Fast Facts: Multiple Sclerosis
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a serious disease of the brain and central nervous system that can lead to permanent disability.
- It is an autoimmune condition that affects over 2 million people worldwide.
- The Wahls Protocol emphasizes a diet-based approach to managing MS.
When Dr. Terry Wahls experienced sudden pain and a lack of mobility in 2020, she underwent a series of tests. Her doctors became more and more concerned as each test led them to another. At one point, she was sent to undergo an MRI and she was told, “This could be bad. Or this could be really, really bad.”Read More
Despite her diagnosis, she was determined to live a full life, and her story will touch anyone dealing with cancer or chronic disease.
Symptoms of MS
Symptoms of MS can be unpredictable and vary among people. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke explains, “multiple sclerosis (MS) can range from relatively benign to somewhat disabling to devastating, as communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted.” In fact, symptoms can disappear completely or return.
One consistent tell-tale symptom is pain, which can be intense during an attack, when the nerves become inflamed. “I understood how pain could kill,” says Wahls. She suffered from consistent, “horrific” pain that felt like being jolted by a “cattle prod.”
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, “The most common symptoms of MS include fatigue, numbness and tingling, blurred vision, double vision, weakness, poor coordination, imbalance, pain, depression and problems with memory and concentration. Less commonly MS may cause tremor, paralysis and blindness.”
Paralysis and MS are often linked, but doctors say that it’s not always true that MS suffered will eventually be paralyzed. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society explains, “the majority of people with MS do not become severely disabled. Two-thirds of people who have MS remain able to walk, though many will need an aid,” such as a cane, a scooter, or a wheelchair.
Is There a Cure?
No, there is currently no definitive cure for MS. Nevertheless, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “You can do things to help change the course of the disease, treat flare-ups, manage symptoms, and improve your function and mobility.”
But many patients with MS find that they are able to manage their symptoms with a variety of modifications. For example, Terry Wahls had trouble sitting upright. Using a zero-gravity chair, which elevated her knees above her torso, helped compensate for her weakened torso strength. She did her work and ate all her meals in that chair. “If I wasn’t in my zero gravity chair,” she says, “I was in bed.”
There are many such aids that MS patients can use, including wheelchairs, canes, and leg braces. In addition, a number of medical treatments exist and work well for many patients. Many doctors prescribe medications called disease-modifying therapies (DMTs). According to a study in American Family Physician, “Disease-modifying therapy has been shown to slow disease progression and disability; options include injectable agents, infusions, and oral medications targeting different sites in the inflammatory pathway.”
There are more than a dozen approved by the FDA. The purpose of DMTs is to stave off attacks of the disease and prevent relapses, which are triggered when the central nervous system becomes inflamed.
However, despite trying all these approaches, Terry Wahls’ disease had progressed to the point that she thought she’d become severely disabled. She realized that conventional medicine was simply not helping her.
So she turned to what she knew best – science – to try to take control of her own health.
The Wahls Protocol
Wahls had been a vegetarian since she was a teenager. In fact, she’d also eaten a severely low-fat diet for decades. Now, she thought, that diet might be making her MS worse.
Wahls rejected vegetarianism and adopted a Paleo diet instead. A Paleo diet includes fresh meat, fish, nuts, as well as vegetables and fruits. It avoids all processed foods, as well as beans and potatoes. Wahls felt that the Paleo diet, which is rich in nutrients, could provide her with the vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids her body was lacking.
And slowly, miraculously, it worked.
She began walking slowly, on her own. She began to regain her balance and her strength little by little, and then one day, she decided to ride her bike.
She’d been an enthusiastic rider for years before she got sick. With the encouragement of her family, she took out her old bike and rode it. She and her children wept with joy when she did it successfully.
“It felt miraculous that day,” she says, still with tears in her eyes.
Not long after, she rode her bike for 18 miles in a single day– a feat she thought she’d never be able to accomplish again.
Wahls knew she was on to something. She’d been told that any functions she lost because of MS could not be regained. That was certainly not true, as her walking and bike riding proved. The immune system could be healed. She decided to challenge that notion and continue her research into the effects of the Paleo Diet.
Her Paleo based approach to managing her MS symptoms is documented in her book, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way To Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles.
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