In my recent conversation with Terry Wahls, MD, creator of the Wahls diet for multiple sclerosis (MS), she said something that resonated with me: “You can’t change your genes, but you can change your gene’s expression.”
How true this statement is. However, it was only a few short years ago that Dr. Wahls’ diet protocol, and “food as medicine” philosophy was being met with strong criticism from the medical community. Nowadays, the modified paleolithic diet and lifestyle program she facilitates at the Wahls Institute in Iowa is being touted as the work of a visionary.
In speaking with Dr. Wahls, it’s easy to understand the intensity behind her work. Passionate about medicine and science, she practiced internal medicine, graduating from the University of Iowa in 1982. A western medicine traditionalist, she was initially very skeptical of complementary alternative medicine.
Her perspective shifted when, as an athlete in college, she began experiencing loss of balance and electrical pains along the side of her face when under stress, a condition called trigeminal neuralgia. This went on for 10 years, and in 2000, she was diagnosed with MS, verified by both the Marshall and Cleveland clinics.
Immediately, she was put on a protocol of disease-modifying therapies but was becoming steadily weaker and more fatigued. A vegetarian for 20 years, she read paleo founder Loren Cordain’s papers on nutrition and went back to eating meat while giving up all grains, legumes, and dairy.
In 2002, the decline continued, and by 2003, she needed a wheelchair due to secondary progressive MS. Primary progressive MS is when the disease presents as a steady decline with no relapses. In secondary progressive MS, the disease progresses further and can be accompanied by relapses such as blindness and hand weakness.
By 2004, the best therapies on the market weren’t stopping the progressive decline of MS. She was told she would be bedridden, demented by the illness, and the painful trigeminal neuralgia would be permanently activated all the time.
Determined to slow down the progression in 2005, Dr. Wahls began to listen to her intuition. “Cellular nutrition is key, mitochondria is key” was her mantra as she began to look for optimal vitamins and supplements to support cellular health.
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