Chronic disease can have a devastating impact on your life. It can be all too easy to give up and accept the new normal, but there are often ways to regain control. Dr. Terry Wahls not only found a way to slow the progression of her own disease, but she also developed a protocol to help others do the same.
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About Dr. Terry Wahls
Dr. Wahls is recognized worldwide for her protocol which is transforming the lives of countless people. She is a clinical professor at the University of Iowa. Dr. Wahls conducts clinical trials into the efficacy of therapeutic lifestyle to treat multiple sclerosis-related symptoms. She is the author of The Wahls Protocol as well as her revolutionary cookbook. In part one of our conversation, Dr. Wahls shares the specifics of her protocol.
Before her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Dr. Wahls was an incredibly active woman. After seeking out various aggressive treatments for her condition, Dr. Wahls realized that it was up to her to take control of her health. Dr. Wahls came to realize that redesigning a paleo-diet to focus on the right nutrients could make a difference. Within months, she experienced massive improvements and is as active as ever.
A key part of her recovery centers on feeding the mitochondria. With her redesigned diet, Dr. Wahls is able to better make use of the nutritional compounds that would otherwise be in supplements. Eating lots of green leafy, colorful, and sulfur-rich vegetables is a key part of this. Likewise, there are foods to avoid, particularly gluten and casein.
Changing your habits and diet is easier said than done. Most practitioners know the struggle of patient compliance. Dr. Wahls shares some great advice for helping to motivate patients so that they can better take ownership of their health.
Have you changed your diet in response to chronic disease? Tell me how it’s going in the comments on the episode page!
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In this episode
- How a lack of success with conventional treatments led Dr. Wahls to develop her own MS protocol
- The role of mitochondria in maintaining cellular health
- The foods that make up the Wahls Protocol
- A great healthy recipe for meat lovers
- Inflammatory foods to avoid
- Why changing our diets is often so difficult
“I had no idea that I’d be able to stop the decline [of multiple sclerosis], and even less idea that I could get better.” [6:51]
“The more color that you have in your diet, the more fruits and vegetables, strictly non-starchy fruits and vegetables, the lower the rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, insulin resistance, cognitive decline, mental health issues, and cancers.” [11:59]
“Our brains are wired to reward pleasure. Future benefit is greatly discounted for today’s pleasure.” [20:22]
I would be so grateful if you would take 30 seconds and leave me a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. I read them all and they help me bring on guests and cover topics that are relevant to you!
Dr. Terry Wahls 0:03
The more color that you have in your diet the more fruits and vegetables strictly non starchy fruits and vegetables, the lower the rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, insulin resistance, cognitive decline, mental health issues, and cancers.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 0:19
Welcome to the longevity blueprint podcast, I'm your host, Dr. Stephanie gray. My number one goal with the show is to help you discover your personalized plan to build your dream health and live a longer, happier, truly healthier life. You're about to hear part one of a fantastic conversation with Dr. Terry walls about her journey from being wheelchair bound with multiple sclerosis to riding her bike and being in the best shape of her adult life. In this episode, we're going to talk about the specifics of her walls protocol and how it nurtures your mitochondria which are the powerhouses of your cells to provide you energy. Be sure to listen into part two of our conversation where you're going to get to hear what a day in the life of Dr. Walls looks like. Let's get into the episode.
Welcome to another episode of the longevity blueprint podcast.
I'm delighted today to have a local guest also here from Iowa, who has worldwide recognition for her transformation and how she's transforming the lives of others through her walls protocol. Dr. Terry walls is a clinical professor at the University of Iowa, where she conducts clinical trials testing the efficacy of therapeutic lifestyle to treat Multiple Sclerosis related symptoms. In addition, She's the author of the walls protocol, a radical new way to treat all chronic autoimmune conditions using paleo principles and the cookbook, the walls protocol, cooking for life, the revolutionary modern paleo plan to treat all chronic autoimmune conditions. So Dr. Wells, it's an honor to have you on the podcast today.
Dr. Terry Wahls 1:41
Great. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 1:43
So when I decided to launch this podcast, you came to mind I thought, Oh, I need to have Dr. Wells on the show. Because you have an incredible story. And you have shared all of what you've now learned with others, and you're currently even conducting research. So let's just cut right to the chase and open with your incredible story. Your book opens Telling the reader how invincible you once felt. So what happened to change that?
Dr. Terry Wahls 2:05
Yeah, you know before medical school, I was a martial artist black belt competed nationally in full contact Taekwondo and felt invincible. Got into medical school. And then, you know, I noticed during my third year I started having episodes of discomfort, face pain, that seemed to be more frequent when I was stressed, sleep deprived. Nothing seemed to help those. And that came in what then, seven years after that time period, I had a period of division in my left eye, I and I was evaluated for that as well as my face paints. And they tried some drugs melk drug rash, and I just had to tough it out, and these would come and go, and then in 2000, so now 20 years after my first onset of facial pain, I developed leg weakness, and it was bad mineralogist, got a big workup. I ended then this time they saw lesions in my in my brain a couple of my spinal cord. It said that this is probably relapsing remitting Ms. I, again, being a academic physician, I wanted to treat my disease aggressively. So I did some research found the best ms center that I could find in the Midwest, saw the best people took the newest drugs and went steadily downhill. Anyway. Then I was told about the work of Loren cordain and the Paleo diet. I read his books, his papers, and it was a big deal because I had been a vegetarian for 20 years. So some prayer and meditation I went back to eating meat, but I continue to decline. The next year I needed a recline wheelchair, I took chemotherapy, I continued to decline that I took the new biologic drugs, I continued to decline that I switched to do other potent immune suppressing drugs. But it's very clear that the very best conventional approaches were Clearly not stopping my slide towards a bedridden possibly demented life, possibly in pain, because my face pain had been steadily getting to be more difficult to manage over those 20 years. And fortunately, that's when I said, I do everything that I possibly can I started reading the basic science, I read the animal models, for a mouse for Parkinson's, for Alzheimer's, for ALS, for all types of neuro degeneration, I decided that mitochondria were key, I would also begin creating a supplement cocktail. That did seem to slow my decline and help with fatigue, you know, a little bit but of course, you know, I'm very grateful because I know, given the history of my ms, that, you know, clearly I was not improving. So I was just thrilled that I seem to be slowing my decline. Then I discovered the Institute for functional medicine, they had a great course center protection. I took that I'm reading more ancestral health. I'm reading more functional medicine. And so I have a bigger supplement list. Not a lot happened yet. But I had this really phenomenal aha moment. Like, what if I redesign my paleo diet to get these nutrients I'm taking a supplement for from the food. So that's actually several more months of research to reorganize my eating plan, still paleo, but now a very structured paleo. And so I started this new highly structured way of eating December 26 2007. And at that time, I was unable to sit up in a regular chair if I sat in a regular chair, more than 10 minutes, I was so exhausted, I'm bedridden for the rest of the day. It's a struggle to walk 10 feet easy to walk in six. I began to have cognitive decline. My face pain is much more difficult to manage a dance and I knew I was on on the cusp of being forced into medical retirement So, to my utter surprise, as I you know, implementing this new way of eating, but the end of January, I'm like, you know, my I have more energy, and my thinking is clear. And I can sit up at the table to eat again.
I and in three months, I'm walking around the hospital for the first time. I was walking sticks in about four years, and people are stunned. Then at six months, I get on my bike. We have this sort of emergency family meeting inside Can I try biking again, and we work out is that my subtle jog on the left, my daughter will jog in the right my wife will follow her bike. In fact, I'm able to bike around the block. My son is crying, my daughter's crying. My My wife's crying, I'm crying. If I talk about it much longer, I'll start crying. Because, you know, that was just so miraculous, then because I had accepted it. When you have a progressive neurologic disorder, you get to a point where you just accept that you'll take one day at a time, because recovery is just not possible. And so I all that I had done was to slow my decline. I had no idea that I'd be able to stop the decline, and then even less idea that, you know, I could get better. And I did, remarkably so. So you know, at a year, I was able to do an 18.5 mile bike ride with my family. So of course, this really changes the way I interact with my patients. It changes my understanding of disease and health. It changes, ultimately the type of research that I do. And that was, of course, a big, a few bumps in that transition because people were a little uneasy at first, but I know they're thrilled to see me walking around. But they were a little uncertain when they saw how I changed my practice.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 8:08
Well, let's talk about what you discovered. You talk a lot in your book about cellular dysfunction and broken biochemistry and and you alluded to changing your diet, which I'm assuming you're getting at feeding your mitochondria. So can you tell us more about how you did modify your diet to feed your mitochondria and what those are?
Dr. Terry Wahls 8:27
Yeah, so the reason I'm so keen on mitochondria, is that our cells really rely on the mitochondria to convert the food we eat into an energy form those cells can use to run the chemistry of life. And so we're so dependent on these mitochondria to do a good job of generating all that chemical energy, also known as ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. And so I originally used all these supplements, targeting on yourself particular chemical steps and pathways that I knew were important for my for mitochondria. And that was really very helpful. It was the first time that I actually had some sense of hope that I was slowing the speed of my decline in that these drugs I was taking, you know, costing thousands of dollars every month gave me terrible side effects. But no, I was even more afraid of becoming more disabled more rapidly, so I was thrilled to take them. But it's also really thrilled to see like the supplements were clearly having a positive effect. in them, I had that big aha like, Okay, what if I redesigned my diet to get the nutrients that are the sick in supplement form that no if I did that, I'd probably get some additional compounds in the food because food is vastly more complicated than specific supplements. I had this idea that I would probably get other things that were really good for him Anaconda, and probably good for my brain and probably good for all of my cellular structure. And of course, you know, when I asked my registered dietician, colleagues, I gave them the list of nutrients. Like, well, yeah, I don't know. I don't have an intern, you could do that. And I'm sorry, I can't help you. So, you know, I had that took me several months to get that research done. Yeah. But fortunately, I was able to find that, in part with the latest Pauling Institute on micronutrients is very helpful.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 10:25
And they have wonderful website, I refer to them.
Dr. Terry Wahls 10:27
Yeah, I think it's a great resource.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 10:30
So let's break down what foods are incorporated in the walls protocol. And then we can talk about what foods are removed. But let's talk about specifically the cups of greens kind of get into what you're adding.
Dr. Terry Wahls 10:42
So you know, my design the walls protocol, I also made it serve multiple levels so you could make your transition from your standard American diet to the level one diet. In here I'm focusing on adding a lot more diversity to your diet. I want people to get more green leafy vegetables things like romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens, kale, parsley, cilantro Bazell. A lot of benefit with those crop noids with the vitamin K with the magnesium and with the vitamin C, it of course up fully. And then the next category is the sulfur rich vegetables. These are the cabbage family onion family, mushroom family vegetables. Sulfur is a really important component in how we detox and remove toxins out of our body. It's an important component in some key enzymes in our antioxidant machinery in our cells to protect ourselves from damage, and they're a key component in a lot of enzymes in the brain. that are important for making some neurotransmitters. So, sulfur is very, very important compound. The cabbage family Indian family Provide your substrates for those compounds. And they also boost the efficiency of a lot of these enzymes in ourselves as well. That's a key nutrients. And then the third category, it's probably really the easiest one for people to get to. And that's the deeply colored and I'm looking for blue, purple, black, yellow, orange, and vegetables or berries. in pain, if we have so many studies really, that show us the more color that you have in your diet, the more fruits and vegetables, prickly non starchy fruits and vegetables, the lower the rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, insulin resistance, cognitive decline, mental health issues, and cancers. And so, hugely, hugely important in beneficial.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 12:49
So not just for autoimmune conditions for all chronic disease. I mean, this is how we everyone should essentially be eating correct
Dr. Terry Wahls 12:55
all the time. Correct, correct. Well, certainly, the science would certainly say that lots of reasons expect that your health would improve just by ramping up your vegetables, ramping up the sulfur containing vegetables, the leafy green vegetables and deeply pigmented stuff in my taught this concept to my bats, I said no the way to be as colorful. You take a knife and cut the item in half. If you've got pigment all the way through, then we'll count that as colored. So you know, beets, carrots, berries, that's colored peaches, that's colored apricots that's colored. apples, pears, bananas are white. They're pretty high in starch are pretty high in carbs. There are some health benefits, but they don't have all of those antioxidants that I'm looking for in that colored category. So my advice is, it's the target is nine cups of vegetables, and berries are three plates per day per day. Yeah, my best would say like so is that per week or month stock. That's pretty Day, like, wow. Or you could eat organ meat, you know, have liver a little more frequently. And then you say, I'll leave the vegetables.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 14:12
Tell us about one of your favorite recipes. So and I actually cook this as weekend. You have mentioned I've heard you speak about cooking bacon well so this is the basic recipe that we use in teach our vets. If they're meat eaters,
Dr. Terry Wahls 14:27
take a couple strips of bacon. Fry them in your skillet to the desired level of doneness. Take the bacon out, chop it up, set it aside. Add your vegetables in a tablespoon of water put the lid on for two minutes. If you're doing greens, I cook the bacon in a stockpot so you have nice big walls. That way when I dump in the greens, I'm stirring them roxies was turned around to the wilted space that's like 30 seconds, kale that might be a minute or two
asparagus you know that's probably a minute or two
So you just want your greens wilted your vegetables, you want them slightly, a little bit crunchy yet. And then you add in the chopped bacon and you serve that. And I tell my bats, you know, if it's not delicious, double the bacon and do it again. And they're like, wow, that does sound pretty delicious. So the reason our vegetables become bitter is that they're a little more alkalyn. And so we experienced that alkalyn taste as bitter. So we can counter that by having more fat such as clarified butter, olive oil, or bacon, fat duck fat, tallow, that would certainly work as well. And then if it still seems a bit better, you could add a little vinegar that you enjoy balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, lime juice, to get it to that pH and get rid of that bitterness. You know, it I would say that my kids have to
You know, the bacon and greens is their favorite vegetable. I
Dr. Stephanie Gray 16:04
agree. I think that's good combination
Dr. Terry Wahls 16:07
is just perfect.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 16:08
So we've talked about foods that we need to add into our diet. What do we need to remove? So what are the inflammatory food groups that you found most beneficial to remove?
Dr. Terry Wahls 16:20
So if you have an autoimmune issue, or if you have a mental health or neurologic issue, I think it's really important to remove gluten and casein. Now gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, barley in many ancient grains. And casein is the protein in dairy. The reason for that is that many people with an autoimmune issue or with a brain related issue, have unrecognized sensitivity to gluten, so that if you have a leaky gut, and you eat food containing gluten or casein, a part of that incompletely digested food we'll get into your bloodstream and it will piss off Your innate immune cells in they will secrete more inflammatory cytokines, which will make your autoimmune symptoms much worse and will make your mental health issues in neurologic issues much worse. And, you know, say Alessio Fasano, who is the big celiac expert in the Harvard hospital group, he that's his area of research. It is his position that for people with autoimmune issues, a leaky gut is always happening in that gluten will open up those gates make the gut leak here, and then you can get the gluten if you're sensitive to gluten, that's going to be a big problem. But even if you're not sensitive to gluten, if your gates are opened, and you have bacteria fragments getting into your bloodstream, the light will polysaccharides LPs that will activate your innate immune cells, you'll have more inflammation, more insulin resistance more or mental health neurologic symptoms. And if you have an autoimmune component, more symptoms in that type of autoimmunity, whether it's skin issues with psoriasis, or joints, if you have rheumatoid arthritis or like me your neurologic symptoms if you have Ms.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 18:19
I like to tell my patients consuming gluten is like adding gasoline to a fire. So when your body's already on alert, you know, attacking itself and then we feed ourselves these inflammatory grains that are worsening that leaky gut situation. Unfortunately, that's just triggering that fire to continue. And we have to lesson not just less than the fuel to the fire, we have to put the fire out, you need to not consume those foods at all.
Dr. Terry Wahls 18:40
Yeah, I also give that same message. I'm mindful. And we talked about the addictive nature of gluten of casein in processed foods that the casein molecule and the gluten molecule will stimulate the same kind of receptors that the opioids morphine, which stimulate our endorphins that we get from vigorous exercise. And so when people say like, talk, I can't imagine giving up cheese, and bread and like, I understand that, that you may be experiencing some addictive relationship to those foods, then if I am able to have a conversation about, okay, how can we help make your environment more successful given that you have this relationship that that you've already identified will make it difficult for you to be successful?
Dr. Stephanie Gray 19:36
So that kind of leads me into a next question is really finding the motivation behind the behavior change as a clinician, that's something that's important for me to find with my patients.
Dr. Terry Wahls 19:47
You know, that's a great topic. Because, you know, we do research and we're writing up stuff all the time. We have just been looking at the measure of compliance And how often do patients do the things that we said? So if you and I are just asking people to take a supplement or medication 75% will take the medication 80% of the time. So if all we're asking to do is just to take a pill, if we ask them to change their diet, less than 25% will do that. And so it's like, okay, it's very rare that people actually make these changes, even when we educate why it's so incredibly important. And then, yeah, so I'm looking at what's the biology of why that is so hard. we're wired, biologically, to crave sugar, salt, fat, and sex, which is why we eat food, have sex, make babies, those are really important things for us as a species. So that's been rewarded over millions of generations. And we're rewarded our brains are wired to reward pleasure in future benefit is greatly discounted for today's pleasure. So if I'm asking you to give out pleasurable foods to endure discomfort, of withdrawal, headaches malaise, when you give up these prickly, yummy, delicious foods that you crave for a future benefit, so you're going to have feel worse acutely. That is an enormously difficult task. I think for many clinicians, we are not as forthright about how difficult that ask is. So I think that's one flaw that we have. Another area where I spend a lot more time is thinking about how do I motivate my patients to do this work? Because it is work. It's creating new habits as work, extinguishing old habits is work. It takes a lot of effort, we have to work at it again and again. And so here's where a couple of questions that can be so helpful. What do you want your help for? What would you like to be doing? If we If we could improve your health, what would be meaningful to you? And so yeah, for example, I know my son is getting married this fall. And so if someone has a wedding of someone that's really important to them, it might be important for them to dance at their daughter's wedding or their son's wedding. Or it might be important to see their son or daughter graduate from high school, or college or get married, or the grandchild be born. So if we can help that person identify something that they want to help for. And if they can't, then I need to send them off to talk therapy, to help them enrich their life. So there is something that they care that much for, because if there's nothing that they care that much for, it's gonna be really difficult for them to do this work.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 22:51
I think it's important. One thing that I tell my patients to do is put that y on their mirror in their bathroom. So they're looking at that every morning, Zig Ziglar said motivation doesn't last but neither does a shower. And that's why we have to participate every single day. And so I think having that goal right in front of them first thing in the morning, you know, I'm going to eat clean today because, you know, this is my goal. This is my why I think just looking at that every single day is as important.
Dr. Terry Wahls 23:18
We talk about free writing, that I encourage people to have a journal by, and if you want to write a long time, that's fine. But if all you want to do is just put in one sentence, that's fine. But over time, that reflection on what are your challenges at at life towards meeting this goal that you've identified can be very helpful.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 23:47
I think that was a wonderful part of the conference that I attended a few years ago of yours. I, I had thought about this was my clients, but I hadn't really been implementing it to the extent that I should have been and so I appreciate you Incorporating that. So let's talk about your conference. Tell me about the walls protocol seminar.
Dr. Terry Wahls 24:03
Yeah. Well, so the seminars are a very, very fun event. We do that every summer. And we have hundreds and hundreds of people coming every year and more and more clinicians coming so we can get them trained. And what I do is I teach people how to do the last protocol, the dietary interventions. We talked about all of the other lifestyle factors, stress, exercise, detox, I have some guest speakers, you're marvelous. We get great comments about your talks, by the way. And then, but we talk a lot about creating resilience. How do we get to why to make all of this? And so that's a new this year, we're doing four versions of that last year. We did it in three sessions this year. We're doing it in four sessions, because I've learned over time when people succeed or fail, it's not because you and I didn't order the right Test, snap because we didn't suggest the right supplement. It's because we couldn't help them be successful with implementing the recommended diet and lifestyle, that it was such a big ask for them to create these new habits and extinguish the old ones. So each year I give this, we put more effort on helping people and supporting them through that process. And then this year, because of the pandemic, we are looking like, well, the information is more critical. But I don't know that we're gonna be able to have hundreds of people together in a small space, nor do I want my people getting up playing fine. So we've converted it to a virtual event. And so we're doing a couple hours every Sunday, an hour every Wednesday I give people homework. So they they connected to the homework or not, but we go over the homework. Wednesday, and break out into small groups and talk to one another. Because one of the things that I I find that so helpful is that getting that peer to peer conversation about here's my experience of doing the protocol. Here's my experience of extinguishing those bad habits, creating these new habits to talk to one another. Because, you know, our patients hear from you and I, and we're the expert, but we don't know how, how difficult it is. But when they hear it from someone else, who's just another patient like them, like if they were successful, it gives them insights that they could not hear from me, or probably could not hear from you.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 26:42
I think one thing that I took home also sitting at that table, so I did speak at your conference on the relationship between autoimmunity and hormones because hormones are so neuroprotective and anti inflammatory. They're a vital piece of the longevity blueprint that I talked about in my book, but I attended also to become certified and Actually, for those listening, you can find wall certified health professionals on her website. We'll put a link to that in the show notes. But I was very amazed one at the reach of all the attendees. As far as if there was a woman from Hungary, I think, at my table, one from Canada, women, and men, but women primarily wrote my table from all over the world. And they were all at various, I would say stages of recovery. So one woman had just been diagnosed literally a few weeks prior, some had been coming to your conference for years. So it was really unique to see women at all different stages of their journey, being able to be an example and a coach for for their peers. That was, I was shocked. It was very firing him.
Dr. Terry Wahls 27:40
He was one of the benefits of my time with the VA because I ran a group class there, because there's such demand to see me and my level of expertise. I didn't want people to have to wait too long. So we kept doing this in groups and bigger and bigger and bigger groups. And what I discovered is that groups are even more powerful. Powerful they make this change even more effective if we can figure out a way for these patients to interact, group together to get that peer support.
Dr. Stephanie Gray 28:10
Well, that was incredible. I always learned so much from my conversations with Dr. walls. I know this has been encouraging for you to be sure to tune in to part two of our conversation where you're going to get to hear what a day in the life of Dr. Walls looks like, what oil she cooks with her favorite recipes and even her answer to my question, should kids be eating dairy? Be sure to check out my book your longevity blueprint. And if you aren't much of a reader, you're in luck. You can now take my course online where I walk you through each chapter in the book. Plus for a limited time Not only is the course 50% off, but you also get your first consult with me for free. Check this offer out at your longevity blueprint calm and click the course tab. One of the biggest things you can do to support the show and help us reach more listeners is to subscribe to the show. And leave us a rating and review on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. I read all the reviews and would truly love to hear your suggestions for show topics, guests or how you're applying what you've learned on the show to create your own longevity blueprint. The podcast is produced by the team at counterweight creative. As always, thanks so much for listening and remember, wellness is waving.
The information provided in this podcast is educational. No information provided should be considered to be or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with your personal medical authority.