Autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis may seem like a life sentence, but they don’t have to be. In this podcast (episode #229) and blog, I speak with researcher, professor and bestselling author Dr. Terry Wahls about the program that she has created that has helped thousands overcome various autoimmune diseases, how she overcame multiple sclerosis through diet, exercise and mind management, how to use ketosis and fasting to boost stem cells naturally, how her protocols can help with obesity, mental health issues and neurodegenerative diseases, and more!
As Terry explains in her book The Wahls Protocol and her TED talk, when her health started declining, she found that mitochondria dysfunction was driving her multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis is an immune-mediated, neurodegenerative disorder, and one of the most common causes of early disability in the US. There are about a million cases in the US and about 3 to 5 million cases worldwide. Scientists believe that it is an autoimmune process that attacks the brain, which causes worsening of symptoms that can be seen as lesions in the brain. This process waxes and wanes at first, but after 10 years most people enter the progressive stage of multiple sclerosis, which is characterized by brain and spinal cord volume loss that results in a gradual accumulation of disability, fatigue and cognitive decline.
Terry, who had entered into this secondary progressive stage of multiple sclerosis, had tried multiple different treatments and medications, which didn’t help much (if at all), as well as a supplement cocktail, which did slow the speed of her decline, although she was still experiencing difficulties. She then discovered the Institute for Functional Medicine and began putting specific lifestyle practices in place and taking a more holistic approach to her condition. Soon, she started experiencing dramatic changes in her life; for example, she went from not being able to move much to riding her bike for miles! This radically changed way she saw her disease, approached her clinical work and interacted with her patients.
As Terry has shown in her research, our mitochondria are key when it comes to understanding multiple sclerosis. Her initial diet and supplement cocktail did not stop her decline; these changes only helped with her symptoms. Her “aha!”moment came from her research on mitochondria and how it is associated with loss of brain volume and spinal cord volume in the secondary progressive phase of multiple sclerosis. She then redesigned her paleo diet based on the 18 different nutrients that are important for mitochondria health and noticed major changes in her life.
Through her own experiences and research, Terry realized that our current understanding of multiple sclerosis and many other autoimmune diseases is incomplete. Overcoming these chronic health issues is possible through specific lifestyle changes—they do not have to be a life sentence!
Our immune cells travel around the body every day, inspecting the different parts of the body and fixing damage where necessary—they do a very important job! In autoimmune disorders, this healthy immune response becomes disordered and cannot be turned off, which leads to inflammation and various health issues.
For a long time, scientists didn’t know what triggers led to an autoimmune response. We now understand that, on a cellular level, the shape of the proteins has changed due to toxins, infections, molecular mimicry, food sensitivities and other triggers. The immune cell is essentially doing its job, but the job is complicated by these factors.
However, if we address the specific triggers early enough, we can calm down the autoimmune response so the cells can begin to repair, which will lead to improvements in mental and physical health. The earlier this happens, the more complete the healing process will be, but it is never too late to heal on some level! As Terry says, there is always hope. Indeed, her own story is living proof of the power of the human body and its capacity to heal.
Terry wanted to share her research and experiences with the world, which is why she created The Wahls Protocol, which is based on the pursuit of better functioning cells through lifestyle and other therapeutic interventions. Her approach to her own disease and other autoimmune disorders was unique at the time, but now scientists have a better understanding of the link between someone’s diet, lifestyle and their overall brain and body health. Indeed, our diet and lifestyle choices are key to preserving our brain health! Medications are not enough.
The core of The Wahls Protocol is improving the quality of one’s diet. Terry recommends starting small: getting rid of processed and refined foods and eating more vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Then, she recommends making more changes:
- removing gluten, eggs and dairy (common food sensitivities that can trigger an autoimmune reaction)
- eating more green leafy vegetables, richly colored fruits and vegetables, and sulfur-containing veggies like cabbage
- eating natural sources of complete protein (if you eat meat, this would be around 2 servings the size of your palm a day)
The third level of Terry’s protocol is a specific ketogenic plan based on an individual’s unique lipid response and needs so that they can benefit from the health benefits of being in ketosis. There are several ways for someone to experience the benefits of ketosis, from limiting calorie intake and a high-fat diet to performing different types of physical activity, so this can look different for everyone.
Lastly, the fourth level of Terry’s protocol focus how certain people respond to lectins in various foods like nuts, grains and seeds.
Because it focuses on diet and healthy lifestyle choices, the Wahls Protocol has the power to transform generational health. As we know from research, negative epigenetic markers can be passed through 4 generations. It then takes 4 generations of great lifestyle choices to reverse these negative markers. This means that we should take responsibility for choices now, because they affect not only us but our offspring, our offspring’s offspring and offspring’s offspring’s offspring. We essentially have the capacity to heal ourselves and give the gift of health to our descendants!
And these changes don’t just impact our physical health, but also our mental wellbeing. Changing our diet and lifestyle can have a dramatic influence on our mental health, because inflammation in the body means that there will be inflammation in the brain—if you heal one, you can heal the other!
For more on diet, autoimmune diseases and mental health, listen to my podcast (episode #229) with Terry, and check out her website. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!)
For more self-care tips to improve your mental health, pre-order my new book 101 Ways to be Less Stressed, which is now on sale at 20% off!
You can also check out my app SWITCH, which is a great tool for helping you learn how to manage your mind and go beyond mindfulness by dealing with the roots of your choices and overcoming thought patterns and behaviors that are affecting your health through the mental process of reconceptualization.
To learn more about food, lifestyle choices and mental health, register for my Virtual Mental Health Summit this December 3-6! For more see drleafconference.com. CME and CEU credits are available for PAs, NPs, RNs, MDs, DOs, and other medical professionals, and certificates of attendance will be given for physical therapists, occupational therapists and social workers!
2:31 How Terry overcame her multiple sclerosis through diet, exercise & mind management
11:45 How a paleo diet can help overcome chronic health issues like multiple sclerosis & cognitive decline
10:06 What is an autoimmune disorder & how can it impact our health?
28:57 What is multiple sclerosis & how does it affect the body and brain?
35:14 Terry’s amazing protocol & how it can help improve mental and physical health
39:20 How a keto diet can help combat autoimmune disorders
47:09 Epigenetics & autoimmune disorders: are they related?
52:26 How Terry’s protocol can help with mental health issues like anxiety & depression
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