Nutrition Pioneer Dr. Terry Wahls

Dr. Wahls speaking at the NTA conference in March.

Dr. Wahls speaking at the NTA conference in March.

Welcome to a post about one of my new nutrition heroes!! Let me tell you why I think she is a true nutrition pioneer.

Recently I attended my profession’s annual conference, along with about 500 other NTPs. It  was absolutely thrilling to be among my fellow nutrition nerds. There were so many brilliant speakers that I am still processing much of it, but my favorite of them all was Dr. Terry Wahls. Dr. Wahls overcame (and is still fighting) the more severe form of MS (Multiple Sclerosis), a debilitating autoimmune disorder characterized by the immune system attacking the myelin sheath of the nervous system, causing multiple debilitating effects throughout the body that tend to worsen over time.

Dr. Wahls fought the disease for many years with the standard regime of pharmaceuticals, which are powerful, but work in many cases by dampening the immune system. This can cause a lot of other issues along with generally just not feeling very well. Even with this treatment path she continued to worsen until she was in a tilt recline wheelchair and very close to having to resign her position as the director of the brain trauma unit at the hospital where she was employed. She decided to do her own research to see if she was missing something that could help.

She knew that one characteristic of MS was brain shrinkage, so she started looking at other diseases with brain shrinkage, like Parkinson’s and Huntingdon’s. What she discovered after much research was that at the root these issues appeared to be a cellular disorder, a mitochondrial dysfunction. She compiled a list of nutrients that she felt would help provide the building blocks to rebuild her body from the cells up. From there, it was a short leap to simply redesigning her diet to include the most nutrient dense foods she could source, and ensuring to include adequate amounts of the nutrients she had found in her research to be helpful. She also included lifestyle changes that would help her body access the deeply relaxed mode necessary for cell regeneration. Within a year, she was out of her wheelchair and in fact had even completed an 18 mile bike tour. She has continued to improve from there.

Even more inspiring she has created a separate clinic within her hospital that is implementing these protocols with real world MS patients and seeing life-changing results. She is also implementing clinical trials to get this work into the official medical record, rather than it being just an anecdotal response of a few people. I believe this is truly pioneering as it underlines the power of nutritional therapy, and does so within the mainstream medical framework.

All of the principles she outlines in her work are applicable to those with autoimmune issues (which is currently 1 out of 4 women and 1 out of 6 men- a topic for another post); I believe they are all applicable in many ways to those without AI disorders. The root of the issue is that our typical diets are not providing our cells with the building blocks they need to function properly, and over time that can result in mitochondrial dysfunction, and illness will result. I find it incredibly inspiring that we can feed our bodies what they truly need to be at their best, and I find her work exciting because she lays out a specific, science-based road map for us to follow.

More on Dr. Wahls and some of her dietary protocols in an upcoming post, along with a breakfast recipe for a Wahls protocol compliant (and delicious) breakfast. In the meantime, if you wish to learn more about this incredible nutrition pioneer, you can check out her website or even better, read her book, ‘The Wahls Protocol.’ You can also watch her Ted talk, 'Minding Your Mitochondria'.