I used to run marathons and climb mountains in Nepal. I’ve competed multiple times in the Birkebeiner 55 kilometer ski marathon (once while pregnant), earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and won a bronze medal in women’s full contact free sparring at the 1978 Pan American Games in Washington, D.C. I used to feel invincible.
But in 2000, my partner, Jackie, noticed that one of my feet was dragging slightly. She urged me to see a doctor, but they say doctors are the worst patients, and I ignored the advice. The dragging became worse. Finally, I couldn’t deny my increasing weakness and a new symptom: intermittent bouts of extreme face pain. I had to lower the resistance on my Nordic Track, which annoyed me. I chalked it up to aging. Jogging became more difficult, and I had to give up cross-country skiing. When I finally agreed to see a doctor, the news was devastating: multiple sclerosis had been gnawing away at my brain and spinal cord for nearly two decades.
Everyone with multiple sclerosis has a story—the years of clues and strange symptoms that finally, in retrospect, make sense. It is in the nature of most neurological diseases that symptoms accumulate slowly, bit by bit, over the course of years. And it is in the nature of most physicians to try to preserve health, even to the point of self-experimentation.
I’m Dr. Terry Wahls, and I am a board-certified internal medicine specialist. I graduated from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 1982, completed my internal medicine residency in 1987, and am currently a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa, where I teach internal medicine residents in their primary care clinics. I am also the assistant chief of staff at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Iowa City, Iowa. In addition, I conduct clinical research and have over 60 presentations and publications in peer-reviewed journals and at professional meetings.
Like most physicians, I was always focused on quickly diagnosing my patients, and then using drugs and surgical procedure to treat them. That is, until I became a patient myself.
By the time I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the disease had a good footing in my central nervous system. My decline progressed rapidly. Within two years of my diagnosis, I could no longer play soccer with my kids in the backyard. By the fall of 2003, walking from room to room for my hospital rounds exhausted me, and by the summer of 2004, my back and stomach muscles had weakened so much that I needed a tilt-recline wheelchair. Within three years, my disease had transitioned from relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis into secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. In that phase, disability slowly progresses despite increasingly aggressive therapy. By 2007, I spent most of my time lying far back in a zero-gravity chair. I was fifty-two years old.
Since the beginning of our profession, physicians have used self-experimentation, either to prove a scientific point, or to treat themselves when the conventional treatments were of limited value. In that tradition, and in the face of this chronic, progressive disease for which there was no cure, I began to experiment on myself. Conventional medicine was failing me. I saw that. I was heading towards a bedridden life. What I didn’t expect were the results I got from my experimentation: stunning results, not only to me but to my colleagues and my doctors. I not only arrested my disease, I achieved a dramatic restoration of my health and my function. What I learned changed forever how I saw the battling worlds of health and disease.
Thomas Edison, over a hundred years ago, said, “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his [or her] patients in the care of the human frame, in a proper diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.” This became my new course, my passion, and my mission. I understood health and disease in an entirely new way. I became a new person, both physically and emotionally, both personally and professionally.
I began teaching residents and patients in our clinics how to care for themselves in a way I had only just discovered as optimal, using diet and health behaviors instead of drugs. Most patients were, in fact, very interested and willing to do what I suggested. The patients, as they adopted the diet and health behaviors, would steadily improve and need fewer and fewer drugs. The residents learned that diet and lifestyle are powerful treatments, often as effective of not more effective than drugs.
I joined a multidisciplinary team that was taking care of veterans with traumatic brain injuries and again, I found that patients were often very eager to learn what things they could do to speed the healing of their brains. In patient after patient, I watched symptoms and the need for drugs decrease as diet and lifestyles improved.
Then I shifted my research focus. I wrote up the protocol I explain in this book, then sought and secured over $100,000 of funding to conduct a pilot clinical trial testing my interventions in others with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. In our study, Nutrition, neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) and secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS), we follow twenty individuals for thirty-six months as they use the same treatments I developed for myself. The first eight have already completed the first twelve months of the intervention, with favorable preliminary data, (one of our subjects is moving from cane and walker dependence to beginning to jog again), which was presented at the 2011 Neuroscience Conference in Washington, D.C. November 13 as a “Hot Topic.”
Furthermore, we have secured additional funding to add MRI scans to the second wave of participants and will begin enrolling 12 more subjects in the next few months. We will be drafting manuscripts for submission to peer reviewed science journals when all of the first wave of study subjects have completed six months of treatment.
I continue to study the impact of nutrition in our traumatic brain injury clinic. I teach medical students and resident physicians about food as medicine, and about therapeutic lifestyle interventions. I travel across the country, giving lectures to the medical community and to the public about the care of the human frame, the proper diet for the human being, and the causes of disease.
In short, I’ve become the physician of the future that Thomas Edison foretold, and I’ve made a commitment to spread this message of hope and healing to others. I have spoken to thousands of people, nationally and internationally. My public lecture. “Minding Your Mitochondria,” given at a TEDx conference, was posted to YouTube on November 30, 2011. In just three months, the lecture received over a half-million views, and my Facebook pages (Dr. Terry Wahls and The Wahls Foundation) have accumulated a total of over 8500 friends and fans. I am spreading the word, and with this book, I hope to reach an even vaster audience. This is a message that could have a serious impact on global health, and so I believe I must speak out. The Wahls Protocol is that voice.