When we think about health risk, and reducing it, most of us are thinking about cancer, heart disease and strokes.
Autoimmune and other chronic health conditions aren’t top of mind, because they don’t tend to get the same attention in the media – and have much smaller research budgets currently.
But if you look at the numbers you are statistically much more likely to face autoimmune problems in your lifetime than heart disease or cancer or stroke.
In the US at any one time it’s estimated there are 9 million cases of Cancer, 22 million of heart disease and between 23.5 to 50 million cases of autoimmune disease. (Source: National Institutes of Health, American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association)
Autoimmune disease is becoming a growing collection of diseases as researchers identify more and more diseases which have autoimmune mechanisms behind them. Diseases assumed to be included are big names like Alzheimers, Parkinsons and Arthritis to name the best known.
I’m guessing that you did not miss the ALS ice bucket challenge to raise awareness and funding for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. 30,000 people have this condition in the US, and its one of the diseases which most likely falls into that 50 million bracket. Because of the small numbers it took a viral campaign to bring attention to ALS – which most people haven’t heard of.
But if we came to understand autoimmune diseases having a common mechanism – like mitochondrial health, that could quickly change how we look at treating all of them.
Today’s guest is currently running clinical trials to evaluate the impact on autoimmune disease of a “simple nutrient dense” protocol – a protocol that enabled the researcher herself to recover from one of the worst autoimmune diseases – Multiple Sclerosis. The basis for her protocol was supporting recovery and repair of the mitochondria.
Dr. Terry Wahls was diagnosed with secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis in 2003. This is the irreversible form of MS and by 2007 the disease had progressed to the point that she was restricted to a wheelchair and unable to walk.
But in 2007 she turned her condition around, taking her first steps within 3 months, and riding a bike again before the end of the year. Hers is the only known recovery from Secondary Progressive MS, and has been based on insights she took from published research on mice mitochondrial health amongst other things.
Dr. Wahls is also now the author of the Amazon Bestseller: “The Wahls Protocol: How I beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medecine” which describes her protocol.
In this interview we dig into the details of her current clinical trial, some of the biomarkers she tracks, and her views on linking mitochondrial health to autoimmune and chronic disease, and how nutrient based treatments can work to heal these conditions.
The show notes, biomarkers, lab test and links to Terry Wahls and everything else mentioned are below. Enjoy!
- Terry Wahls explains her degree of recovery as it stands today including remaining symptoms from Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis and gives the context to this recovery, as she is the only known case
- An overview of the clinical trails that Dr. Wahls has been leading, their current status of progress, the results and the research to be done as next steps
- The broader range of autoimmune, neurological and chronic diseases that Dr. Wahls is treating with her protocol
- The top areas Dr. Wahls is receiving positive feedback as to efficacy of her protocol – including Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinsons, and other autoimmune diseases
- Improvements in quality of life and performance that healthy controls, such as the researchers working on the trials, have experienced with the Wahls protocol
- An overview of the Wahls protocol and how it works
- The methylation, epigenetic and mitochondrial mechanisms behind disease and why the symptoms vary so much despite having similar mechanisms behind them
- The concept of “nutritional reserve” and how it can be a balancing act as you recover to keep this building (especially where travel is an aspect of your lifestyle)
- How the Wahls protocol provides for many many times the RDA nutritional recommendations and why
- The list of biomarkers Dr. Wahls uses in her clinic, in her clinical trials for research and for her own personal tracking.
- Dr. Wahls’ view of the effective use of the various testing labs currently available considering economics and insights or useful information they can provide.
Biomarkers in this Episode
- Serum Vitamin and Nutrients: Dr. Wahls uses standard blood vitamin and nutrient labs to follow her own progress. She likes to see the values in the top quartile (top 25% of reference range), and mentioned specifically the B vitamins, this would be including Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B9 for example.
- Lipids (e.g. LDL, HDL, Triglycerides, Total Cholesterol): Markers of cholesterol are commonly used with primary docs.
- Homocysteine: An indicator of inflammation and of how well your methylation processes are running. Dr. Wahls likes to see this acutely improve.
- hs-CRP (High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein): A predictor for heart disease, more pain with fibromyalgaia and Terry uses to track progress via lowering inflammation. Dr. Wahls likes to see this improve significantly by declining, and that it takes some time to decline.
- HbA1C (Glycated Hemoglobin): A proxy measure of your average blood glucose levels over the last 3 months.
- Fasting Glucose: A measure of your blood glucose in a fasted state.
- Micro Systems Questionnaire: Dr. Wahls uses a very detailed list of symptoms to use like an index to watch with parents, and watch their progress (e.g. as the number of symptoms decline).
- NutrEval from Genova Diagnositics: Vitamin and anti-oxidant levels in the cell, How well enzymes are performing in the krebs cycle and electron transport chain and the fats.
- Urine Toxicology: Using a challenge like DMSA, Dr. Wahls looks at the presence of heavy metals in the body.
- Microbiome: Tests that look at the biome of the gut and the ratios of different bacteria that are occupying it.
In Dr. Wahls Clinic she uses:
In Dr. Wahls Clinical Study for learning purposes she uses:
Lab Tests from this Episode
- NutrEval: Dr. Wahls uses this specific test in her current clinical trial – at this stage primarily to see what patterns emerge.
Other Resources Mentioned in this Episode
Dr. Terry Wahls and the Wahls Protocol
- TerryWahls.com: Terry Wahls personal site with information about her protocol and her book. You can also follow her on her twitter at @TerryWahls.
- The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine: Terry’s book covering her recovery, the details of her protocol and the mechanisms of how it works and relates to autoimmune and chronic disease. Excellent. Highly recommended read.
- Dr. Wahls’ First Published Study on PubMed for MS: Her first study completed “A Multimodal Intervention for Patients with Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis: Feasibility and Effect on Fatigue”. This is a pilot study to verify that her protocol is safe. However it demonstrated effectiveness and promise by the end of it’s 12 month duration. The complete study with full text can be downloaded in PDF format here.
- All Dr. Terry Wahls’ Research Publications: List of studies Terry has published in journals and is working on.
- The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: The campaign for ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) that went viral in July and August 2014 with many celebrities taking the challenge. ALS is an autoimmune disease with 30,000 people affected in the U.S.
- Quantified Body Ep. 2 with William J. Walsh on the role of nutrients in brain optimization
Others Items Mentioned
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Most people, I would say 80% of the folks with multiple sclerosis, are diagnosed with relapsing Multiple Sclerosis. And in that case there is an episodic worsening disease called the relapse, and improvement, called a remission. Most people’s relapse will be well within 15 years, and convert to secondary progressive.
So they have no more spontaneous improvement, they simply are experiencing the gradual sudden decline. In my case I was diagnosed in 2000 but within three years I had already transitioned to that steady decline and was in that secondary progressive phase.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: All right, so in a typical situation is there any remission from the secondary progressive stage?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: I don’t believe any have been reported other than mine in the scientific literature. There are some books talking about improvements, but if you are looking for a case report I am on the only one who has reported an improvement like that.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great, so do you consider yourself in remission today? What remaining kind of symptoms do you have?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: I am very clear that this is not a remission because this is not in a disease phase that has remission. The fact that I have improved to such a dramatic degree really means that the current understanding for multiple sclerosis has some gaps in it because this would be considered not possible. We have done clinical trials to show that in fact this level of improved function appears to be quite possible in others as well, not just me.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So today what symptoms do you still have? Or do you have any?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: I am not as strong as a 58-year-old woman my age, so I can stand easily to give a lecture for an hour but if you ask me to stand for two hours that would be difficult. That is still fatiguing. I can go out and jog a mile and a half because I am continuing to improve. I have faith that will continue to improve.
My strength continues to improve remarkably but it is probably not quite as strong as you would expect for a normal, fully-healthy, athletic, 58-year-old woman. I want to stress the key point that I am continuing to steadily improve.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great, that’s great to hear. I am very glad to hear that. What are the areas that you are targeting? You just mentioned your clinical trials. What are they targeting? I heard one explanation around your latest study was clinical trials are to prove the effectiveness of a nutrient-dense Paleo diet to reduce autoimmune disease symptoms. Is that kind of the best definition?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Actually, that’s really pretty close. I am very interested in diet and lifestyle and I studied that for traumatic brain injury and I am studying that for multiple sclerosis. We are writing grants to study it in other disease states as well, such as fibromyalgia and Parkinson’s disease. So we will see if we can get other people interested in funding it as well.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great, great. So right now it is very multiple sclerosis-focused?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Right, so that is where I have the relationship and the funding sources, with a foundation that is particularly interested in multiple sclerosis-related research.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So the first study, the pilot study, was about 20 people. Could you give a very quick update on where your studies were?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Yeah we had initial funding to study 20 people using the diet, some targeted vitamins, meditative practice, exercise, and electrical stimulation of muscles. Because this was such a radically new concept the institutional review board, which is the safety committee that monitors research, told us that we can enroll ten, run the study with the ten, give them safety data, and then come back and enroll the second ten.
So we have published our results from the first ten that we got enrolled and that came out in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. And the big challenge was finding other scientists who felt comfortable reviewing an intervention that was so broad-based, so that took a bit of time to find the appropriate reviews.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, because normally they are trying to control the variables so it is changing one thing, but you have got many interventions stacked together there.
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Right, and that is a very unusual study design. We were really testing with good people to implement the same, very complex regimen that I did and could it be done safely. It is called the safety feasibility study. So we want to know that people can do it and that you don’t hurt anyone. Because these are small studies all you are really hoping for is to have a trend in a favorable direction because it is [inaudible 00:09:23].
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, great. and you have another study underway now. Could you talk a little bit about that one?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Yes, so we have actually a couple of studies I am involved with. Because the first study used diet, vitamins, meditation exercise [inaudible – 00:09:43] and we wanted to begin to break apart the study to see how important those race components were.
So i have one study that is looking just at the exercise [inaudible 00:09:53] portion of the intervention and another study that we’re recruiting furiously for right now – which is a diet and lifestyle intervention where we are really just focusing on teaching them a Paleo diet that has been structured in a very specific way to maximize nutrient density.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So kind of summarize what the Wahls protocol is – how would you summarize it? Is it 80% nutrient?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: This is really very intense nutrition. I stress vegetables, green leafy vegetables, sulfur-rich vegetables from the cabbage, onion, and mushroom family, and deeply colored. So if you’re a guy or you’re a very tall lady, that is 9 cups a day. If you are petite it is going to be much smaller, perhaps in the 4-6 cup range.
And the protein is sufficient protein, like 6 to 12 ounces of meat a day. And in the first level we can do it for vegetarians and vegans then as we advance I have some additional requirements to then move the diet to a more ketogenic diet for the more advanced person.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: In terms of advanced do you mean people who are dealing with the worst severity of symptoms or as they get used to compliance and getting used to it?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Well we are testing in my clinical trial to see if the ketogenic version is more defective that the standard Wahls version, so I don’t have the answer yet. In my book I talk about why ketogenic diets may be beneficial and the research that is going on in the ketogenic diet around seizures, chronic headaches, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, and my research in MS – there is also a lot of research with cancer and ketogenic diets.
This is a very exciting area and it may be another decade before we have the full answer, but I am thinking for those who are highly motivated, highly interested in a ketogenic diets, there are health benefits. I talk about the potential risks of a ketogenic diet as well. So it gets much, much harder to maintain really excellent nutrition while in ketosis over the long term.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Is that because you are limited in the vegetables you can eat?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Yes, absolutely.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, great. So talking about your book a bit, the Wahls protocol is positioned a bit more broadly than just multiple sclerosis. Can you talk about who you are aiming at with the world’s protocol and the book?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: So what i have discovered in my clinics time and time again is that by using the Wahls protocol to restore the health of the cell, the health of the person over the next three years steadily improves. They often need fewer and fewer drugs. The weight falls off without being hungry, blood sugars, blood pressures normalize often to the point where no medication is needed.
The most immediate people who are going to benefit are the folks with autoimmunity or folks with a lot of pain and the docs can’t make a diagnosis. But we’re also observing that people with medical problems requiring medication often find that their medication needs steadily decline. the mental health problems also often steadily improve – anxiety, depression, irritability, focus, autism, and other neurological disorders.
We have many, many folks with Parkinson’s who have reached out to say that their symptoms do not include [inaudible – 00:13:38] and of course the folks with MS who are telling us how much they have improved as well.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, so that was my next question – where are you getting the most feedback in society as you spread the Wahls protocol and the word about it? Which areas have you heard the most feedback from people that have these positive results?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Multiple sclerosis and then Parkinson’s probably next. Diabetes would be probably third and then fourth I would say I have so many folks with a wide variety of autoimmune problems that are telling us that symptoms have been markedly reduced. Many of these autoimmune diseases I have not encountered before so it just lets you know about the diversity of autoimmune problems with inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis –
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: There are like over 160 classified –
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Yeah, and we keep adding many, many more every years. I would not be surprised if in the next two decades we begin to rethink our autoimmunity to the point where it is a matter of nearly every chronic disease having some level of autoimmune component. That is my prediction but we will see if that turns out to be the case.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That is very interesting. So moving kind of away from health issues and also a bit more generally, on Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Radio you mention that some of your research staff have been using the protocol and I think also they also followed the protocol so that they understand it and while they are all healthy they have noted some positive impacts as well.
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Yeah, actually it’s really interesting. So students come volunteer in my lab and I ask them to fill out the forms and follow the diet for a couple of weeks just so they get a sense of what our subjects have to do. So these young kids are healthy, robust, and we think at the peak of their game and they nearly always discover that their attention improves, concentration, memory, sleep, and mood improves.
Several kids had their chronic headaches go away. And a couple others realized that some of their family’s health issues could be addressed by diet and lifestyle and this had a really nice favorable impact on their extended family.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That’s great to hear. We have been talking a lot about acute conditions before but in terms of long term disease prevention, risks, aging, and potentially talking about cognitive performance, improvements, less headaches, and so on, do you think there is a lot of application for these areas as well, beyond the acute illness and where it started from?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: This will be very beneficial for chronic health problems. Certainly in my book I talk about autoimmunity a great deal and then I acknowledge that my other medical issues that we don’t think of traditionally as autoimmune also seem to be dramatically helped with weight issues, diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, mental health, and the traumatic brain injuries that I followup and take care of.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That’s a very broad area. In term sof the areas you see it positively impacting, are there any similarities of the issues? What are the underlying mechanics? Like the way that you are looking at it today, how that is being addressed?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: I am looking at the health of the cells and the effectiveness of the mitochondria. And so I am looking at the nutritional needs of the cell and how to provide them using food, because I think food is safer than supplements and probably much more effective. And so with just the mitochondria you need basically all the B vitamins and you are going to need minerals, magnesium, zinc, and sulphur.
You need a lot of fats, the omega-3 and omega-6 fats, the saturated fats, cholesterol fats, to make healthy membranes. Then you have to protect the mitochondria so things like zinc, mercury, and lead, and some of the [inaudible 00:17:51] that we take a lot of, like antibiotics, which are tough on our mitochondria. And by maximizing cellular nutrition then we start much more effectively having our epigenetics factor set.
We have basically more efficiency in all of the biochemical processes in ourselves, which over time will lead to healthier organs and of course a healthier person. Some things go away very quickly like the fatigue and the brain fog. Often that is dramatically better within 12 weeks. Things where you have to replace or rebuild proteins that may take one to seven years, depending on what organ in the body you are trying to rebuild.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, so do you have a theory as to why are mitochondria behind autoimmune disease? There is a whole variety of issues taking place in the body. Do you have some kind of underlying mechanism as to how this works and how the damage is caused to the mitochondria in the first place?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Well I think there are many, many reasons our mitochondria can get damaged. The toxic load that we are all exposed to continues to climb every year and many of these toxins will have negative impacts on some of the proteins involved in the mitochondria and how the mitochondria manages the electron transport chain. So that is one problem, straight up. Just direct toxic effects for mitochondria.
These toxins in addition to the direct toxic effects will interact with the DNA, putting adducts on the DNA, and causing certain parts of our DNA to be read and other parts to be silenced and not read, so that shifts how my DNA would have been read by the presence of these toxins. And that changes our biochemistry.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Are you referring to – is that working for methylation processes?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Methylation is one of the processes and I will also predict that we don’t really understand all the ways that epigenetics impact their DNA. Methylation is one way and changing the histone protein is another way. And we may find that there are even additional ways that we have not yet unraveled.
But clearly toxins are interacting with our DNA, turning genes on and off without changing the actual DNA sequence. So we have lots of toxins that are doing this. And some of those toxins, by the way, include the drugs that we take and the antibiotics and the things that have gotten into our groundwater. And of course all the food and indoor environments, etc.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great, so in terms of I think for people at home to understand, it is like if the mitochondria are behind the problems you are encountering, why is there such a wide different variety of conditions, such as Parkinsons?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: You know, that is really something I talked about in my book and that conventional medicine, over 100 generations of stuff. We have been classifying diseases based on the history, the symptoms, physical exam, and then more recently laboratory testing. And we did all of that before we understood the molecular basis, how these diseases evolve.
But what is startling to physicians and scientists, and medical students as well. Now that we begin to understand the molecular basis of these diseases, with what is going on at the molecular level, the cellular level, we are seeing that the diseases look more and more alike. There is often inappropriate inflammation of the body attacking itself or having too many inflammation molecules.
We have mitochondria that are not generating energy appropriately with too many free radicals being generated, causing early aging. We often have a sense of excessive toxic exposure and toxins are stored in the fats and in the tissues. We’re seeing the production of inflammatory molecules.
We often have problems with the gut with the wrong bacteria mix living in our bowels, created a leaky gut and allowing for contents within the bowels to slip into the bloodstream and bringing it along with them for some bacterial protocols with incompletely digested foods, all of which will create more inflammation in the body. What is so startling is we see those same core abnormalities whether or not the person has schizophrenia, depression, diabetes, MS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia.
We see a slightly different mix but those same, less-effective cellular processes are present to varying degrees in nearly every chronic medical problem, mental health problem, neurological problem, or autoimmune problem.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, do you think that the pattern that shows up in each person is probably down to genetics and epigenetics?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Well actually the pattern is maybe 5% or less epigenetics. The rest, the 95%, is due to the environment, and that includes diet, activity level, toxic exposure, and stress level, probably as the big four. Then infection, exposures, family relationships, social bonding, social networks, and all of that will interact probably through the person’s epigenetics to some degree directly to toxins in the cells and nutritional deficiencies to the cells themselves is another thing.
All of those are factors and because we’re all unique with our unique DNA, so even if i had a twin sister and we share the same DNA and we grew up in the same house we would still have differences in our environment and it would be enough to affect those genetics slightly differently and to create a different health status for both those individuals.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, another thing I think is interested is – I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and one of the first things I was looking at was MS – multiple sclerosis – because I had difficulty walking and a symptoms list which kind of fits with that at first. As you were talking about it already, you are talking about the list of symptoms as a diagnosis but it can be very difficult to judge based on symptoms.
I think there are a lot of diseases which we have in categories which often have a list of very similar symptoms and the differential diagnosis isn’t being made in a lot of the cases and it is kind of a fuzzy line at the moment. So do you think instead of my presentation here which is potentially I have something which is chronic fatigue/MS, where I had that, and then somebody else has maybe 100% MS is the classification. And there are all these mixes out there but they are getting split into different categories based on who looks at it.
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: You know, one of the things I’m observing is that [inaudible 00:25:41] Clinic, where we treat people with chronic health problems and they can be mental health problems, physical problems and the big thing that they have to do is agree to the diet and the lifestyle, and [inaudible 00:25:53] for them.
And what I find is I am less and less interested in the names of their diseases and much more interested in diagnosing all their environmental factors addressing those. And I will use the same types of interventions across many disease states and I find that to me the most important thing I need to know is diagnosing their diet and lifestyle choices and exposures that they are doing and helping them address those. my young students are intrigued that my approach is so different to what they were taught. And it appears so remarkably effective, although making the diagnosis is far less important than understanding a person’s diet and lifestyle issues and diagnosing that.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, that is very interesting because then you can look at the weakest areas of someone’s lifestyle, if you have a blueprint for a more ideal lifestyle.
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Oh yeah, and you have to work with them, work with their family, have them evolve this collaboratively. So if you are in my trial you have to evolve in one fell swoop in the trial, but if you’re in my clinic we negotiate with people to adopt these concepts at the pace they are willing to live with.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, because compliance can be an issue with a lot of these diets. So just going over the Wahls protocol in a bit more detail, there are some things that you want to remove? Can you talk quickly about the items you want to remove from a diet and why?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Well I look at what are the foods that at least in Westernized society are most likely to cause abnormal immune response and the top on is gluten-containing grains, the wheat, rye, and barley as most common. But many of the ancient grains have gluten so it is not – you want to reduce those gluten grains because the gluten and dairy overlap and you also take away all the dairy proteins, so we take out dairy as well.
And because the third most common is eggs we take out eggs and then in my book I give people directions on how to take out the next level of problems if that more simple approach doesn’t resolve things for them.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, so is that just [inaudible 00:28:20] or are there other items as well? Does it get more complex than that?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: That’s the top three and then it’s a much more sophisticated conversation about what else to consider. And I am really very reluctant – some of the Paleo authors give people a very detailed elimination diet but from my perspective you are just increasing the risk of micronutrient deficiency when you have an excellent probability that just taking those three out would have a dramatic, favorable impact.
Now, if it doesn’t then you may need to go through a more comprehensive elimination diet in a step-wise fashion. That’s the approach that I am more comfortable with and I have had marvelous success.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Have you seen – because you emphasized it is pretty much a heavy intake of micronutrients in terms of the variety and the [inaudible 00:29:16]?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Oh yeah, and the rationale for that is I am a very simplistic thinker. So when I look at the literature I see the traditional society is still eating the traditional foods, traditional lifestyle, and eat radically different things in each locale but what is consistent is there is an extraordinary micronutrient density of vitamins, minerals, and fats per calorie.
Now, there is a huge variety in what the percent of fat, protein, and carb is across the various localities. So my interpretation of that data is that our mitochondria are actually quite flexible. They can burn sugar, fat, or protein and get energy for us to run the chemistry of life. But it appears that our ancestors identified what foods would give you the highest micronutrient density.
Sometimes it was going to be a fat-based diet, sometimes it was a protein-based diet, and sometimes it is a carbohydrate-based diet. So I then went around and used science to help me figure out what were these key micronutrients I could track as I designed my diet. So now we have 36 that we track and then I designed a diet using foods that I could get through agricultural means that would give me the various antibiotics, vitamins, minerals, and fats that science says my brain needs.
And once I redid my diet like that it was dramatic – within three months my fatigue was gone and I clearly was beginning to recover.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: About your recovery, one of the things I heard you mention before is nutritional reserve and how at the beginning you would have something like a 36-hour crash window if you weren’t continuing to take in the amount of nutrients that you are currently doing.
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Yeah, and now in retrospect I think in the first two years or even three years from my recovery is as I was improving I still hadn’t had enough recovery yet so that when I traveled, because I was now having enough energy to travel again, that my vegetable intake dropped and then my fatigue would come back, my brain fog would come back, and I would be craving greens. So I would come home to this huge salad bowl of greens which I would immediately scarf and begin feeling better.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Just out of interest, how long would it take you to feel better?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: About 24 hours – actually probably 12, because I would eat that after I got home that night from my flight and then by morning my thinking was more clear and my energy was back up. And then I began to travel with a head of cabbage because that travels easily and you don’t need to refrigerate it.
I would just consume that and it seemed to work pretty well. Now I am well enough that I don’t need to travel with food, so if my vegetable function dips for a couple of days or a weekend that doesn’t bother me now. Again, because I think I have so flooded myself with nutrition that they just have a lot more reserve than they had before.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That is great – so the first 20 or 30 years of your life and you didn’t have multiple sclerosis, do you think eventually if you built up enough nutritional reserve you could walk around for a week – I imagine that in your 20s most people weren’t eating an ideal diet and you can eat that kind of thing, or do you think there is no way, like once you have had some kind of condition you already have to be very compliant with this for the rest of your life if you want to keep symptoms at bay?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Those are great questions. My observations from our clinical trial is if you deviate from the protocol you lose ground. If you go back to giving yourself substandard nutritional support and things will begin to decline and you will end up with more rapid aging and probably more diffuse symptoms.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: All right – in terms of how much we’re talking about here, if we think about someone who has got a typical modern diet and someone else who has got a typical kind of Paleo diet, how much more vegetables are they eating every day?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Well when people come in – and I am trying to give this to you from memory here – and I believe that based on fruit and vegetable intake it was one-and-a-half servings a day. At 12 months the typical intake was seven-and-a-half. And most of our people are women and we just had a couple of guys so they were really doing an extraordinary amount of fruits and vegetables.
My nutrition colleagues told me that in the nutrition science world if you get someone to shift their vegetable intake just one serving up a day that is considered a phenomenal success. And for us to have shifted the vegetable intake from one-and-a-half up six more cups, she is thinking it was unheard of and no one had been able to do that previously.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, that’s pretty impressive and there are more benefits for the people on these trials than the average I guess. In terms of recommended daily amounts you are far exceeding the nutrition values of recommended daily amounts. What do you think about the recommended daily amounts of the vitamins and so on? Do you think they are sufficient for everyone and sufficient for some people?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Likely not because they are designed to prevent you from going into an acutely diseased state associated with that particular vitamin or mineral. So we will take, for example, vitamin C. They set a level to prevent you from acquiring scurvy, which is vitamin C deficiency.
But we don’t know what level is required for optimal health, which might be 50% more or 500% more, but I think what might be a more valid way of thinking about this would be if we looked at what were the RDAs that people hit who were eating traditional foods, traditional diets, and traditional societies, that likely those societies over time that figured out how to get these micronutrients for optimal health.
And when we use those values the intakes are two-to-ten-fold above the RDA depending on the nutrients. And actually that was one of my goals, to get my nutritional analysis pattern to look like hunter-gatherer societies to get two-to-ten-fold and we get two or maybe eight-and-a-half fold. We are very pleased.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: And so from the safety standpoint of your pilot study, one of the ideas was to see if you are doing 1000% RDA?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: We get as high as eight-and-a-half times the RDA from food. And again it looks very much like the hunter-gatherer societies. The biggest side effect was if you are overweight or obese you lost weight without being hungry and got back to a healthy diet again.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, and there were no toxic issues at all?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: No toxic issues. Some people had – some of the vitamins had some GI upset, some nausea. And we told them that if anything seemed to bother you just to skip it. So they did and we had a few people who couldn’t eat as many greens as we advocated so they just titrated down to what their tummies would agree to.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: But I guess that would be down to like the ability to process – ?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Well that’s right. It’s microbial, it’s deficiencies of their own particular enzymes, so there is probably a combination of who have got living in the bowels and what was the efficiency of the set of enzymes that you have that you are born with. And it would seem that some people do not metabolize sulphur quite as well so they need either more sulphur or less sulphur in their diet and how their enzymes are working.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, I think some people have – I think I have a partial issue with this, detoxification of sulphur. So too much sulphur can cause issues because you have to detoxify it as well.
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: We are all unique. And I stress that in my book, that we are all unique. I have got a public health message out here that will be good for everyone, but I certainly can’t guarantee it will be good for an individual so they have to really pay attention to how well they feel on this and work with their personal stock because they definitely may need things adjusted because of their unique DNA and unique health issues.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So which types of biomarkers are you looking at when you are tracking this data and you are in the clinical trials?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: It was divided into two questions in my clinical practice. We don’t do any fancy functional medicine testing. We do things that primary care docs will feel very comfortable using – lipids, glucose, hemoglobin A1c, B12, folate, C-reactive proteins, and homocysteine levels. Primary care docs should feel comfortable looking at that stuff. In my clinical trial we are doing things just to see how they change over time and I am not changing my protocol based on these results.
We are just trying to learn the mechanisms of what is going on. So we measure things like who and what is growing in the poop for microbial analysis, what heavy metals are showing up in the urine, so that is the toxicology. And that is done with a very mild kelator. Then I do a nutri-eval, which is by Genova Diagnostics, which gives me a detailed look at the vitamins and antioxidant levels within the cells, a really nice look at the generation of HET to the mitochondrial electron transport chain and how well that’s working.
It gives a nice look at the fats and how the fat metabolism is working and making the long chain fatty acids or arachidonic acids, [inaudible 00:40:01] acids. We get lots of detail that we will be able to use to write up our papers and project why we have these very lovely results that we’re seeing.
So that’s fun research stuff. It is not what I am doing in clinic and in clinic what I am finding is careful history, a thoughtful exam, and some very simple labs like primary care docs get a lot of the time.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Because you are working with patients who are working with other people so you are talking about the language here that you are enabling the patient by using language that they can talk to with other people easily?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Yes. So we want to address that lifestyle. We want to have some guidance. I do use these labs. You need to think about functional medicine things but you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars for functional medicine assessments. You could just address all the lifestyle stuff very thoughtfully and very comprehensively, get someone to do a thoughtful history for you and I would say there is probably a 90% probability that your health will steadily improve as a consequence of those actions.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: And you would be tracking that based on symptoms and how the patient feels?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Yeah, the most sensitive ritual that we have is what we call the medical symptoms questionnaire which I have got in my book. It’s a detailed list of questions asking about how your eyes and ears and nose – it goes through your entire organ system and you can get scores from zero to I think almost 300 points if everything is not working.
So that is a very nice way to look if the chemistry of all of your organs are working well or if there is some level of problem. And that is the best number for us to track with how well people are doing and how well we are doing for them.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great. In terms of – like, you mentioned some things and everyone accepts today the chronic headache pains for example. Would you consider that as a condition, a symptom that shouldn’t be there?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Absolutely. And again, I have many people with chronic headache pains and we get them to address the diet and lifestyle issues. And those headaches finally resolved.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So amongst all the blood tests you have mentioned and you said they use them because it is easier to talk with our primary care doctors, do any of them ever stand out as interesting? You mentioned the symptoms list is actually the most interesting. But you mentioned inflammation markers, homocysteine -?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Well homocysteine and CRP are acutely – I would like to see those improve. That tells me there is too much inflammation or the brain can’t metabolize the vitamins very well. And then the hemoglobin A1c lets me know how many carbs they are eating, how much insulin they have to use, and trying to get that number lower and lower. That takes a little bit more time but again that is a very helpful intervention to follow.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great so CRP, as far as I understand it that isn’t really related so much to autoimmunity. That would be more related to dietary inflammation?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: And again I predict that in ten more years we are going to overlap that together. More and more disease states we are recognizing. If your C-reactive protein is elevated you have too much inflammation in the body and that is a predictor for worse heart disease, worse risk for stroke, more pain with your fibromyalgia, so it is an independent risk factor and if we get people on nine cups of vegetables a day, get rid of the gluten and dairy, that CRP will typically fall.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, because I guess your protocol is so nutrition based, in terms of the tests you are doing I think it is mostly nutribalance and blood plasma tests for vitamins – what interesting things have you seen in terms of nutritional status? Have you seen any patterns in the people you get where it is showing up that their nutrient status is very low or with different patterns?
I spoke recently with William J. Walsh. He has worked with brain neurology for many years and he found some nutritional deficiencies were driving or often contributing to symptoms of schizophrenia or other diseases and correcting those would help them. So I am just wondering to what extent you might have seen some kind of patterns where specific nutrients are showing up a lot?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Those analyses are ongoing right now and I can’t comment yet.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, no problem. If you were looking at – because we spoke a lot about mitochondria and what the status of those are and if you wanted to understand from a more testing standpoint the status of the mitochondria. Are there any particular tests you would look at with the nutrival test or any others that would be useful to understand what is going on with the mitochondria?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Nutrival is certainly one that I would use. Several of these functional labs have tests and use the nutrival, that can give you insights into how well the enzymes are performing at every step of the electron transport chain and the Kreb’s cycle. That can be very helpful to follow that over time and then provide nutritional support and free enzymatic steps that appear to be blocked.
And that would just – order the nutrival and follow those guides along. But again I remind your listeners that one can do that if they have had diet and lifestyle interventions very effectively for a year and haven’t gotten where they want to be. These tests are extraordinarily expensive and you follow them all the time and it is a $1000 to a $1500 excess, so it is not cheap. So from my experience at the VA I frankly don’t think it is clinically necessary for the vast majority of people.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, but for you it is more interesting to basically do a project and say I am going to use this protocol for six months and see what happens in terms of symptoms rather than doing tests to figure it out.
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: That would be my preference and I would certainly still work with the primary care doctor and have that basic primary care testing to help guide and refine things a bit. But I don’t think that it is – rarely do you need to spend $20,000 to $30,000 on testing to understand the mechanisms of why diet and lifestyle will make you better.
And that is what functional medicine testing does, it gives you the mechanism to explain why you should make these interventions and why they are going to help you. Or you could just make all the interventions to begin with and see if that would help. And then if it doesn’t then yes, you may need to spend a lot more money for a very thoughtful, functional medicine [inaudible 00:47:17]. But yeah, unless you have a lot of money to burn, try to do diet and lifestyle first.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, it sounds like a lot of these tests – you don’t see the value in them for most cases and it is better to spend some time and some money on the actual protocol as a test rather than spend the money on these tests which are currently a lot more expensive. You said the primary care tests are a lot more general?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Well you can easily spend $30,000 if you run down the functional medicine testing to understand everything that is potentially [inaudible 00:47:50] wrong with you. I think it is not money well spent for the vast majority of folks.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I see. One thing we didn’t look at but I heard you mention before is one of the issues you see with the mitochondria is membrane fluid – what is the issue around that?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Well it was probably in the 70s where we had a public health campaign against butter. You are also not supposed to use margarine with a lot of trans fats in it. And we have flipped out the beef with the deep fryers and fast food, and lard for vegetable oil, which increases the risk of trans fats. So our trans fat intake soared – and we all felt that was a good thing for us.
Now we realize trans fats are very rigid. They stop the fluidity of the membranes and it accelerates aging. It accelerates the risk for heart disease, cancer, dementia, and other neuroregenerative processes. Somehow after World War II we developed the fat theory for clogging of the arteries and then fat became demonized and so we switched to this low-fat diet but on a low-fat diet you don’t get enough of the fats that our membranes need to keep things nice and flexible and keep things fluid.
So you cannot have the bad fats, which are trans fats, vegetable oils that are heated, and you want to avoid those.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Have you looked at, I think it is called lipid exchange, where you purposely try to take in more fats and more fats of different types in order to promote – is that something that you have figured into your diet in terms of the fat intake?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: We talked about fat at great lengths in the book and as I put people into ketosis we definitely increase the fats and have opinions about which fats they shoudl be eating, absolutely.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Another thing you mentioned earlier is supplements versus food. I know you are a proponent more of food, but you did take supplements to start with?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Yeah, I took supplements and they slowed my decline – they did not lead to recovery. When they added more supplements in the functional medicine folks that leveled things out and when I redid my diet is when I began to recover. So supplements targeted in a very, very thoughtful way may be useful but it is very difficult to have a big public health statement saying, ‘These are the supplements you ought to take.’ It really should be individualized based on that person’s story and their current health status.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right. And you mentioned safety of supplements – what is your concern?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Well most of them are made in China now so I think people need to remember that and many of the supplements are made by genetically-modified bacteria. They do it, think about that as well.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Well I have lived in China and I have read the news a lot there so I can attest to the supplements used there.
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Yeah, so they may be useful but you really have to think carefully about how useful they are.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: And in terms of economics, I know some of the extremes for you guys and I think you actually grow some of the food in your back garden. Can you talk a little bit about the economics of you are a proponent of organics versus conventional? In terms of the economics of food, is it a lot more expensive?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: I am going to vigorously disagree with this. I think the problem is people want someone else to cook the food and when you have someone else cook the food it is going to cost you more versus you buying the ingredients and cooking it yourself. And we have a number of lovely articles in the New York Times and I compared that – that are going to fast food restaurants and they cook the food versus you buy it and make it yourself. It is always cheaper to buy it yourself.
Now, if you want to go organic and grass-fed, which does have more health benefits, yes, that does become more expensive. But you can eat vegetables, clean protein, ditch the glutens, sugar, and processed foods for less if you cook it at home than if you are getting either fast food or something that corporate America has cooked for you.
So I like to see people go organic and get grass-fed if their monetary means allows that. You can still recover just eating more vegetables in the pattern that I have described. It will take you longer to clear all the toxins than if you were able to go grass-fed and organic. So you will begin to heal but it will take longer.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, now that is very – it is not yet proven by research. Is that something you are going to look at, the split of conventional processed – ?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: That will be a wonderful project for us to do. We will see if we can get someone to pay for it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, I bet you have got many projects in your head that you would like to do soon. What do you think will happen in this whole area in the next five or ten years in the area of testing and biomarkers and things like – well, what interesting things would you like to be able to test for?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: I think the public is going to race out rapidly ahead in probably the medical field. I think it will be interesting to see ultimately that we could do rapid genetic testing and tell you which enzymes that you have are less effective and perhaps which vitamins you need to stress, which foods to stress, which foods to avoid. That would be very interesting.
And likely there will be a time that we can do that and then what we could probably do would just be the swish, gargle, and spit it out into a cup and get a readout of recommended dietary choices, recommended vitamin supplements.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Do you think that will be available within the next ten years?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: I have no idea. I have to warm you I have clinic in two minutes so we should be wrapping this up.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, nearly there – great, and thanks for your time. What comes next in your research? What are your sort of next steps that you are looking at? I understand that you are crowdfunding projects?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: So as a matter of fact tomorrow I will be talking with someone about a project that we are thinking about and throwing it up for crowdfunding. So I am going to be learning about that. I am submitting a grant to the MS Society and that is why I am feeling a lot of time pressure today because that is due here in the next couple of days.
And this Fall it is very exciting to know that the national MS Society here in the US is convening a programming meeting to talk about research priorities and programming for diet, lifestyle, and wellness. And they asked me to be one of their experts. So I was very excited about that. I thought that was –
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Well that is a big milestone for you. That is kind of where you started all this.
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Yeah, that will be huge. That will be very exciting.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That’s great to hear. So if you were going to track some biometrics of your own on a routine basis or do you track any biometrics for yourself?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Well I like to know where my vitamin D is. I like my B-vitamin levels at the top quarter of the reference range. And in general I am looking for nutrient biomarkers and I prefer they are in the top quarter.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Are you using nutrival or some other test for that?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: No, that’s too expensive. I just use the straight primary care labs that folks get for these vitamin levels.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That is just plasma levels?
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Yeah.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great, okay. Well Terry, thank you very much for your time today. I know you have got another meeting.
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Send me the link to the interview when it is available and I will shoot it to my social media team as well.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great, I will do. It will go up in about three weeks’ time – that is when we are launching it.
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Thank you very much.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Good luck with your meeting.
[Dr. Terry Wahls]: Okay, bye now.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Bye.