For the past month we have been looking at conventional medical treatments for multiple sclerosis. Now we will start looking at alternative treatments and how they can complement conventional treatments and also in some cases do better than conventional treatments. First on the list of alternative treatments is the Wahls Protocol.
About Dr. Terry Wahls
Dr. Terry Wahls is a Clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa college of medicine. She teaches internal medicine residents and also does clinical research. She was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis and 2000 and transitioned to secondary progressive MS in 2003. She tried chemotherapy as a treatment method and was forced to use a wheelchair because of weakness in her back muscles. Because of her medical training, she looked at the up and coming research for new medications to try and find something that would help, but everything was too far off from FDA approval. Then her thinking shifted. She began to research vitamins and minerals that would support brain health and started to supplement with these. She did notice her decline was slowing, but was still declining.
In 2007 she discovered functional medicine, the idea of treating the whole body and looking for root causes instead of treating only symptoms and diseases. This led her to the thought of changing her diet so included all of the vitamins and minerals that she had discovered in her research. The early iteration of the Wahls Protocol was born.
In only a years time, she went from being in a tilt recline wheelchair to walking without a cane and biking to work daily.
The protocol itself has three separate levels. Level one; the walls diet, level two walls Paleo or level III walls Paleo plus. Usually people start out in level one and then progress from there if needed.
Level one; The Wahls Diet
This Level is the most basic form of the walls protocol and involves three major elements:
- 1. 9 cups of fruit vegetables every day
The 9 cups of fruit vegetables are broken down in specific categories.
– 3 cups of raw or cooked leafy greens.These include things like collard greens, Swiss chard, kale and Asian greens.
– 3 cups of deeply colored vegetables and fruits.This would be things like tomatoes, beats, carrots, berries and winter squash.
– 3 cups of sulfur rich vegetables. These include asparagus, cabbage, turnips, radish, broccoli, onions and garlic.
- 2. Gluten-free and dairy-free.
According to Dr. walls, these are two of the most important things you can eliminate. This is due to the role that gluten and dairy play in leaky gut. Most (if not all) individuals who have an autoimmune condition have leaky gut, and gluten and dairy are incredibly damaging to the gut lining. When these particles pass through the damaged intestinal lining, they can create an exaggerated immune response. This can also lead to a hyperactive immune system that reacts to other foods that it didn’t react to before. This is also why healing your gut can lead to a decrease in food sensitivities as well!
- 3. Organic, Grass-fed, Wild Caught
Dr. Wahls states that organic, grass-fed and wild caught sources of protein are the highest quality of protein that are available for us and this should be eaten whenever possible.
Level Two: Wahls Paleo
Level Two increases healing that much more. This Level is for individuals who have an advanced autoimmune condition, have a neurological issue, psychological problems or chronic illnesses. Level Two includes everything in Level One as well as:
- 1. Reduce all grains, legumes and potatoes to two servings a week.
Eliminating grains entirely is preferred, but the two servings are to allow for social events/situations with friends and family. The two servings are certainly not required. The focus should be on consuming more non-starchy veggies than grains.
- 2. Include seaweed, algae and organ meats
Yes! Seaweed and organ meat! These are some of the most nutritious foods on the planet and they should be included in your diet.
- 3. Include fermented foods, soaked seeds/nuts, and raw foods.
These types of foods are rich in enzymes. Many of the foods consumed today have lost their enzyme content due how they are processed. Eating raw foods can help recoup some of these lost nutrients. Raw fruits and veggies, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, soaked nuts and seeds and raw animal proteins like sushi and steak tartare are great options.
Level Three: Wahls Paleo Plus
This is the most intense level and is needed if an individual doesn’t find healing on the first two levels. Level Three is a low carb, high fat diet that is very similar to a ketogenic diet. This Level includes the guidelines of both previous Level’s as well as:
- 1. Eliminate all grains, legumes and potatoes
This includes the twice a week servings that were allowed in Level Two.
- 2. Eat at least 6 cups of veggies daily, divided evenly between greens. color and sulfur.
This is a modification from the previous levels. When eating on Level Three, and individual won’t be as hungry, so the amount of food is adjusted from 9 cups of veggies to 6 cups.
- 3. Limit cooked starchy veggies and fruit
Starchy veggies should be eaten only twice a week at most. If you have a cooked starchy veggie, you should consume a decent amount of fat along with it. If you consume a raw starchy veggie, you can count that toward part of your 6 cups.
- 4. Include coconut oil and full fat coconut milk
Eating healthy fats has a wonderful effect on your health. They are incredibly important for brain and heart health and will give you incredible energy as well.
- 5. Eat twice per day and fast 12-16 hours every night
The high amount of fat consumed on this Level along with the adequate protein consumption will lead you to be not as hungry on this Level. Also, during the times of fasting, your body will be able to focus on other tasks it needs to be doing. Healing, eliminating toxins and creating hormones will be able to be done best while not eating.
Other aspects of the Wahls Protocol
Along with the diet, there are other things to consider while on the Wahls Protocol. Eliminating toxins, exercise and stress management are all parts of the protocol too.
Individuals who have an autoimmune disease often test high for heavy metals or impaired detox pathways. Focusing on supporting your bodies natural ability to detox will be important, even if you don’t test positive for heavy metals. This can be accomplished mostly through diet, but also through using saunas, algae/kelp, clay, dry brushing, among other methods. Minimizing your toxic exposure will be important as well. Reducing your usage of chemicals either in cleaning products, skin care or beauty products. Drinking filtered water is important and using glass instead of plastic food storage containers.
“If you aren’t mobile now and you change nothing about what you are doing, you’re not going to become mobile in the future” – Dr. Terry Wahls. Exercise is an important part of healing, on any healing journey. Neither Dr. Wahls nor myself are saying go start weightlifting or run a 10k right away. But starting where you are, then increasing from there, is important. Basically the idea of, use it or lose it.
Our bodies need stress. That is how we adapt, change and grow. The problem arises when we have too much of it, all the time, called chronic stress. Think a stressful job, the stress of home life or the stress of having a chronic illness. When this happens it creates an overproduction of stress hormones, which can wreak havoc upon our bodies. Stress management and stress prevention techniques are vital.
Making changes to any way of eating can be very difficult. Especially when we feel like it is going to be a terrible thing or a challenge. Going into something with an open mind and hope can make the difference between success or failure. When making a large change like this, it is important to have a realistic idea of how you would do best. Either gradually or cold turkey. Everyone is different, so do what is right for you!