Feed your brain and your mitochondria. That’s the premise of the Wahls Protocol, a diet and lifestyle-change regimen developed by a doctor who used it to dramatically improve her own multiple sclerosis symptoms.
Terry Wahls, MD, was diagnosed with the chronic condition 10 years after experiencing initial symptoms. Despite the standard medical treatment, she quickly declined, and within three years she needed to use a wheelchair.
An athlete in college, Dr. Wahls began to research nutrition, focusing on cells and the mitochondria within cells that break down nutrients into energy. As she writes in The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles, “the root of optimal health begins with taking away the things that harm and confuse our cells while providing the body with the right environment in which to thrive.”
A long-time vegetarian, she began by adopting the paleo diet. But with her disease still progressing, she modified the paleo plan to target brain and mitochondrial functions. The Wahls Protocol diet includes considerably more plant-based foods and protein from a range of sources including wild salmon and trout and grass-fed meats—bison, lamb, pork, and beef.
The protocol, which also features therapies like stress management, relaxation, and exercise, got Dr. Wahls off four wheels and onto two: She now rides her bicycle to work every day at the University of Iowa.
The Wahls Protocol features meat and fish, lots of vegetables (with an emphasis on the green, leafy variety), brightly colored fruit, and animal and plant fats, particularly omega 3s. Skip the dairy products, eggs, grains like wheat, rice, and oatmeal, beans and lentils, sugar, and nightshade vegetables—tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, pepper, and others.
Here are some basics to plan your meals and snacks around:
To be sure you get sufficient nutrients and calories, check in with your healthcare practitioner before you embark on the Wahls Protocol diet. You may want to consider working with a dietitian to come up with a plan that meets your particular needs.
For specific guidelines, check out Dr. Wahls’s books and her website at TerryWahls.com.
There is anecdotal evidence, including Dr. Wahls’s own story, showing that the Wahls Protocol, including the diet and other therapies, can be helpful in alleviating symptoms of MS and other chronic diseases. A 2014 pilot study found “significant improvement in fatigue” in participants, and recommended further study, which is currently under way by Dr. Wahls and others.
“A multimodal intervention for patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis: Feasibility and effect on fatigue” by Babita Bisht et al., J Altern Complement Med, 5/1/14
“About Dr. Wahls,” TerryWahls.com
“MS patient and creator of Wahls diet shares how nutrition helps” by Alana Kessler, MultipleSclerosisNewsToday.com, 5/17/19
“The Terry Wahls diet: How to feed your brain with what’s in your fridge,” MulticareDocs.com
The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles by Terry Wahls ($28, Avery, 2014)
Contributor: Jane Eklund