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Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and needing to use a reclining wheelchair, nobody expected that Dr. Terry Wahls would be able to walk without assistance or even ride a bike for 18.5 miles. But she did. Be inspired by Dr. Terry’s story on how she put her multiple sclerosis in remission and how she helped other people put their degenerative diseases in remission by changing their diet and lifestyle.
Hello, true health seeker and welcome to another exciting episode of the Learn True Health podcast. I am so excited for you to hear today’s interview with Dr. Terry Wahls who is quite the celebrity in the holistic health space. She reversed her MS using food and has gone on to help thousands of people reverse autoimmune conditions and heal their brain, heal their nervous system. She has a very interesting approach to healing the body by using food. The majority of the diet is vegetables.
I want to let you know that if you’re the type of person that does not know how to cook and eat delicious vegetables, please join the Learn True Health Home Kitchen. Back in October, I started working with my friend Naomi, who’s an amazing stay at home chef. She has created some amazingly delicious and healing recipes. Of course, that’s what my passion is as well, using the kitchen to heal my body and keep my family healthy. We started filming, for four months, we filmed videos and we put them all up in a membership. Every week, we also add new videos. These videos teach you how to cook lots of vegetables, lots of plants to heal your body.
Dr. Wahls also talks about using things like organ meats to heal the body. She goes through that in the interview. Of course, you definitely are going to want to get her new book. She has so much science behind it and also many results clinically, which is really, really exciting. Thousands of people have been able to put their MS in remission and other autoimmune diseases in remission using her way, her diet. She explains that there are different ways to do it. You can take her formula and you can do it in a vegan or vegetarian way. If you have allergies or religious beliefs or you don’t want to eat meat, there’s a way to do it that way. A way to go more whole food plant-based with her protocol. She does mention in the interview it’s difficult but it’s doable. She works with Dr. Joel Kahn, who’s a plant-based vegan cardiologist. They together help people reverse heart disease, MS, and autoimmune conditions together.
In the interview, she says it’s difficult because they don’t have a complete protein. What she meant by that was not that the whole food plant-based diet is void of protein, it’s not, there’s protein in everything. In all plants there’s protein. What she was referring to is that her protocol is very limiting because it’s an autoimmune protocol. There are no potatoes, there are no beans, there are no grains. If someone is going to take her protocol and also be a vegan, they’re going to have to really monitor their diet closely so that they’re making sure they’re getting all the nutrition they require to heal the body.
We can use food as medicine. There’s not one diet that fixes everyone because everyone is on different paths. One person is healing their diabetes, the other one is healing their heart disease, the other one is healing an autoimmune condition, the other one is trying to gain weight, the other one is trying to lose weight, someone’s trying to gain muscle. You can accomplish many of these things by eating whole foods. What does that mean? It means it’s not eating processed foods, eating whole foods. Dr. Terry Wahls today is going to share some amazing stories and amazing success around showing people how to dial in their diet to heal their bodies.
If you want to learn how to cook whole foods and learn from myself and Naomi, we have some amazing recipes that are so delicious that our kids love eating these meals. Kids that normally don’t like vegetables are now eating them and loving them. If you want to figure out how to use your kitchen to heal your body, please join Learn True Health Home Kitchen. You’ll also be supporting the Learn True Health podcast by doing that. We made it affordable for everyone. You could join monthly or annually. Go to learntruehealth.com/homekitchen. That’s learntruehealth.com/homekitchen. You are just going to love it.
I’ve got one recipe in the baked section that is a 10-pound lasagna and lasagna is 100% made of plants. You’re getting all your vegetables and the kids love it. They love it. They don’t realize that they’re eating so many vegetables. It is so delicious. There are no grains in it. It’s grain-free and is just very delicious. I call it 10-pound lasagna because it’s 10 pounds of vegetables. It’s just amazing. It’s so delicious. I am excited for you to join Learn True Health Home Kitchen. Go to learntruehealth.com/homekitchen and join our membership. You’ll be supporting yourself and your family. If you’re stuck at home during the quarantine, there are over seven hours of videos and content right now in the membership. You’ll be able to pour through them and learn all these wonderful recipes and ways of healing your body. We even have recipes that incorporate antiviral foods to support the immune system. Learntruehealth.com/homekitchen. Excellent.
Thank you so much for being a listener. Thank you so much for sharing this episode with those you care about especially those you know in your life who have MS or have any form of autoimmune condition. This diet, this protocol, is proving to be incredibly successful. I’m so excited and grateful to be able to bring this information to you today. Let’s share it with as many people as possible and turn this ripple into a tidal wave to help as many people as possible to learn true health.
[0:06:15] Ashley James: Welcome to the Learn True Health podcast. I’m your host, Ashley James. This is episode 418. I am so excited for today’s guest. I feel like you are a celebrity in my world so I am starstruck. Dr. Terry Wahls here. You, to me, is the bringer, the mother of using food as medicine. The founder of bringing forth the knowledge of what we’ve known for centuries but forgotten in the last hundred years. That when we eat our medicine, when I treat our plate as if it’s our prescription, we can heal disease. You have been showing us with your own example and you’ve helped thousands and thousands of people so I am so inspired by you. Many of my listeners, when I told them I was interviewing you, got so excited because we can, with whole foods, we can heal our body and you’re showing us that. Welcome to the show.
[0:07:25] Dr. Terry Wahls: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here.
[0:07:28] Ashley James: Absolutely. For those who don’t know who you are or haven’t seen your TEDx talk, which I’m going to make sure the link to it is in the show notes of the podcast. Everyone should google Dr. Terry Wahls and watch the first video that comes up is the TED talk because it is so inspiring. Even since then, because that was back in 2011, so much has happened. I can’t wait to hear what has happened since. For those who have never heard of you before, can you fill us in? What happened in your life that led you to using food as medicine?
[0:08:01] Dr. Terry Wahls: I’m an internal medicine physician at the University of Iowa: very, very conventional, believed in the latest drugs, best technology, and was very skeptical of special diets and supplements and all of that stuff. God works in mysterious ways to teach us. I developed weakness in my left leg in 2000 and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I knew it’s a progressive disease. I want to treat my disease aggressively so I sought out the best people I could find, took the newest drugs, but went relentlessly downhill. Within two years, my Cleveland Clinic physicians had told me about the work of Loren Cordain. I read his books and his papers and decided, after 20 years of being a low-fat vegetarian, to go back to eating meat. I gave up all grains, all legumes, all dairy and was eating meat.
It was a big change. I continued to go downhill, but I stayed with that diet because I didn’t know how long to change my course. The next year I needed a reclining wheelchair. I started taking more potent drugs including Tysabri, that new biologic. Continued to go relentlessly downhill. They tried a variety of other disease-modifying drugs. They never had any impact, but I stayed with them because I was trying to do everything that I possibly could.
I also decided to begin reading the basic science and to do all that I possibly could. On that basis, I decided that mitochondria were likely the drivers of disability in MS and many other neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s Alzheimer’s, ALS. I started making a supplement cocktail to support my mitochondria. That helped my fatigue a little bit, but I was still declining. I also have trigeminal neuralgia. I actually had that since medical school since 1980. My face pain was getting steadily more severe, more difficult.
I discovered the Institute for Functional Medicine in the summer of 2007. I took their course in neuroprotection. I had a longer list of supplements, which I added. Not a lot changed, but then I had a really big aha moment. What if I redesigned my paleo diet in a very specific way based on what I’d learned from my review of the basic science and what I was taking in supplement form? It was several more months of research and I started this new way of eating in the December 26, 2008. Mind you, at that point, I’m beginning to have problems with brain fog. Of course, I have severe, severe fatigue. I am so weak I cannot sit up in a regular chair. I’m in a zero-gravity chair with my knees higher than my nose, and it’s a struggle to walk 10 feet using two walking sticks.
I start this new way of eating, within three months my trigeminal neuralgia is gone, my brain fog is gone, my fatigue is gone, and I’m able to sit up and eat at the kitchen table again. Then in six months, I’m walking around at the hospital with a walking stick. In nine months, I’m able to get on my bike for the first time in six years. I am able to pedal around the block. My son and my daughter are crying. My wife is crying. I am crying. In a year, I’m able to do an 18.5-mile bike ride with my family. Once again, my kids are crying, my wife’s crying, and I’m crying. This radically changes how I will practice medicine. It will ultimately change the type of research that I do.
[0:12:09] Ashley James: I bet. How did you come across the idea that mitochondria and feeding the mitochondria was the key?
[0:12:17] Dr. Terry Wahls: As I was continuing to go relentlessly downhill despite taking the best drugs from the best people, I was like, “Okay, I can go back to reading the literature.” I started reading the animal models for MS. Then I thought, “Well, I might as well read about the other neurodegenerative diseases with shrinking brains.” I’m reading the animal models of Parkinson’s, about Alzheimer’s. I see that mitochondrial dysfunction is present in all those disease states. Although no one’s yet talking about it in MS, but I decide since I never really had relapses. I had really only one relapse, maybe two in my entire course. Otherwise, it was this slow relentless decline, that mitochondria were probably the big driver for my illness. Then my research was like, “Okay. What nutrients could I take, supplements, vitamins?”
Again, I’m reading the basic science, animal model studies. Slowly, I’m coming up with a supplement cocktail that’s helpful. It’s not stopping anything but I’m slowing my decline. I can tell the days I skipped my supplements I don’t do as well. I’m very excited by that. I’m excited because I’m learning stuff that my medical team is not telling me. I’m feeling very impassioned and I’m willing to spend more time reading the literature. By now, I’ve been assigned to join the Institutional Review Board to review clinical research. I tell my partners that I want to review all of the brain related studies. I’m getting more and more comfortable reading the basic science, reading clinical trials, and I’m getting more comfortable experimenting on myself.
[0:14:15] Ashley James: Very interesting observation that the days that you skip your B vitamins and your supplements that you notice a difference right away.
[0:14:25] Dr. Terry Wahls: Correct. Well, it takes about 36 hours. Here’s what happened. After six months of my first round of supplements, the conventional doc reared her head and said, “Oh, you’re just wasting your money.” So I quit them all. Then I could go to work the next day, but then after 36 hours, I just felt profoundly even more exhausted. On the third day, my wife came in, “Honey, I think you oughta take these again.” I took them and the next morning I could go to work. I thought, “Wow. That is really, really interesting.” Two weeks later, I did the same thing, I stopped all my supplements. Again, at 36 hours, my fatigue was even much more severe. I waited three days. I started them up again and said, “Okay,” that is when I was so excited like, “Okay. I’m figuring stuff out.”
[0:15:18] Ashley James: Right. That there’s one way that someone could have MS—my understanding and maybe you could shed some light on this—is that it’s an autoimmune condition or at least that’s been… People think it’s autoimmune, but an autoimmune condition wouldn’t get better and worse and better and worse because you took your supplements one day and then didn’t the next. Right? Is that my understanding?
[0:15:45] Dr. Terry Wahls: Correct. Correct. We’ve known for a long time that MS has both an inflammation component and a degeneration component. Early on, the researchers focused on finding drugs and strategies that would turn off the excess inflammation. Now that we understand the MRI, we’ve been measuring brain volume and spinal cord volume, we realize that as the brain volume shrinks the disability is fixed. If you have inflammation you’ll have weakness that may disappear when that acute relapse goes away and you get back to close to normal. As the volume decreases, the disability is fixed, and the thinking is it’s the mitochondria that aren’t making enough energy that are leading to the brain volume loss and that are leading to the permanent disability. A lot of the drugs that are focused on stopping inflammation are really good at stopping the inflammation, but they don’t have any drugs for mitochondria. It turns out that that’s really a diet and lifestyle thing.
[0:17:07] Ashley James: Right. You can’t feed a body a bunch of drugs and expect it to make enzymes because the body needs nutrients.
[0:17:17] Dr. Terry Wahls: Needs all the parts.
[0:17:18] Ashley James: Right. The building blocks of life.
[0:17:22] Dr. Terry Wahls: My daughter went back to school. She’s taking a chemistry class. I was thinking about going back to grad school with some more science. It’s so fun to watch her get so excited about chemistry. We’re having these lovely conversations about biochemistry, nutrition, and health. It’s just so obvious that if you don’t have the building blocks, you can’t run the chemistry. How can you be healthy if you don’t have the building blocks to run the chemistry of life?
[0:17:57] Ashley James: Right. We’re not going to get it through a fast-food drive-through. The standard American diet does not set us up for success. You noticed a difference on days that you took your supplements versus you didn’t within 36 hours. What happened to have you have that aha moment and go, “Wait a second. Maybe I could get even more if I switched over to food.”
[0:18:22] Dr. Terry Wahls: Isn’t it interesting? I started taking with my supplement cocktail about 2004, maybe early 2005. I’m reading the basic science, slowly adding a few more vitamins and supplements. In the summer of 2007, I discovered the Institute for Functional Medicine. They had a really lovely course on neuroprotection. That again was a lot of mitochondria, a lot of biochemistry—I liked it a lot. They had a longer list of supplements, which I added. I should step back. Remember, I switched from vegetarian to paleo eater and that I’m adding supplements. It does not improve me, it’s just slowing my decline. I have to admit, I don’t quite recall what was the aha moment. What if I used my list of supplements to say, “I need to figure out where these are in the food supply and stress those foods.” Because of course food is really complex. It’s much more than the—at that time it was 19 different nutrients that I was working on supplement wise. Now there are 36 nutrients that we monitor to determine the quality of the diet in terms of brain health. When I went to my registered dietician colleagues I said, “What foods would these be? What I need to eat to have a rich supply of these nutrients?” and the response was, “That’s complicated. I need a dietetic intern to look that up. I don’t really know.” Then I went to the university librarian so we tried. They really weren’t that helpful, but fortunately, I went back and I found the Linus Pauling Institute of Micronutrients. I used that as a [inaudible 0:20:19] resource. Originally, I had these long lists of foodstuffs that I was stressing. You can’t teach that to the public very well. Then I had to think much more deeply about how could I create an easily understood teaching message that would help people have diets that stress these key nutrients that I’m so keen on?
That’s how I ended up creating the message that I now teach which was the core part of the Wahls protocol.
[0:20:51] Ashley James: Before that though, before you decided you were going to teach people how to eat this way, you were figuring out for yourself. You were experimenting with food. Then you started to see results. Can you bring us back to that moment?
[0:21:08] Dr. Terry Wahls: What happened there was I’d identified these B vitamins, some sulfur amino acids, carotenoids, a variety of fats. I had that as I needed to have foods that would be rich in these things. Eventually, I get this list of these key foodstuffs that I wanted to be eating, and that was eating liver. I grew up eating liver. I quit eating liver. I was back to, ”I got to eat liver once a week,” and to get oysters and mussels a couple times a week. The other thing that’s fascinating, I identified that carotenoid, all these carotenoids were really vital. So I ate salads but now I was eating a tremendously much larger volume of kale, and parsley, and romaine lettuce, chard, and way more garlic, and then flax oil, and hemp oil and all this. What I discovered was as I ramped all of this up, I discovered that I couldn’t get enough greens. I had just this amazing craving for greens, for cooked kale, for steamed kale, for big kale salads, parsleys.
We since had more research that has come through on the critical role of vitamin K2 in the brain for stimulating the growth of brain stem cells, and the oligodendrocytes that repair the myelin in the brain. I’m recovering enough that I’m submitting papers and abstracts to present at scientific meetings, and so I’m going to these meetings. You can’t eat 9-12 cups of vegetables on the road very easily. I had yet figure out how to do that. I discovered that 36 hours away from home, my energy was beginning to tank.
[0:23:40] Ashley James: Right. Had you switched over? Had you stopped taking supplements and you’d been getting all your nutrition from food?
[0:23:47] Dr. Terry Wahls: No. I was still taking my supplements. I could still take the supplements, but I couldn’t take all the food. When I was away from it, within 36 hours, my energy level was dropping quite remarkably and my mental clarity was dropping quite remarkably. I would eventually learn, so I would pack food with me. I’d pack a kale with me and I’d be eating my kale. I pack cabbage with me, I’d eat cabbage. if I would pack these foods—and cabbage flies really well because it’s very forgiving. It can go several days without being refrigerated, it’s not a big deal. I really enjoy raw cabbage so I could go with a green cabbage, I could go with a purple cabbage, I could go with green or purple kale. Those are very portable foods.
[0:24:43] Ashley James: And delicious.
[0:24:46] Dr. Terry Wahls: And delicious. When I traveled with my vegetables in tow, I didn’t have my vegetable intake drop, and then I was fine.
[0:24:58] Ashley James: Fascinating. You figured out that you needed certain compounds like sulfur, iodine. Can you break that down a bit, the really important? You mentioned carotenoids, what is that?
[0:25:15] Dr. Terry Wahls: Carotenoids, those are the antioxidants that are in plants. The part of the pigment in plants. A lot of them are in the green plants but also in red, orange, blue, purple, black also have a variety of carotenoids in them. You can think of these as the polyphenols, the antioxidants. These are compounds that help protect. Every chemical plant always has some trash in it as you do the chemical processes. Whether it’s a man-made chemical plant or a biologic chemical plant. There is some biochemical trash in our mitochondria and biochemical trash in our cells and the color—the carotenoids in our plants—mop up that trash very nicely.
[0:26:12] Ashley James: They go in and they clean up the mitochondria? They give it a little spring cleaning.
[0:26:16] Dr. Terry Wahls: Yes, exactly. That is exactly correct. They provide support to a lot of enzymes of the mitochondria to improve their efficiency. They also provide support to some of the enzymes in the brain for making neurotransmitters. They provide support to the enzymes involved in the processing and eliminating of toxins.
[0:26:43] Ashley James: So these are things that are really hard to get from supplements. You can get a B complex but if you’re just taking supplements and then eating potatoes and corn and just the standard American diet, you’re not getting the carotenoids.
[0:26:59] Dr. Terry Wahls: And you’re not getting the diversity. You see, we have had about a billion and a half maybe two billion years worth of random mutations that have occurred in DNA that have allowed us to create enzymes that facilitate the chemistry of life. We have this rich array of compounds that support the chemistry of life. Food is vastly more complicated than the 34 different nutrients that the US Department of Agriculture has listed with recommended daily allowance or average intake recommendations for us. We need food, with all of its complexity and diversity, in order for us to run the full chemistry of life.
In fact, when I was in medical school, we were so excited about the genome project because we’re going to analyze the human DNA and sequence it. We thought we’d have about 100,000 genes because of the number of proteins that humans have. It turns out we have only about 25,000 genes. The big question is, “Man, where did those other 75,000 genes go?” Because corn, grass, plants, wheat have more like 100,000 genes. Our professors are sort of offended that plants appeared to be more complicated than humans. That this was like, “How could that be?” Of course, nobody knew anything about the microbiome. We just thought poop was poop.
Now we know that microbiome is teeming with life. As those bacteria and those microbes help eat the food that we consume and help digest the food and make vitamins and other small molecules that would get into our bloodstream, it’s the bacteria that have those other 75,000 genes that have the DNA to make the enzymes to make those compounds that we need for the other processes that we could no longer do, but our bacteria could. When the mutation occurred thousands of generations ago in our ancestral mother, she had reproductive success because the microbes in her gut could still do that chemical step. It was at that moment that the genetic instruction for that chemical step was exported from the human DNA to bacterial DNA.
[0:30:03] Ashley James: Fascinating. Your microbiome changed because you changed your diet. It became more diverse because you ate a more diverse diet of plants because that’s what feeds meat. Meat doesn’t necessarily feed a microbiome well but plants do, right?
[0:30:22] Dr. Terry Wahls: Let me modify that. The meat feeds your microbiome. The supplements you eat feed your microbiome. Junk food you eat feeds your microbiome. Plants feed your microbiome. The things that are new to our microbiome are processed foods, processed food additives, emulsifiers, sugar, white flour, pasta, cereals. All those things are clearly feeding disease-promoting bacteria. Plants, they are probably feeding the same kind of bacteria that were in our ancestral mothers for thousands of generations. Meat, again, thousands of generations. Whole grains and legumes, that’d be about 8,000 years, so a few generations. Not as many as the meats and plants have been eating. The sugar about 300 years. The emulsifier, food additives, that’s probably about 100 years.
[0:31:24] Ashley James: I heard one microbiome expert said that we’ve created the Homer Simpson of microbiome in the modern diet. It’s just kind of dumbed down and very limited in its functionality.
[0:31:44] Dr. Terry Wahls: Very limited. On my study team, I have a bunch of dietitians on my study team and we love talking about diet, food quality, the research. The research—I think it’s really very interesting—there are many diets. Humans can eat a wide variety of things and be healthy. My mitochondria can burn protein. During the winter, my ancestral mothers and fathers either had to live off their own fat or if the hunt was good they got to have meat. Otherwise, you had to wait until the next hunt was good because it’d be summer before there was plant material again. You’d have several months where you can have meat or nothing. Then during the summer, you could have plants. If the hunt was bad you just had plants or nothing. If that was okay, you’d have a combination of plants and meat.
We can survive on just plants for a while, but we all have to have protein. Otherwise, we can’t live without protein. We can survive for a long time on just fat, our own fat. That’s how we survived, war, winter, famine. We can survive for a while on meat alone. I don’t know that we have any societies that have—over their lifetime—been a meat only eater.
We do know the standard American diet is wrecking our health. We could have the Mediterranean diet and have better health. We can have the Paleo diet and have better health. You can have a ketogenic diet and have better health. You’d have the standard American diet as a population our health declines. We have this exploding rates of obesity, autoimmunity, and mental health issues, and cancers. If I take you off that diet and I could put you on a Mediterranean diet, a paleo diet, a ketogenic diet your health will improve. With a little bit of structure, I can put you on a vegetarian or vegan diet and your health will improve. I have a bias that I think our diet, of all the diets out there, have been most thoughtfully structured. We’re the only one who really have done any prospective studies in detailed nutritional analyses to say, “We know that this diet provides everything that your brain needs.”
[0:34:21] Ashley James: While you were traveling and you were experimenting with food, eating tons, tons of plants. Of course, you were eating you said liver. I believe you said once a week, you’re eating grass-fed meat.
[0:34:32] Dr. Terry Wahls: Once a week, yes.
[0:34:34] Ashley James: So you’re eating organ meat once a week. You’re eating grass-fed meat, free-range—
[0:34:39] Dr. Terry Wahls: Well, I want to correct you there. Liver once a week. Heart probably once a week. Oysters and mussels once or twice a week. I was eating a lot of organs. I was paying deep, deep attention to the diversity of my meats and diversity of my plants.
[0:35:01] Ashley James: Now, you ate, I believe you said, nine cups of vegetables a day.
[0:35:08] Dr. Terry Wahls: I told the public to eat nine. I was probably eating more like 12.
[0:35:13] Ashley James: See, yeah. Nine seems small because when you’ve been describing how much a variety of vegetables, but you ate a huge amount of beautiful variety of plants. It’s not like you’re eating a carnivore diet. You’re listing off all these meats and stuff. It’s really a small amount of animal products in comparison to the rest of your diet, which was a variety of beautiful vegetables and berries. You did that experiment accidentally where you cut back on your 12 cups of vegetables while you were traveling and you notice within 36 hours you had fatigue and brain fog. Did you ever experiment with cutting out the animal products for a few days and noticing if you also experience the same effect?
[0:36:11] Dr. Terry Wahls: Correct. I could do no meat for two days. Beyond that, it does not work.
[0:36:21] Ashley James: So you had the same experience of lowered—so there are some key nutrients that you figured out in the organ meats.
[0:36:31] Dr. Terry Wahls: The organ meats are really superfoods. I had some debates with the carnivore folks. Then with them, I like liver, I think it’s really good for you, but I only want people to have about 6 to 8 ounces of liver a week. I want them to otherwise have other organs: heart, kidney, oysters, mussels, whole sardines. If you have more than eight ounces of liver, then you’re going to be at risk for chronic vitamin A toxicity. If you don’t have enough retinol, then you’re at risk for retinol insufficiency, which also increases the risk for infection, autoimmunity, and cancer. There’s a balance, liver once a week. My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother also eat liver once a week. By God they were correct.
[0:37:30] Ashley James: Right. If we look at even the health of our great-grandparents versus the health that we have today. We really do need to go back. If we just go back a few hundred years we would eat such a better diet than what we’re eating now. I really do love what you’ve dialed in. The question is, where’s the science. You’ve experimented on yourself, but since then, where is the science? I’d love to know, have you been able to do clinical studies?
[0:38:08] Dr. Terry Wahls: Yes. Absolutely.
[0:38:08] Ashley James: Have you been able to prove that this formula is effective for other people as well?
[0:38:16] Dr. Terry Wahls: Yeah. My area of research was a diagnostic error looking at what we called secondary data analysis. When I had my recovery, the chair of medicine saw my recoveries. They’re at the U again, call me in, I told them what I had done, and he’s a rheumatology doctor. He says, “Terry, this is so important. I want you to get a case report written up.” I said, “On myself said?” He said, “Yes. Work with your treating team. That’s your assignment for the year.” I salute and I said, “Okay.” I get that done, and he calls me back and says, “Now, I want you to do a safety and feasibility study.” I said, “Well, I don’t really have training in that.” “I will get you mentors. That’s your assignment.” Again, I salute and we get the protocol written up. That takes me a while to get it written up and through the IRB, now I have to raise about $100,000. When you have less than 2% of protocols get funding, but if we have any Canadian listeners, we have to thank the Canadians because it was a Canadian small nonprofit that gave us that funding. A little electrotherapy device MP that gave us that funding, and we were able to do that small early pilot study. We were able to show that yes other people could implement my diet and lifestyle program, that it was safe, that the biggest risk was if you’re overweight you lost weight and got back to a healthy body weight.
[0:39:59] Ashley James: If people were at normal weight or underweight would they lose weight as well?
[0:40:03] Dr. Terry Wahls: They would get back to the weight that they were at as a young adult. It’s about 19-22 years old without being hungry. Nobody became underweight. We were able to work with people to keep them within that target BMI. They lost their weight actually quite rapidly. I had to file safety reports every three months because of that. Fortunately for me, people got to their young adult weight and stayed there and did very very well.
Then we were able to show that quality of life went up quite remarkably. You got a short form 36, a 5-point change is clinically meaningful. We had a 16-point change so that would be clinically very very meaningful. The p-value was less than 0.0005, so that’s hugely impactful. The fatigue severity dropped quite largely. That scale was close from seven total fatigue in every aspect of your life to one no fatigue in any aspect of your life. We had a reduction of the volume, I think it was 2.38. Again, clinically huge and statistically very, very meaningful. Again, less than 0.0005.
[0:41:30] Ashley James: What’s a low p-value mean?
[0:41:33] Dr. Terry Wahls: It means that it’s a statistical way of saying it’s significant. If it’s less than 0.05 then that means there’s a 95% probability that that is statistically meaningful, it wasn’t a random possibility. The fact that I’m less than 0.0005 would mean there’d be less than 0.005 percent chance of random finding of that. In the science world, that is hugely, hugely significantly.
[0:42:10] Ashley James: I bet. You’re using diet and nutrition, you were using it to heal your specific condition, but do you think your diet could heal all conditions? Do you think that this is the perfect diet for everyone or just for specific diseases?
[0:42:29] Dr. Terry Wahls: This changed how I practice medicine in my primary care clinic, in the traumatic brain injury clinic. They’re taking care of people with diabetes, obesity, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic brain injury. My Veteran Affairs hospital was so impressed that they pulled me out of those clinics and put me in my own clinic. We call it the Therapy Lifestyle Clinic. There, I went and asked people who had the pain clinic and the primary care clinics and said, “Give me your people who are most refractory to treatment who you can’t really help, but they need to know I’m only using diet and lifestyle. You’re going to do the drugs. I’m not doing any drugs for these patients.”
We got a few folks had tremendous success. Started getting more and more referrals. We just had such, such success that the VA national office came out to see me. We wrote a grant, expanded the clinic. Then, three years ago, I decided to leave the VA because by then, I’m now traveling in the world lecturing, teaching other physicians, other researchers how to do what it is that I do.
[0:43:58] Ashley James: Brilliant. You mentioned that if the population just stopped eating the standard American diet any of your listed [Hough 0:44:07] even vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto, Mediterranean all of those would be better choices than the standard American diet. Can someone heal? Could someone choose a whole food plant-based diet eating 12 cups of a variety of vegetables a day and heal their mitochondria, or did you find that you absolutely need to eat organ meat in order to heal the mitochondria?
[0:44:33] Dr. Terry Wahls: In my book, the Wahls protocol, I do have levels. For the vegetarian, vegans I provide a structure for them and supplement recommendations so that they could address their mitochondria. Most folks who are vegetarian are vegans—unless they’re taking supplements—are going to end up with chronic disease and a neurologic problem.
[0:45:00] Ashley James: Why is that? What supplements?
[0:45:02] Dr. Terry Wahls: Well, that’s because they don’t get a complete protein. If they aren’t taking B vitamins they’ll ultimately become short on B12, they may become short on iodine, they may become short on minerals. You can be a vegetarian vegan but you have to be very thoughtful, you have to structure your diet carefully, and you need some B vitamins, and you need some supplements.
[0:45:29] Ashley James: Most people need supplements if they’ve been eating the standard American diet because they’re highly deficient.
[0:45:36] Dr. Terry Wahls: Their recovery will be faster. In my VA, we had very limited supplements that we could use. This was really a diet and lifestyle program. My folks were living on food stamps. They’re often disabled, unable to work. They’re shopping in rural small-town Iowa. It’s certainly not Whole Foods, and we had remarkable success. I teach them how to cook. I wasn’t doing any fancy functional medicine testing, I was doing just basic primary care labs.
We had worked out how to grow their internal motivation. We’ve created what I now call the Wahls behavior change model, and that’s part of what I teach clinicians. Because the reasons our patients get better—whether you’re a conventional doc or you’re a functional medicine doc—the reason they get better or not is most often really contingent on can they follow your recommendations to improve their diet quality and their health behaviors? We’re asking people to give up today’s pleasures for tomorrow’s benefits.
[0:46:45] Ashley James: It could be something as quick as days, days of eating vegetables. How soon did you notice a shift in your symptoms? Because you were very sick.
[0:46:56] Dr. Terry Wahls: In a month.
[0:46:57] Ashley James: In one month. So it took 30 days and then you started noticing it or was it gradual over that month?
[0:47:03] Dr. Terry Wahls: Gradual over that month, in my clinics with the VA, we’d see people monthly for that first six months. It was very typical when they’d come back. Then that first month, they could tell that things were beginning to improve often for the first time in years, many times decades. That their pain was lessening, their brain fog was lessening, their energy was improving, that the world was less irritating to them, and it was easier to get along with family, with co-workers, with colleagues, with their spouse, with their kids. It was because the inflammation in their brain and their spinal cord is going down. Their weight is coming down quite remarkably. They’re not striving. They’re not hungry. They’re eating to satiety.
Of course, many of these folks had either never been taught how to cook or had forgotten how to cook. We have to have cooking classes and food demonstrations to show them how to do this affordably. How to do it affordable in terms of money and in terms of time. It has to be manageable for both.
[0:48:28] Ashley James: Were all the participants in this study all have MS, or do they have a variety of neurological symptoms?
[0:48:35] Dr. Terry Wahls: In my clinical trials we’ve only studied multiple sclerosis. In my clinics, so I told you about my primary care clinic and my traumatic brain injury clinic, in my lifestyle clinic, we’d see folks with anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar. Then we’d see rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, fibromyalgia, myasthenia gravis, MS, Parkinson’s, cognitive decline, chronic pain following back surgery, chronic pain following a war injury or a traumatic amputation, chronic headaches following a severe traumatic brain injury. Then of course, the usual diabetes, obesity, heart disease, heart failure. We had some Neuropathies following chemotherapy, so a wide variety of conditions. The most common symptoms were pain, decreasing energy, or fatigue problems, irritability, brain fog. People will often report that those symptoms were reducing within four to six weeks. Then It’d continue to improve over the next six months.
[0:49:58] Ashley James: Did their MS go away?
[0:50:00] Dr. Terry Wahls: I’m very clear. In my case, I still have lesions in my spinal cord, a couple of lesions in my head, but these were lesions that had been there for years. My neurologist when I went back to see him he was so excited to get another MRI. He was disappointed that the MRI hadn’t changed. He said, “But you know, Terry, I expect it was foolish to think that they would because those were old lesions. Of course, they’re going to stay. If you have new lesions that are less than two years old, there’s plenty of reason to be very hopeful that those lesions will go away. If they’re old lesions, older than two years, they may well stay.”
I’m very clear with all of my patients whether you have an autoimmune problem, or a degenerative problem, or diabetes, obesity. If we change your diet and lifestyle to health-promoting diet and lifestyle choices, and your blood pressure improves, your blood sugar improves, your mood improves, you are doing great, you’re off meds, and so you think now you’re cured. You can go back to your old ways. All of your diseases will come screaming back, and you’ll need all your drugs again. It’s the diet and lifestyle choices that made those diseases develop.
[0:51:24] Ashley James: Well, it’s kind of like drinking a poison. If I were to give arsenic to someone and they get sick. Then they take an antidote and they’re like, “Oh, I’m better again.” They keep taking the arsenic.
[0:51:37] Dr. Terry Wahls: I can go back to eating an arsenic.
[0:51:38] Ashley James: Right. The diet is the arsenic, the diet causes these diseases. It’s not that we’re broken. I feel that’s the mentality, and I love that you have a behavioral change model because part of that is the mentality that I’m broken and I need drugs, for example. I’m not against drugs. They’re not the only thing out there. It’s certainly not the cure if the diet is the poison.
[0:52:04] Dr. Terry Wahls: What we teach is we’re creating health by helping you learn health behaviors, health-promoting behaviors. What I can’t predict for anyone is how much health recovery is possible. Typically, I am quite delighted that vastly more health recovery is possible than the person had dared to hope for because they were so ill that they had been afraid. They just couldn’t know what might be possible.
As we embrace those health behaviors, and I get them to understand how to shop and make menus and eat and cook and prepare all that. We teach them how to find joy and meaning in their life as it is. How to manage their stress levels and self-care. To go outside and move and be at the sunlight again. What they discover is the blood pressure begins to improve. The blood sugars begin to improve. Their mood improves. They were having joyful relationships with their family.
The guys come in smiling and say, “You know what doc, you didn’t tell me that my love life would come back.” So they’re smiling and the ladies are in because they’re so pleased that they’re getting their old bodies back. They’re losing weight getting back to a younger, healthier self.
[0:53:34] Ashley James: Beautiful. I interviewed Dr. Joel Khan and he said to me he was very excited for the research that you’re doing now. I think it was specifically around a whole food plant-based diet. Can you shed some light on that?
[0:53:51] Dr. Terry Wahls: What Joel is he is more of a low-fat person, and he is very much into plants. He comes out from a cardiology perspective. Where Joel and I agree is that it’s certainly possible to have a vegetarian diet. He and I recognize that you got to follow your B12 very closely, you want to follow your mineral status, you want to follow your protein status. If you do a low-fat diet, you still have to maintain your Omega-3 fatty acid, Omega-6 fatty acid ratios. It’s the ratio that’s also very important in addition to having sufficient fats in your brains are fat.
The research that I do uses the Wahls Paleo diet or the Wahls elimination diet. In my clinical practice, we do take care of people who are vegetarian and vegans. We have a diet that Joel Khan would be thrilled that we are using. That’s my clinical practice for people who are vegetarian or vegan for their religious beliefs or who may have a particular reason to follow a lower cholesterol diet because of their underlying heart disease. In my MS clinical research, we do either the Wahls paleo or the Wahls elimination diet.
[0:55:18] Ashley James: Explain how we can get healthy fats from our diet to support our brain? People are worried about Alzheimer’s and dementia. That’s on the rise. Of course, not only MS, but that there’s other neurological problems that look like they’re on the rise.
[0:55:39] Dr. Terry Wahls: Absolutely. It’s very scary the rates of cognitive decline, early dementias—early dementias in the 40s that are being found. Of course, there are many factors with that. Part of that is a diet that drives your insulin up very high. If you have a diet that’s high in carbs, that can drive your insulin high. When the insulin is high, your brain can’t clear out some of the toxic trash, the beta-amyloid as well. So you’re at higher risk for cognitive decline. If you have more toxins, heavy metals mercury, arsenic, you’re at higher rates for cognitive decline. If you have unrecognized gluten sensitivity, you’re at a much higher rate of cognitive decline. If you aren’t physically active, you have a higher rate of cognitive decline. If you smoked or exposed to air pollution, you have higher rates of cognitive decline. If you are lonely, you have higher rates of cognitive decline. So there are many, many, many factors here.
When we see people, we talk about the many things that are under our control that can markedly reduce your risk of cognitive decline. When I first started doing my research in 2010, I was the only person doing a food-based dietary intervention. I was the only person doing a multi-modal diet stress reduction exercise intervention. The feeling was that if you didn’t do one like you at a time if you had a good effect we wouldn’t know the mechanism. Fortunately, my chair of medicine said, “The question is, can people do what you did? If they do, what happens?” We saw that yes they could do it, we didn’t hurt them, and we had dramatically favorable results. We’re doing more of these complicated diet stress reduction exercise studies. The NIH is now doing more of these diet and lifestyle studies to look at other autoimmune conditions and other issues of cognitive decline.
[0:58:10] Ashley James: I know you said you’re just doing basic labs, but did you see that in the labs, that they’re autoimmune—whatever markers you use for autoimmune—that they were going down as well as healing mitochondria?
[0:58:25] Dr. Terry Wahls: As you address the diet and lifestyle factors, you can do autoimmunity panels. There are much more sophisticated autoantibodies that look at brain structures, look at thyroid, look at bone that you could see someone comes in with many autoantibodies. If we teach them how to address diet and lifestyle and adapt these health behaviors, we can see these autoantibody profiles come down. In the VA, thyroid disease is very, very common. Having people implement the Wahls protocol, and we followed their thyroid antibodies, we could see the antibodies coming down nicely. That’s a lovely marker that people can use to monitor that they’re having a great biologic success at changing the trajectory of their illness. If they can go back to being autoantibody negative, they have reversed the damage. Whereas if you continue to have autoantibodies, we know that you’re damaging yourself and you are developing a more progressive organ damage.
[0:59:53] Ashley James: Right. Whether it’s the thyroid or the mitochondria or wherever the autoimmune is presenting. That’s such a clear picture that helps motivate the patient to keep going because it’s going in the right direction.
[1:00:08] Dr. Terry Wahls: Even more important than blood work, I talk about your biosensor. Again, this is something I’ve learned both from my own personal experience and from working with veterans is to help educate them to identify their subtle symptoms. For me, because of my trigeminal neuralgia, if I have changes in sensation on my face that will come up. I know that if I don’t address that my face pain, electrical face pain due to trigeminal neuralgia would turn on, and I will have horrific levels of pain in very short order. That’s my biosensor. So I talk to my patients, “Okay. We want you to figure out what are your subtle symptoms that are sort of your warning that there’s more incipient trouble ahead for you? If you can identify these subtle symptoms that are your biosensor, you can use that to help monitor your environment. If your biosensor is turning on, then you can sit back and think, “Okay, is there something in my diet that I have a food sensitivity to? Was I exposed to more toxins? Is there a bigger situational stressor that’s going on? Am I not outside enough? Has my vitamin D level fallen? Am I having a viral infection?””
I help people tune in to their subtle symptoms for their biosensor. Then help them develop that internal checklist of what are all the environmental exposures I could run through in my mind to see, could this be what’s making my biosensor turn on today?
[1:01:58] Ashley James: Oh, I love it.
[1:01:58] Dr. Terry Wahls: And then, what could I do about it?
[1:02:00] Ashley James: Right. I love that because they’re tuning into their own body. I interviewed Palmer Kippola who had MS for many years. I believe it was over 10 years that as she was adjusting her diet and figuring out what worked for her, she made a checklist and she realized that she could predict if she would have within a month if she would have a relapse based on sleep, stress, nutrition, if she sort of partied too hard, or whatever it was, or had too much stress. She saw that if she didn’t get her supplements or her nutrition or these really important factors, if she just stopped practicing self-care as much, she could predict. She could go, “Okay. This month I’m going to have one. I’m going to have a relapse.” Sure enough, it was predictable, but if she stayed on top of all of the things that you teach then she wouldn’t.
[1:02:59] Dr. Terry Wahls: All the self-care.
[1:03:00] Ashley James: Yeah, all the self-care. Everything that you teach and the diet she would have zero relapses. It was just evident to her that something is as simple as managing stress, moving your body in a way that brings you joy, hydrating nutrition, nutrition, nutrition, diet being the number one thing, and sleep. Even a lack of sleep and stress, those two combined would be enough for her to have a relapse. She just saw that taking care of yourself on all these levels is so important.
[1:03:35] Dr. Terry Wahls: Think about what’s happening in the world right now. This pandemic of the coronavirus that has people afraid, have governments trying to figure out how to contain the spread of the infection. There’s a lot of fear. People don’t know what to do. If you have this fear, this isolation, and terrible diets that make people at much greater risk to have the viral infection and a greater risk to have a more serious infection. Think of the people over the age of 60, an autoimmune disease or on chronic medication. If we could help them understand that the concepts that I teach, the self-cares, the quality of your diet, the meditation, being outside with some sunlight and fresh air. These things are addressing those factors that put you at greater risk.
[1:04:42] Ashley James: Yes. It’s protective on all fronts. I love it. You mentioned in the evolution of man that there were times where, in the winter, those who lived in the North didn’t have access to plants. We either had to fast, or we could eat a game if we caught it.
[1:05:03] Dr. Terry Wahls: Right. If the hunt was good.
[1:05:06] Ashley James: Yeah. Whatever we could gain access to, but throughout our history, there have been times where we had to fast. Where there was famine we had to fast and our body figured out how to burn fat for fuel so that we could fast. I believe it was back in 2012 that the discovery of autophagy that occurs during fasting. Autophagy being the body’s own ability to digest pathological tissue and scar tissue. Then there’s a huge spike in human growth hormone and in stem cells. Have you looked into or experimented on yourself with using fasting to heal your lesions?
[1:05:44] Dr. Terry Wahls: Probably about 18 months now. My typical eating pattern is one meal a day. So I’ll have a two-hour window where I’m eating food. Then, one week a month, I will have a calorie-restricted diet so that I’ll have about 500 calories a day during that week. By the end of the week, I am pretty hungry. After that then I have a higher protein diet. That’s when my stem cells have all woken up. They’re like making the new younger Terry. I really appreciate that. My family and my kids are like, “Your hair is grayer—yes, mom—but you keep looking younger and younger and younger.” That fasting and that intermittent calorie restriction does increase the number of stem cells that your bone marrow makes and releases into the bloodstream in the periphery. It does improve your ability to repair your blood vessels, your heart, your brain, your pancreas. It makes for actually younger fat because your fat turns out to be a hormone organ.
Intermittent fasting, calorie restriction great for you. If you do intermittent water fasting you for sure need to have your personal medical team supervise that.
[1:07:19] Ashley James: Absolutely. I love that you address that you’re eating very good nutrition after fasting or after a time period of calorie restriction because those stem cells need nutrition to make healthy new cells.
[1:07:36] Dr. Terry Wahls: To make the new you.
[1:07:37] Ashley James: Right. I’ve seen some people come off of a fast and then eat ice cream. I’m like, “You’re just building cells made of ice cream. That’s not conducive to building a healthy body.” We have to remember, everything we put in our mouth is building our cells.
[1:07:53] Dr. Terry Wahls: Becomes you. Everything you eat will become you.
[1:07:57] Ashley James: Do you want to be a doughnut?
[1:08:01] Dr. Terry Wahls: We want to be eating foods that our great-great-grandmother and great-great-grandfather would recognize as food.
[1:08:09] Ashley James: Yes, I love it. As part of your protocol, is there a percentage of food that’s raw so that we get the enzymes? A percentage of food that’s cooked?
[1:08:20] Dr. Terry Wahls: Again, I personalize this based on the circumstances. The simplest way to think about this is who are feeding our microbiome and us. I have you monitor your bowel movements. Are you passing rocks, logs, snakes, pudding, or tea? If you’re passing rocks and dry logs, then your microbiome needs more fiber and more fermented food. So more raw vegetables, more salads, more resistance starch such as inulin. If you’re pooping snakes, that’s fine. If the snakes are getting into your pants that is not socially fine so you’re going to have to back off on the fermented food and the raw things. If you’re pooping pudding and tea, again, that’s not good. You have to back off.
So some people can only have soups and stews because they have inflammatory bowel disease and they’re having pudding and tea. Some people can’t manage the snakes because they have a neurologic disease. They have difficulty controlling their sphincter and they have too many accidents. I don’t want anybody to have rocks and dry logs. I would much rather that they have enough fiber so that they can easily pass their bowel movements.
There’s this stool chart that’s like one to seven. It’s way too confusing to keep track the numbers, but all my patients know when I’m talking rocks, dry logs, logs, snakes, pudding, and tea. They know exactly what I’m talking about.
[1:10:07] Ashley James: So ideally, it’s logs but not dry logs?
[1:10:10] Dr. Terry Wahls: Correct. It’s really soft easily passed bowel movements that you have a couple times a day, you’re not having fecal accidents.
[1:10:20] Ashley James: Can you tell us more about the Wahls behavioral change model? Maybe teach us a little bit because I know the listeners been piqued. Their interest is piqued and they want to make changes in their life. Maybe you could teach us a little bit.
[1:10:34] Dr. Terry Wahls: Yeah. Our brains, through evolution and all of the random mutations that occurred in our DNA, if something was pleasurable and we did more of it and it was good for the species, that mutation was passed on. So in general, we’re wired to crave pleasure and comfort. We’re also wired to be much more interested in what’s happening right now than what might happen in the future. So if I tell you to make this change to give up today’s pleasure, that ice cream, to prevent trouble from being demented in 20 years that’s very difficult. That goes against all of the biologic priming of your ancestors over thousands of generations. That’s incredibly difficult.
Then if I put the ice cream on the counter in a bowl, I put some chocolate sauce on it, it’s extremely difficult for you. You can just taste it, it’s right there in your mouth, it’d be so yummy. But there are some circumstances where you and I would be willing to go into a burning building to save something or someone that we cared so deeply about. That we won’t care about that bowl of ice cream. My question is, is there anything in your life that you care so much about that if you knew that prison or that thing was asleep in that house we see some smoke coming out of the window, without thinking you’d be in there getting that item or that person out. If there is nothing then I’m going to have to help them. I have more join in their life right now because they’re too depressed. If there is something that they care that much about, then there’s a possibility that we can help them give up on the ice cream. Because if I can link the decision that I’m going to give up on the ice cream because I care so much about my grandson that I would take out of that burning house because I want to be there to see my grandson go to school. I want to see my grandson get married. I want to dance with my daughter at her wedding.
If I can help them understand the possibility of why eating vegetables, meditating, and walking will help you achieve that, and let’s figure out what’s the next small actionable step. We’ve got 15 steps along the way to help people go from their current diet and lifestyle to the more therapeutic diet and lifestyle. That’s part of that whole process that we use. When people understand, when I explain to them that of course, it’s very hard to give up today’s pleasures for tomorrow’s benefit. That’s biologic. We’ve had millions of generations where that biology has been reinforced. That is an incredible ask for you to give up today’s pleasures for tomorrow’s theoretic benefit, but we will all do it for things that deeply matter to us such as our children, our grandchildren, or your fellow soldiers in an army unit under fire, or a purpose that you so deeply care about, or perhaps your grand your grandfather’s pocket knife that he gave you, and he’s dead, and by God, you’re not going to lose that.
People are items of tremendous emotional value. You’re willing to risk pain and suffering and potential harm to go safe. We, in fact, are going to give up today’s pleasure, but we have to put it in context for someone to be willing to do that. Then help them make the small actionable next step to be successful.
[1:15:06] Ashley James: I love that you have 15 small steps because it seems almost impossible to go from eating no vegetables at all or people eat potatoes, because they think that’s a vegetable in the form of fries, to go from that nine cups.
[1:15:21] Dr. Terry Wahls: There’s a lot of steps that we go through to help people be successful. You have to grow the insights to understand how it’s possible. You have to connect the motivation. You have to help people find joy in their life as it is right now.
[1:15:42] Ashley James: The listener was following you as you were describing that. In their mind, mentally threw out the ice cream to save their favorite person or object from a burning building. What next steps could they take today?
[1:16:00] Dr. Terry Wahls: Again, it will depend on the person and their circumstances. What are their diagnoses? What am I helping them address? The first step that I really want people to think deeply about is what do you want your health for? Spend some time journaling about that: what I want my health for? That is the beginning of the process because whenever you’re changing your behavior, you can sort of think about the last time you changed a health behavior, broke a bad habit, made a new habit. The reason you were successful was that you decided it was worth it to you to put in that effort. We never make those kinds of changes just because I came over and said, “You got to start walking an hour every day.” When we make a new habit or extinguish an old bad habit it’s because I made the internal decision that my desire for change is great enough that I’m willing to put in the effort.
The very first step for any change is this really deep reflection on what do I want my health for? Because I have to grow your desire to put in the work.
[1:17:43] Ashley James: Yes. Well, look at you. You were in a wheelchair, in a zero-gravity chair and months later, you were walking without assistance.
[1:17:54] Dr. Terry Wahls: I’m walking without assistance, and within a year, 18.5 miles on a bike ride.
[1:17:59] Ashley James: Oh my gosh. Those who are sick and suffering right now and immobile, know that within a year you could be mobile, you could be out of pain, you can end the suffering.
[1:18:16] Dr. Terry Wahls: I spend a fair amount of time helping people understand that their life has meaning and they could have joy now in their circumstances as they are right now even if they’re in a wheelchair, even if they’re having pain, even if they have tremendous sorrow because they’ve lost someone who is deeply, deeply important to them.
[1:18:47] Ashley James: It’s needing to shift the mindset first. That’s where it really allows them to-
[1:18:57] Dr. Terry Wahls: All change begins. All change begins. First, with understanding why I want to make that change.
[1:19:07] Ashley James: You had to overcome a lot of—maybe you’re just a black sheep because you had to have a mindset to be so different than your training as an MD. You’re not trained as an MD to look at food and nutrition. Like you said, you started out by going to the Cleveland Clinic and doing the chemotherapy and doing all the drugs and doing everything. You were a really good patient.
[1:19:39] Dr. Terry Wahls: I absolutely believe in all those drugs. I still take gabapentin, a small dose. The gabapentin, if I don’t take any, my face pain will come back. I take small doses. I’m pain-free. There’s absolutely a role for medication for some conditions. Some people may need disease-modifying drugs. I also want to tell your listeners that I did all of this to slow my decline. I had no hope of recovery. I had accepted that there’d be—with progressive MS—no return of functions once lost. I couldn’t sit up, my pain was getting more and more severe, my brain fog was more troublesome. I knew I would probably soon be forced to stop working, but I felt like I have to do everything that I possibly can. I have young kids. My kids are in high school and junior high. I was still doing my tiny simple work out. I’m still doing everything that I can: reading the basic science, experimenting on myself because I wanted them to see that life’s not fair, but so what? You don’t give up, you just keep doing the best that you can.
[1:21:06] Ashley James: So that was your mindset, that you were a fighter but you were also doing it for those you love, your children.
[1:21:12] Dr. Terry Wahls: I was modeling for my kids that life’s not fair but you do the best that you can anyway. I was modeling for them how I wanted them to face their greatest challenge in life. That was my why.
[1:21:30] Ashley James: I’m moved to tears. I’m just thinking about here you were just wanting to slow down the progression so that you could be there longer for your children, but also that you could demonstrate being a fighter. Out of all of this, you have helped so many people, so many people.
[1:21:51] Dr. Terry Wahls: When I was walking around—as you have a progressive illness, progressive neurologic illness, you finally get to a point where you take each day as it unfolds because I knew I had an incurable progressive illness. My pain is gone, my fatigue is gone. I’m walking the neighborhood with walking sticks and without walking sticks. I’m still taking each day one day at a time because I don’t know what any of this really means. It was the day that I got on my bike, that I was able to bike around the block, that I understood that who knew what might be possible. That the current understanding of MS was incomplete. As I said, my wife’s crying, my kids are crying, I’m crying. Actually, I’m crying now too because that was such a momentous moment. That’s when I began to have hope again. It’s like, “Oh my God. How much recovery is possible?”
[1:22:59] Ashley James: Yes. The body has an amazing ability to heal itself and you unlocked that. Then you started to see it, but it’s the mentality, it’s the mindset. We need to adopt the mindset that it is possible to heal. That a diagnosis is not a life sentence no matter what the doctors say because so many doctors tell their patients what they have been told, which is, “This is progressive. You’re never going to get better.” The fact is no one knows for sure, only God. No one knows for sure what is a life sentence and what isn’t, but the body has an ability to heal itself. We need to hold on to hope and believe that we can heal and then take the actions and fight for ourselves and fight for those we love. You did that and look, you’re creating a ripple that is going around the world and is saving millions of lives. They now get to ride bikes with their children because of you.
[1:24:04] Dr. Terry Wahls: They have meaning to their life. That they have joy and purpose. Some people get on their bikes again, some do not, but some find that they still have a very meaningful and joyful life. That their purpose is modeling for their kids that you keep doing the best you can.
[1:24:27] Ashley James: Beautiful. Thank you so much for coming on the show today and sharing your story. We didn’t break down your diet specifically but those resources are available. I’d love for you to point us in that direction. Of course, listeners can buy your book. If a listener wants to adapt their diet to heal themselves using food as nutrition, what’s the best place that they can start?
[1:24:53] Dr. Terry Wahls: Go to my website terrywahls.com/diet. We have a one-page handout that’s a great resource. We have many, many resources on the website to get you going. I certainly want you to pick up the book. Even if you’ve gotten the first book, the new book has so much more research on epigenetics, the microbiome on neuro rehab. We have more details on oxalates, histamines, FODMAPs. I’ve added the Wahls elimination diet. We have a lot more information on ketosis, how we monitor it, and the many different ways of using fasting strategies to get into ketosis. It’s 30% new material. We have lots of bonuses that I talk about in the book that we’ll have for you. If you go to terrywahls.com/bonus, you’ll learn more about how to get those bonuses that you’d be able to get by ordering the book.
[1:26:01] Ashley James: Fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. It has been such a pleasure. You are welcome back. Anytime you want a platform to teach we would love to have you back. To wrap up today’s interview, is there anything left unsaid or anything you want to say to the listener, make sure that you leave the listener with?
[1:26:22] Dr. Terry Wahls: I’d like you to swap out the sugar for berries and to try having some more greens.
[1:26:30] Ashley James: Nine cups. I love it. Thank you so much. It’s been such a pleasure to have you here today.
[1:26:39] Dr. Terry Wahls: Thank you.
[1:26:41] Outro: If you love this interview and you love the Learn True Health Podcast, please join Learn True Health Home Kitchen. You’re supporting the podcast and you’re also supporting yourself and your family and you’re continuing your education to learn how to achieve true health. This isn’t a diet. The membership isn’t a specific diet. It’s just teaching you how to eat more nutritious food, how to incorporate whole foods that are unprocessed into your diet in a way that your children will love, in a way that your whole family will love, in a way that is quick, and will save you money. We teach you how to save you time in the kitchen, money in the kitchen, and how to grow your health by using your kitchen.
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