Welcome back to the Healing Pain Podcast with Dr. Terry Wahls.
If you have followed my work for the past years, you know I’m a big fan of today’s expert guest on the Healing Pain Podcast. Her name is Dr. Terry Wahls. You know her first from her bestselling book, The Wahls Protocol: A New Way To Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles. She has a brand new book that we’re going to be talking about today, which I absolutely love, and I encourage you to purchase it. It’s called, The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life. Really, it’s all about food and we know how important food can be in healing our bodies, and oftentimes just healing our family and many of the chronic diseases we have.
Before we get started, I’m actually going to be speaking at the Wahls Protocol, Dr. Terry Wahls’ Live Event each year that she hosts in her hometown. It’s August 3rd to the 6th. This is a live event where you can learn all about The Wahls Protocol; everything from food and cooking, to nutrition, to functional medicine principles, that can help you heal your life. I’m going to be there speaking. Of course, I encourage you to check out The Wahls Protocol Live.
Modern Paleo Nutrition to Treat Autoimmune Conditions with Dr. Terry Wahls
Today, we have our special guest, Dr. Terry Wahls. I want to welcome her to the Healing Pain Podcast.
Thanks for having me, Joe.
As an Italian boy from New York, food is one of the things that I love the most. I’m so happy that you wrote a cookbook to compliment your first book. It’s so important and it’s so needed. Just tell us how that evolution came about.
For years, I worked at the VA first in the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic. Then, we had the Lifestyle Clinic. One of the things that I saw, because we had group classes, we teach people how to cook, so many folks have either forgotten how or never learned how to cook. Getting them comfortable cooking. Because so many of my patients don’t have money, they’re struggling financially, some of them are on food stamps, we had to work through them how to implement these concepts when you’re struggling financially and how to implement these concepts when you’re not a sophisticated chef. As I learned how to do that with them, I realized that this is really something I need to do for the public as well, to help the public get more comfortable in the kitchen, and help the public understand that it’s possible to do this even if you’re living on disability income.
We know that the kitchen is your pharmacy when it comes to healing from chronic disease. Give us the 600,000 feet overview of what the Wahls Protocol is first.
I’m sure most of your followers know that my story, severe progressive MS, which it did include a lot of neuropathic pain, which I was able to recover, creating a diet and lifestyle exercise program targeting my mitochondria and my brain cells. From the diet standpoint, this is a vegetable dense diet. It’s greens, sulfur rich vegetables, and the cabbage, onion, mushroom family. Then deeply colored beets, carrots, berry. I have protein. My preference is animal protein, six to twelve ounces of meat. I’m also mindful that there are people who are spiritually very committed to be it vegetarians and vegans. We do provide guidance for vegetarians and vegans. I also have a level of my diet that is for the Ketogenic eaters as well. Then we talk about why people may need to go even further to the elimination diet. I give guidance through a wide variety of eating strategies that will maximize the health and the healing. If we’re going to get rid of our pain, if we’re going to restore our brain from be it early dementia, Parkinson’s, MS or other autoimmune problems.
I want to delve into a little bit about the brain science, a little bit about the microbiome, a little bit about neurotransmitters. In both of your books, you have wonderful evidence-based references. People can find you on PubMed. While I have you here and we have this captive audience, let’s start with the microbiome. Why is the healthy microbiome so important when it comes to healing from an autoimmune disease, such as Multiple Sclerosis or preventing it?
Who knew our poop was so valuable? Every month we get more and more information help us understand more completely the connection between the gut and how the gut bacteria that are eating our food, eating the by-products of each other’s processes. They’re making small molecules that get into the blood stream that will travel to our brain, cross the blood-brain barrier and influence our mood, our behaviors and the inflammation level in our brain. If we have the wrong mix of bacteria, we have these pro-inflammatory molecules. Our liver takes a lot of that trash out, but you could overwhelm the ability of the liver to filter all these harmful small molecules out. We have more and more evidence each month that more of these autoimmune conditions, there’s a very distinct and different set of bacteria that are growing in the bowels. We’re also seeing even our mental health conditions: schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder have a very different microbiome.
My insights as to why the Wahls Protocol is helpful, first I thought that we’re fixing the micronutrient deficiencies, and we are. Then I realized it was the epigenetic changes that the vegetables and lifestyle are driving, and that’s very important. Now, those nine cups of vegetables are feeding that help promoting bacteria and shifting the microbiome in really quite favorable ways.
There are so many different levels to how this diet can help your life. In talking about neurotransmitters, neurotransmitters is a really big topic, but how does it influence someone with chronic pain? Because obviously those are the chronic pain, they want their pain to go away. How does the diet help them with that?
A main inhibitor in the brain is Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid. To make that, you’re going to need a lot of Sulfur and you need a lot of Glutathione. By eating more cabbage, more onion family vegetables, you’re going to increase your intracellular glutathione throughout your body and include it in your brain, which makes it much easier to make that Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid. If we don’t have sufficient supplies of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, we have too much Glutamate, which is a subtle toxin, very irritating and can lead to learned and reinforced pain cycles. Too much Glutamate really turns on your neuropathic pain. More Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, more Magnesium help calm that down and make it more quiet.
Wonderfully said because there’s so much wonderful research on that. Oftentimes we just skip over the food part.
Commonly, people are just not eating at home. They’re eating all of their meals away, which is just so shocking. We talk about planning and making a three-day menu plan and a grocery list, these are really new concepts for many of our folks. Then, I’m really into very simple, straightforward meals. Our favorite template is the skillet meal. I have people use a stockpot, so you don’t have to worry about the vegetables flowing out of the skillet. Chop off the vegetables, have them ready. Peppers, onions, mushrooms are a lovely base, most people really enjoy that. If you have some meat on-hand, ground burger, be it ground turkey or a hamburger, you’d make that into patties. What I basically do is I put the meat in the skillet. You have to cook that to the desired level of doneness. If you’re really skilled, you can put the vegetables in for the last two minutes, or you can cook your meat, take them out, put the vegetables in for two minutes, whichever you’re most comfortable with. I cook it all in the same pot, so that it’s simpler, there are fewer dishes. Once we get people comfortable with making the meal in the skillet, they realize that they can make things that are really quite delicious in ten to fifteen minutes.
How important is it to really include the whole family in this process? Let’s say, it’s not just the mom or the dad that’s really tackling this one project.
I talk a lot about how we really need to give our kids chores. Kids, if they’re smart enough to do video game controllers, have a smartphone, they can be helping you set or clear the table. They can help you get and measure things. As their hand skills get a little bit better, they can help you washing the vegetables, chopping them up. If they get a little bit more skilled, they can help cook more of the skillet things while you’re making the salad or vice versa. By having them involved and helping you select the menu and the whole process of making the meal, they’re more likely to eat it. They’re going to have better nutrition. They’re going to have better outcomes academically, so we know that their grades will be better. We know that their behaviors will be better. Because they’ll have these skills then to go out when they leave home to make menus and recipes and shopping lists and make meals, they’ll be economically much more stable as well. It’s great for the kids immediately, and it’s great for the kids in their future when they become young adults.
We all cook in my home, but back when I first went away to college and I start interacting with other college age kids. I realized that in their dorm room, they never cook because they never know how to cook. They came from families who didn’t cook. Oftentimes, that’s where our health troubles really start, in college. Basically, we’re going to school, maybe work in a job to support ourselves and food oftentimes is the last thing on our minds.
Correct. Joe, it’s not uncommon kids are beginning to explore with some alcohol and so they’re making perhaps not the best choices there. They’re using a lot of energy drinks, B-Vitamin shots. They’re getting by on processed foods and they’re eating less and less home prepared meals.
You mentioned alcohol, which I think can be very controversial in the nutrition world. Does alcohol have its place in your diet?
If we look at alcohol intake and all-cause mortality, there’s a J curve. If you have no alcohol, here’s your all-cause mortality. If you have alcohol a couple of times a week, it comes down. Then, if you have it every night, one drink, it goes up to the same as a teetotaler. If you get more than one drink at night, it starts climbing. There’s something actually protective about occasional use. When you have a little bit of alcohol, and I talk tiny amounts, like if you have daily Kombucha, it shifts your metabolic pathways, you cannot make Formaldehyde as you do some of your blood chemical processes. Formaldehyde is incredibly toxic to brain cells, to our ocular structures as well. Low level alcohol probably is quite good for us. When we get above a drink for females, two drinks for males, then the toxicity begins to accrue.
You mentioned it’s very important to realize that it’s different for females versus males.
Yes. We metabolize alcohol differently.
When it comes to pain itself and reducing inflammation, what can food do for people? Oftentimes, people are turning to whether the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories or Tylenol or opioids.
The first thing you want to do is lower the inflammation. All those free radicals are very irritating. That is the first thing that people would notice when they implement the study, the diet concepts that we use in our lifestyle or in the clinical trials. When they come back for the first month, pain would be reduced, the guys will also offer report that erectile function had improved, love life had improved, libido had improved. It’s because of decreased inflammation. Getting rid of the sugar, getting rid of the white flower, getting rid for many gluten and dairy, which are a big factor in unrecognized food sensitivities. Those can be absolutely huge.
You have a Ketogenic part to your diet, then you have other parts to your diet. Is there one that you would recommend for somebody with pain? Or is it really diagnosis-specific?
It will be diagnosis-specific. I’d like to have everyone start in at level one. It’s a big change for the standard American diet. You get rid of the harmful foods, mostly gluten and dairy, for some people that will also include eggs, ramp up the vegetables. We have to give you some guidance if you’re a meat eater or not a meat eater. If you’ve done that for a month, if you want to keep going, we move in to a more specific Paleo Diet, add organ meats, seaweed. If you’re still having nuts and seeds, they really need to be soaked and sprouted. Then, we talked about should you consider ketosis? Even if it’s a ketosis for a few months every year. People who would benefit from that: Alzheimer’s, neurodegeneration like Parkinson’s.
There are some great studies using a Ketogenic diet in studying cancer. A university here has several Ketogenic studies with cancer with some very, very exciting results. It’s being studied for Polycystic Ovarian disease, diabetes, obesity. I certainly was one of the folks who studied it in MS. If you’re going to do ketosis, a big question is how do you ketosis and yet have enough resistant starch fiber to feed your microbiome. Many of my colleagues in the Ketogenic world are using dairy-based ketosis. When you do that, you can only have about 20, 25 grams of carbs. It’s like one plate of lettuce. It’s really hard to maintain enough resistant starch to feed your microbiome during a dairy-based ketosis. I do a medium-chain triglyceride based ketosis, which is coconut oil, coconut milk. That lets you have 60 to 80 grams of carbs. It’s much easier to get resistant starch and have a healthy microbiome if you do medium-chain triglycerides.
Oftentimes, with the Ketogenic type, people are turning toward the dairy and the cheeses as a way to get into their ketosis whilst keeping themselves satisfied, but they’re missing a lot of the nutrients the come with vegetables.
Correct. The other observation I’ve come to overtime is that our ancestors who were in ketosis, and we looked to, are Inuit and are Arctic societies. Even those societies get to have some, they have a couple of months where they’re having berries and they’re having seaweeds and sea vegetables. Even our Inuit are in ketosis maybe nine months out the year, and two to three months out the year, they are not. My interpretation of that, being the simple thinker that I am, is we should follow a Ketogenic pattern that matches our ethnic background. I’m Northern European, so six months of ketosis is probably really good for me, and six months of a little Glycemic Index diet eating out of my garden. Having my berries and not feeling bad about it also works really well for me. That’s what I’m doing now, ketosis and then I’ll come back out and do a little Glycemic Index the other months.
Throughout this podcast, you had mentioned neuropathy or neuropathic pain a number of times, which shows up in people with Multiple Sclerosis, it shows up in diabetics. What are the top two or three strategies someone could implement? If they’re listening to this, they’re saying, “I don’t have an autoimmune disease but I do have problems with neuropathy.” What can they do?
A common issue is that you’ve had enough intake of your B-Vitamins, if you’ve had a history of not eating any organ meats. I’d be very concerned that your B-Vitamin level is also low. I’d go in and ask my doc for homocysteine level, B12, foliate level. I do want to make sure that my homocysteine is less than seven and my B12 and foliate level is at the top half of the class. Then, I tell them to eat organ meat, have liver twice a week. Liver and onions really can be quite, quite delicious. My kids like liver and onions a great deal. They have these lovely yummies that they call them, a chicken liver wrapped in bacon that’s broiled. It can be quite delicious. You could also just hide the liver, and we have a number of strategies for hiding the liver. If you’ve got a food processor, you can mix in with some ground meat and no one will know.
Even if you don’t like the taste of it, you can hide it and you won’t really taste it. You’re still getting value from it.
Still getting tremendous value from it.
Tell us what’s going on with your research.
We have our first pilot study of the twenty folks with progressive MS that we used the same protocol that I used to recover. We’re continuing to analyze that. We just had the paper come out that looked at the changes in cognition and mood. We’re able to show that verbal and non-verbal reasoning improved overtime and mood also improved overtime. This is really quite remarkable, because with progressive MS you expect a 10% to 20% decline. Improving cognition very, very exciting.
We also have the funding to do some analysis on the structural MRIs, so that’s the next area that we’ll be reporting on from that early study. We have a need that we are recruiting people for right now, comparing a low-saturated fat diet to a modified Paleo diet in the setting of relapsed MS. We’ll be recruiting a hundred folks. We’ve got about 28 in now. We have a couple of more years to go. What’s really fun about that, Joe, is the National Mutliple Sclerosis Society funded our lab, so we’re having a lot more recognition by our peers, other neurologists. What we’re doing is safe, it’s sound, there’s a good rational behind it. It’s worth studying. Many, many more neurologist are just referring people directly to my website and to my book to get people following the statutory approach.
To everyone, you can find information about her first book, Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life, and the live events on her website at TerryWahls.com. I believe when we verbalize things and we talk about thinks, oftentimes they start the ball rolling to make things come true. You have two books now, you have a live event that you do, you get have an online program. What is your big dream or the work that you’ve done and what you wanted to happen over your life?
I’m trying to create an epidemic of health. I do the research, I get recognition from my scientific colleagues, I’m teaching the public. By the way, I’m opening up a private practice, so we do have that possibility now. Because I have so many folks wanting to see me, we need more people trained in this concept. I’m getting to train more clinicians. My goal is to get an army of other healthcare professionals knowledgeable about the Wahls Protocol, an army of nutritionists that are knowledgeable, an army of public folks that are telling all their friends and neighbors that food is the root of health or disease, depending on the choices that we make.
I love the mission, and of course, I support all your work, I think it’s wonderful. If you want to learn more about Dr. Terry Wahls, you can find all the information about her on her website at TerryWahls.com.
As with every podcast, make sure you share this out with your friends and family on social media and hop in to iTunes and give us a five-star review. This is important information for anyone with chronic pain or any chronic disease. Make sure you run out to your nearest bookstore, of course you can go online and purchase, Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life, so you can figure out how to make simple, easy and delicious recipes at home for you and your family. Stay tuned, we’ll see you next week on the Healing Pain Podcast.
About Dr. Terry Wahls
Dr. Terry Wahls is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa where she conducts clinical trials. She is also a patient with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, which confined her to a tilt-recline wheelchair for four years. Dr. Wahls restored her health using a diet and lifestyle program she designed specifically for her brain and now pedals her bike to work each day. She is the author of The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles (paperback), and the cookbook The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life: The Revolutionary Modern Paleo Plan to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions.
You can learn more about her work from her website, www.terrywahls.com. She conducts clinical trials that test the effect of nutrition and lifestyle interventions to treat MS and other progressive health problems. She also teaches the public and medical community about the healing power of the Paleo diet and therapeutic lifestyle changes that restore health and vitality to our citizens. She hosts a Wahls Protocol Seminar every August where anyone can learn how to implement the Protocol with ease and success. Follow her on Facebook (Terry Wahls MD) and on Twitter at @TerryWahls. Learn more about her MS clinical trials by reaching out to her team MSDietStudy@healthcare.uiowa.edu.
Clinical trials in which her team is participating:
The links to our Nations MS Society funded research:
Two studies in Bastyr University that are asking patients with MS or Parkinson’s disease about whether they are following the Wahls diet:
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