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Healing from MS: Groundbreaking Study on Diet and Autoimmune Disease

I have an autoimmune condition — secondary progressive multiple sclerosis — that put me in a tilt-recline wheelchair within three years of diagnosis. I saw the best doctors at multiple MS centers around the country. I took the newest drugs, including Tysabri, but continued to decline for 7 years steadily.

As I was getting worse, I started studying the basic science research and began experimenting on myself. I discovered the research on epigenetics, how diet and lifestyle could switch genes on and off.

I learned more about meditation, exercise, electrical stimulation of muscles, and a lot more about nutrition and the microbiome. I discovered the Institute of Functional Medicine and began taking their courses on treating the cause of poor health.

In 2007 I was too weak to sit in a regular chair. I could walk 20 yards slowly with two walking sticks. I suffered from neuropathic pain, profound fatigue, and brain fog. That is when I created a diet and lifestyle program designed specifically for my brain. And then everything changed. My life was transformed.

Within 6 months my pain was gone, my brain fog was gone, and my energy restored. Within 12 months I was walking easily without a cane and got back on my bicycle (after being unable to bike for the prior six years). I even completed an 18-mile bike ride with my family.

My understanding of disease and health was transformed. I changed how I practiced medicine, focusing on using diet and lifestyle changes to treat autoimmune, neurologic, and psychiatric disorders with remarkable success.

This led me to begin my journey of research and changing the minds of thousands of doctors and patients that thought a diagnosis of Autoimmune Disease was a life sentence.

LATEST RESEARCH 2021: Wahls Diet Research and Multiple Sclerosis

Ever since getting out of a wheelchair and back on my bike, I have been talking to my patients with various autoimmune conditions about using diet and lifestyle as part of their treatment and wellness plan. We have conducted four clinical trials of diet and lifestyle in MS patients, all of which have demonstrated the benefits of the Wahls modified Paleolithic diet for reducing fatigue and improving quality of life. We just completed the Dietary Approaches to Treating Multiple Sclerosis Related Fatigue Study and have published those results in Multiple Sclerosis Journal – Experimental, Translational, Clinical.

We enrolled 87 patients with relapsing-remitting MS and took baseline measurements of fatigue, quality of life, and walking endurance. We asked patients to eat their usual diet and observed them for 12 weeks and repeated all the measures. Next, we randomly selected patients to begin either the Swank Diet, a diet low in saturated fat, or the Wahls elimination diet, which is a modified Paleolithic diet.

The key elements of the Wahls diet are the consumption of 6-9 cups of non-starchy vegetables and berries, and exclusion of gluten, dairy, and eggs. The key element of the Swank diet is limiting saturated fat to less than 15 grams per day. Learn more about the Wahls diet here and the Swank diet here.

We repeated all measurements after participants had been on their assigned diet at 12 and 24 weeks. Change in Fatigue Severity Scale Score at 12 weeks was the primary outcome. Secondary outcomes were change in Modified Fatigue Impact Scale scores, MS Quality of Life Physical Health and Mental Health subscales, and the 6 Minute Walk Test.  Fatigue, quality of life, and walking endurance were largely stable during the observation phase, when participants were eating their usual diets. After 12 weeks on one of the two study diets, both groups experienced reduced fatigue severity and improved quality of life; however, walking endurance did not change. In terms of fatigue, the Swank and Walks diets were not significantly different at 12 weeks.

However, when analyzing the secondary outcomes, the Wahls diet group had a significantly better quality of life than the Swank group. After 24 weeks, improvements continued in both groups, but those on the Wahls diet now had significantly greater reduction in fatigue in the more sensitive measure of fatigue, the Modified Fatigue Impact Scale, and significantly greater improvements in quality of life. The key observation is that both diets were associated with reduced fatigue, improved quality of life, and walking endurance, with the Wahls diet having significantly greater improvements than the Swank group for several measures. These outcomes are detailed in the graphs below.

The research continues to build that if you have MS or other autoimmune condition, your diet impacts your energy and quality of life. In the near future, we plan to conduct larger studies with controls (people who follow their regular diet) and we will follow people for longer periods and obtain biomarkers to investigate disease activity and mechanisms impacted by diet.

Currently, we have several active clinical studies for people with MS. If you are interested in participating in other clinical trials that we are conducting, visit the Wahls Lab website here. We also periodically conduct free online 5 day challenges that help people improve their diet and self-care routines. If your specialist doesn’t believe diet and self-care can reduce your symptoms, work with your primary care team to implement these regimens.

Figure legend

Change from baseline for  Fatigue Severity Scale (FSS), (total Modified Fatigue Impact Scale (MFIS),  Multiple Sclerosis Quality of Life-54 (MSQoL-54) mental, MSQoL-54 physical, and 6-minute walk test among study participants with RRMS randomized to either the Swank diet (grey bars) or the Wahls elimination diet (black bars) for 24 weeks. The dashed lines represent thresholds of clinically meaningful changes. Statistical significance was determined by generalized linear mixed models, statistical significance is represented by * = p ≤ 0.05, ** = p ≤ 0.01, *** = p ≤ 0.001. The red line is clinical significance by peer reviewed studies for each measure. you have a combined figure or individual figure.

Dr. Terry Wahls is an Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa where she conducts clinical trials.  In 2018 she was awarded the Institute for Functional Medicine’s Linus Pauling Award for her contributions in research, clinical care and patient advocacy. 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: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles,and the cookbook, The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life.

Learn more about her MS clinical trials Pick up a one-page handout for the Wahls™ Diet at

The post Healing from MS: Groundbreaking Study on Diet and Autoimmune Disease appeared first on Healthy Holistic Living.

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