Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, Iowa, U.S.A., where she teaches internal medicine residents in primary care clinics, in addition to being a physician is also a multiple sclerosis (MS) patient. First diagnosed in 2000, around the time she began working at the university, by 2003 Dr. Wahls says she had transitioned to secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, and underwent chemotherapy in an attempt to slow the disease. She also began using a tilt-recline wheelchair because of weakness in her back muscles. At this point, she had resigned herself to eventually becoming bedridden due to the disease’s ravages — an outcome she wanted to forestall for as long as possible.
Dr. Wahls, who also does clinical research and has published more than 60 peer-reviewed scientific abstracts, posters, and papers, says that thanks to her academic medical training, she knew that animal model research of diseases is often 20 or 30 years ahead of clinical practice, and hoping to find something to arrest her descent into becoming bedridden, she used PubMed.gov to search scientific articles about the latest multiple sclerosis research.
In so doing, she relearned biochemistry, cellular physiology, and neuroimmunology to understand the articles. Unfortunately, she found that most studies underway were testing drugs years away from FDA approval, and it occurred to her to search for vitamins and supplements that helped any kind of progressive brain disorder. She gradually created a list of nutrients important to brain health and began taking them as supplements, and while the steepness of her decline slowed, she was still getting worse.
In 2007, Dr. Wahls discovered The Institute of Functional Medicine, an organization devoted to helping clinicians use the latest scientific discoveries to take better care of those with complex chronic diseases by addressing the underlying causes of disease, and using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.
As a result of this discovery, Dr. Wahls developed a longer list of vitamins and supplements that were good for my brain, and I had an important epiphany: “What if I redesigned my diet so that I was getting those important brain nutrients not from supplements but from the foods I ate? I used what I had learned from the medical literature, Functional Medicine, and my knowledge of the Hunter-Gatherer diet — the most nutritious of any diet — to create my new food plan. At that same time, I also learned about neuromuscular electrical stimulation and convinced my physical therapist to give me a test session. It hurt a lot, but I also felt euphoric when it was finished, likely because of the endorphins my body released in response to the electrical stimulation. In December 2007, I began the Wahls Protocol.”
Dr. Wahl adopted the nutrient-rich paleo diet, gradually refining and integrating it into a regimen of neuromuscular stimulation. First, she walked slowly, then steadily, and then she biked eighteen miles in a single day.
Dr. Wahls says the results “stunned” her physician, her family, and her, and within a year she was able to walk through the hospital without a cane and even complete an 18-mile bicycle tour.
The Wahls Protocol is based on Functional Medicine and the Wahls Paleo diet, Dr. Wahls restored her health and now pedals her bike five miles to work each day.
Dr. Wahls’ experiences resulted in a book, “The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine” coauthored with Eve Adamson, in which she shares details of the protocol that allowed her to reverse many of her symptoms, and get back to her life.
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