educating why they are good, how to find them and pick the best ones out, how to fix or cook them, and get us used to eating (and liking!) them. Does anyone know if there is any such retreat like this anywhere in the country? And if not, here is an invitation to all you proponents of healthy eating out there to consider starting one!
Maureen – I don’t know of any “camp” like this, but I’d be happy to share some of my recipes for you. Is there a way (email?) to get in touch with you? My husband is a (formerly) picky eater from the midwest, but I now have him eating brussels sprouts, kale and even beets on occasion! Would be happy to tell you what’s worked . . .
Hi, my name is Kim. I have a very picky husband who only eats veggies RARELY, unless they are green beans. These hewill eat 2-3 meals per week. Any advice to get him to try (and LIKE!) others would be greatly appreciated. His parents told the kids, “Try it, if you ddon’t like it then you don’t have to eat it.” I love my mother-in-law, but she still refuses to try anything new and her son’s the same way. Please help, someone!
I know the way we started was to Google “paleo” recipes and cherry pick the ones that looked interesting/yummy. That’s actually how I first found this site! We still basically do this because I seem to have a problem with recycling meals. It’s worked really well though, there is seldom a meal we don’t like, we get better at identifying recipes we will like, and we eat a good variety. When we decided to make our whole family GF (the kids still get some non-paleo foods at day care where I have less control), my 2 year old’s diet mainly subsisted of grains and dairy. Now he runs to the table when we tell him there are veggies! Change will happen, but don’t expect it to happen overnight, and definitely change things up as you go along until you find what works!
I and my husband would be interested in such a retreat. Great idea!! I personally know that an improved diet has helped me with health issues, but there’s a long way to go.
Love love love this . I was recently diagnosed with ms and have started reading the wahls protocol and absolutely love it. I am following level 3 as strictly as possible. Best of luck! So happy to see this as a part of your newsletter that
Thank you Katie for this insightful and groundbreaking advice from a “real” doctor. Groundbreaking since few doctors think about what they are prescribing relying on pharmaceutical vendors to “educate” them. And “real” doctor since Dr. Wahls actually investigated and researched a different way when conventional pharmaceuticals did not do a thing to help (what a surprise). Finally, insightful because you (Katie) have been a great inspiration to like-minded folks and non-believers with news that even doctors are finally discovering that conventional medicine (pharmaceutical based synthetic drugs) do not help but just mask symptoms. THANK YOU KATIE!!!
This is incredible. I love seeing people change their diseases/lives just by altering their diet! She is such an inspiration and I hope she opens the eyes of many!
Have been reading your blog for a long time for the natural ideas and homemade remedies/cleaners…. commenting now because my oldest daughter has a mitochondrial disease and is 7. She is severely developmentally delayedand physically disabled and eats through a tube into her intestine (bypassing the stomach)…. she has been sick since she was born, is considered terminally ill, and was not expected to live past her 2nd birthday. I believe a real whole foods diet should help her, but its been so hard to come up with a diet that can be blended and given via tube. On the other hand , I have an autoimmune diseaseand I know that eating a diet similar to the paleo diet (anti inflammatory diet), helps me.
Anyway, I had watched the above video clip in the past and I believe it… just wish I could do it for my daughter. Thanks for sharing!!
What if you tried making the homemade baby formula written in nourishing traditions cookbook. You can buy the ingredients thru radiant life online. Just a thought since it has wonderful and nourishing ingredients and is good for a growing baby who cannot be breast fed. Maybe it would nourish your daughter and could be put thru a tube. Also it would be grain free.
Many blessings to you and your family.
https://www.functionalformularies.com/liquid-hope-information.html this might be your answer!
I just loved her talk. I have a friend who died from ALA and I tried to tell her about changing her diet to raw food and mainly greens. My family and I drink a special “green drink” every day and have not been sick in 20 years. It would be wonderful if the population could be taught more about health than illness. Get rid of the pharmaceutical companies and teach health!!!
Now you’ve got me curious, what is your special “green drink” and would you mind sharing?
can you elaborate on this special ‘green drink,’ please!?!?!
i have a 17-month-old who is sick ALL THE TIME.
we already do an organic, mostly raw diet, homemade elderberry, drink lots of beneficial teas, takes probiotics, so i am still on the lookout for new things to try that don’t include western medicine.
and, of course, this woman is an absolute inspiration and i am so happy she has improved her situation and decided to help inspire others to do same.
It might be the histimines… Look up the lowhistamine chef , the histamine in foods can be causing all your problems! It was for me, I thought I was eating healthy yet it was Killing me:( you need to get your child tested for food allergies.
I agree with Dessa, I went through the exact same kind of nightmare for the last 15 years. I was raw vegan and felt like death, lived on juices, went into adrenal insufficiency. Tried body ecology diet and thought that was killing me, nothing made sense then I found the histamine connection. I tried everything, nothing else made full on sense or worked for me. Please get your child checked out before giving them probiotics, etc. I also have the MTHFR C677t gene and that can cause histamine and methylation issues. In the world we live in today it’s important to get tested.
Hi. I’m so sorry about your sick daughter. Nutritionist and chef Terrell Mullins has a book and program that can tell you why she is getting sick and how to help her get well. His program is called TheWholeFoodsCure.
– Just trying to help.
P.S. One of the reasons she might be getting sick is because of the tiny bugs, which excrete acidic/degenerating feces and urine, that you are giving to her (pro-biotics). All bacteria produce this harmful degenerating acid. Also, putting chemical hand sanitizer on her will also cause her to become overly acidic. The sanitizer may kill the bacteria but the point of not having the bacteria is to not have them in your body producing acidic feces and urine. The acids are what break your body down and cause it to become sick. Putting the sanitizer on put acids directly into your body through your pores.
GI Effects stool test through Genova labs would be informative bc the majority of the immune system is in the gut. Generally, chronic immune issues are caused by imbalanced gut health.
Can you tell what to blend for the juice.
sorry for you green drink
What is in your family’s green drink? Is it juiced or blended?
Just watched the TED Talk of Dr. Wahls and am blown away! Huntington’s Disease runs in my family so this topic hits very close to home. I am already a big believer in natural, wholesome eating but this just motivates me even more to eat even healthier. Thank you so much for including this topic on your blog, Katie! Dr. Wahls is such an inspiration to me and so are you! 🙂
Nora! Huntingtons Disease runs in my family as well. I have been desperately searching for someone who lives a healthy lifestyle and also has the risk of inheriting the disease. Not sure if you will see this again but if so please contact me!
Hi Angela and Nora,
Huntingtons is in my family too, my Father has it, and I have been wondering about the Wahl’s Protocol as a way to slow or reverse symptoms. I haven’t been tested yet, but I would really like to connect with some other people who are in the same boat as me and also looking for alternative means of dealing with negative genetic influences.
Please contact me if you see this message!
Do you think this would help with autoimmune issues. Is it different from AIP?