How to heal Autoimmune disease: tips from Dr Terry Wahls

Posted on August 20th, 2014

When I don’t know stuff about stuff that I care about, I like to call a “friend” and have a bit of an audio interview with them. When I do, I get you guys to take part and invite you to post questions to ask on your behalf. My latest such friendly chat about stuff was with Dr Terry Wahls.

xx

Image via Favim.com

Dr Wahls is a reckon-able force. A physician, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and ended up in a wheelchair. Which saw her – like many of us with autoimmune disease – to obsessively research the foggy area of AI and brain biology for herself. Her conclusion: to ditch the pills and supplements and to get her required vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and essential fatty acids from real food, specifically from a Paleo protocol.

Today she’s out of the wheelchair, walking and cycling every day. She shared the details of her recovery in a TEDx talk that went viral in 2011. And you can follow her tips and tricks for disease reversal via her book The Wahls Protocol. One thing you might like to take straight up:

Dr Wahls puts much of her wellness down to eating nine cups of vegetables every day.

A point she covers off in our podcast, which you can listen to here:

As an FYI, I asked Dr Wahls questions on behalf of many of you. We cover off:

* The VERY surprising breakfast Dr Wahls eats each day. Since chatting to her I’ve been eating the same.

* Dr Wahls’ emotional experience converting a meat-inclusive diet after 20 years as a vegetarian.

* The idea that cruciferous veggies are a problem for anyone with autoimmune disease – true or not? Dr Wahls and I agree on this point.

Have you read The Wahls Protocol? Do you follow any of Terry’s principles? Would love to hear your thoughts below.

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  • Jess

    This is just what i needed to read today, thank you! My Dad has been ill for a long while now and they are finally taking it seriously and is off to the city to test for many things including multiple sclerosis. Bookmarking this to listen to after work x

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  • JOSIE

    YAY YAY YAY!
    HERE I SIT EATING CABBAGE AND ONION AND LIVER/BEEF MEAT LOAF….ALL COOKED IN COCONUT OIL AND WITH A BIG OLD SPOON OF BYRON BAY FERMENTED VEGES……( RIPPED UP SOME SEA WEED INTO IT AS I WAS LISTENING)
    THANKS AGAIN,
    JOSIE

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    YOU”RE WELCOME (in LOUD caps) x

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  • Daniel L

    Thank you Sarah for this morning post ! Just a minutes ago, I was on the other site reading about the same topic, what a nice coincidence :-)
    I feel so inspired with everything that you publish, and my interest and passion for healthy life, in holistic way, is increasing every day… Your blog is just fantastic source of all good things… :-) Enjoy !

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    thanks Daniel!

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  • cybele@blahblah

    Fascinating. I was just diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome last week and am feeling a bit stunned to be in the AI bandits. Knowing of your experience has helped a lot to process the news. Thank you x

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    welcome to the gang!

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  • Byron

    Very insightful! I’ve had uncontrolled ulcerative colitis for 7 years and am looking more and more at changes I need to make in my diet. As a side question though – can anyone recommend a good blender for green smoothies? Mine makes absolutely crap green smoothies but I just don’t have the money for a Vitamix.

    [Reply]

    Ross4425 Reply:

    Look at Jason Vale’s website, i have his juicer and blender. He is the ‘King of Juices!’

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    Guest Reply:

    Byron, I cured my UC with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which has a lot of overlap with Paleo. It took about 4 years to be effective, but I have been fine for years now (with 3 clear colonoscopies over a 6 yr period to prove it). There is plenty of stuff online about SCD.

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    Kelly Reply:

    hi Byron, I have an omniblend blender which is great but I have friends who swear that the nutribullet works well too.

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    Jenna Reply:

    I switched from Vitamix to Nutribullet about 6 mo ago. Primarily because I was tired of always having to pull out ginger and celery fibers wrapped around the knives. Haven’t used Vitamix since. Nutribullet is so much faster to clean, it’s very powerful and doesn’t warm up your smoothies like Vitamix. The big cup is perfect size for two servings.

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    Angela Finn Reply:

    I have the Huron Juicer – its a premium cold-press juicer and has been worth every cent. It extracts the juice from my veges and fruit with ease, producing very little fibre. I don’t like blenders because the heat from the process can affect the veges and fruit. Every morning I make myself a green juice for breakfast. All green veges with a lemon and some ginger. It packs a punch and keeps me going all morning until lunch.

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  • Kay

    Thank you Sarah and Dr Wahls :-)

    Just a quick question for Sarah (and any other readers):

    Where do you source your seaweed from?
    The only seaweed I’ve seen in shops is imported from China or Japan so that’s what I’m buying at the moment, but I’d like to support a local company in future if possible (less food miles etc).

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Tasmania grows certified organic wakame and kelp.I know for sure The Staple Store in Melbourne sells it.
    Here is a link to some I found online:
    http://santostrading.com.au/bulkfood/item-SEA844.html

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    Natalie Reply:

    How do you use the sea weed? Just sprinkle a little on top? Does it loose its nutritional value if cooked?

    Also very interesting discussion regarding vegetarianism.

    Thanks,

    [Reply]

  • Lena Sgambati

    I take thyroxin after having my thyroid removed and discovered the hard way of how harmful crucifer veggies (and other foods) block the medication from being absorbed – if eaten raw ! I ate a cabbage salad almost everyday for 2 months and started falling asleep at my computer, at the dinner table etc, not to mention the dramatic weight gain! I had no idea about what foods you need avoid after total Thyroidectomy removal.

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    gosh eating anything every day like that could cause issues…glad you worked out what you needed to do!

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  • Naomi

    Fantastic Sarah!! Very inspiring. Think I need to up the Liver in my diet, just bought Terry’s book on my kindle. Buzzing.

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  • Angela Finn

    I have been following the Wahl’s protocol for 6 months now and I find it fantastic. She offers 3 programs and I follow the middle one. At first eliminating dairy and grains was a bit challenging, so too was the preparation and consumption of all the veges, but it didn’t take long before I got into the swing of it. And wow the benefits are fabulous. I have incredible more energy, feel great and look pretty good too. It is really exciting. I love feeding my mitochondria and giving my cells the fuel they need to work their magic. Terry’s book is so informative and her knowledge and logic is so clear to understand that you just can’t help but follow her suggestions for good health. I have learnt so much from Terry, and discovered a whole lot of new food and vegetables too. I even consume fermented food now and brew Kombucha tea! When I tell my friends I don’t eat dairy or grains they come back with a whole lot of comments about denying myself of this and that. But I don’t see it like that at all. I just choose other food – the food that works best for my body. In fact, Wahl’s Protocol has given me a whole new appreciation and love of self and it feels great. I look forward to my continued journey of learning about food and the body and life. Good on you Sarah for bringing Terry to your readers.

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    How’d you go with 9 serves of veggies a day? Easy?

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    Angela Finn Reply:

    Not easy – but doable. I make sure I buy a lot of organic vegetables each week and that motivates me to use them in meals and juices. For instance, today I packed my lunch box with heaps of veges and just ate them throughout the afternoon at my desk at work. Then tonight I had a medley of roasted veges with chicken.

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    veggies for breakfast is the key!

    Mary Reply:

    Where do you buy your organic veggies? I find I can only find limited variety

    Ellen Reply:

    Alright this is a great group MS 24 yrs now and eat similar to Wahls diet but now tightening up with buying liver supplements as I won’t prepare liver. She does accept taking the supplement. Anyway I have always loved salads and work out daily to keep my body strong even though it can be tough.
    I am 63 & have 3 boys sorry young men. I love to stay in denial with my illness as that as served me in this life to believe I can do things if I just challenge myself.been on copaxone & now tysabri that I feel is a great drug. I walk with 2 canes but the main thing I will say for you young people is keep your body fit no matter what. That gives you Power and well I love salads so the diet isn’t tough except I love one cup of coffee with cream so I don’t deny it. I swim 20 laps in the summer q day as I can be aware to kick my legs and feel pretty darn normal. You have to figure what will work for you and make you happy!
    Ellen

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  • Hope

    I’m confused how some like Anna York (Rising Up-secondary progressive MS reversal story) and Clint Paddision ( RA)- have reversed there illnesses on vegan diet/exercise program and others like Dr. Wahls use such a different diet. In the case of Anna York she had had MS for 20+ years and was in a wheelchair with one leg atrophied. She reversed the disease and started walking again-with a swank type vegan diet , qi gong, and bodywork.suppplement/spiritual. After I being a vegan for a very long time she recently added back in some leans meats since she said her body had changed and now needed it. Clint Paddison advocates a low fat vegan type/elimnation diet to find triggerss and heal the gut–many people with RA seem to be getting results. I find it all so confusing how different people with autoimmune diseases can get results on totally opposite diets.

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    emma. Reply:

    Me too. Total confusion. When I was diagnosed with MS 3 years ago I read George Jelinek’s book, also a Dr with MS. He also advocates a swank-like diet, which is virtually no saturated fats i.e.. absolutely no meat or dairy or coconut. His story is similar- recovered from being quite debilitated. I worry that if I follow one of these approaches it might not be the right one for me. But Is it really just the high intake of vegetables that is really making the difference? Or is the key for both Jelinek and Wahls not actually as dependent on their intake or elimination of saturated fats as they both claim? All I can think is that there is something missing in this picture because there are two strongly held, evidence-based and yet completely opposing views.

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    Kay Reply:

    Yes, I read the story about Clint Paddison in the Body & soul section of the paper recently and was really interested to hear about his recovery from rheumatoid arthritis (and how his approach differs from other people such as Dr Wahls)

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    Michele Reply:

    The thing with RA is that it sees fat as an imposter and so then turns the immune system into overdrive, flaring and causing havoc in the RA body. However, I see your confusion – even Neal Barnard suggests fish, flax and EPO oils with a plantbased diet and then Joel Fuhrman, Clint Paddison and Dr Mcdougall have had amazing results with a very low fat (no fish oils etc) diet. I know of only one person who has put RA into remission with a paleo diet and and I know of many others who have with a plant based, low fat diet. For me, majority rules. I just really wish that I could get success with my RA eating meat and loads of coconut oil because I LOVE it! :)

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    GadoGado Gal Reply:

    My husband and I were diagnosed with different Autoimmune diseases in the past couple of years. My experience too is coming across a lot of conflicting information about what works (and a lot of dogmatic people out there promoting The Best Solution). But, I think Dr. Wahls touched on a couple of things that help reconcile some of it: 1) genes hold the key to autoimmune disease and no two people are the same even if they have the same disease – they could have a different compilation of genes making their triggers and manifestations unique, and 2) even though she is in the process of promoting her book and protocol, her own experience was that Paleo didn’t work for her, but rather she had to make adjustments that ended up working for her, and she is thus willing to make adjustments even within her protocol for others. The very restrictive Paleo-based Autoimmune Protocol had some positive benefits for my husband (7kg weight loss but still had inflammatory episodes during the 2 months), but made me worse (increased fatigue, 2 kg weight gain). Luckily, Sarah and Dr. Wahls are less rigid than others promoting a Paleo-like diet. For her Rheumatoid Arthritis, my mom saw positive benefits from the vegan, no-fat McDougall Program. Starting Jan. 2014 she followed that for 3 months, then incorporated in occasional fatty fish and olive oil. Since Jan she has seen decreased inflammation in her joints, straightened and slimmed fingers, 7 kg weight loss, and she was able to ditch her blood pressure medication.

  • christina

    I’m off to buy some pate today. I have avoided it for years because I thought it was bad for you.
    Just want to check on the green smoothie ingredients: was that coconut milk or water with the lettuce?

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  • emma.

    Total confusion. When I was diagnosed with MS 3 years ago I read George Jelinek’s book, also a Dr with MS. He also advocates a swank-like diet, which is virtually no saturated fats i.e.. absolutely no meat or dairy or coconut. His story is similar- recovered from being quite debilitated. I worry that if I follow one of these approaches it might not be the right one for me. But Is it really just the high intake of vegetables that is really making the difference? Or is the key for both Jelinek and Wahls not actually as dependent on their intake or elimination of saturated fats as they both claim? All I can think is that there is something missing in this picture because there are two strongly held, evidence-based and yet completely opposing views.

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    Laura Reply:

    I completely agree with you, Emma. I was diagnosed with MS 4 years ago, at only 29 years old so was willing to do anything to give myself the best chance for minimum impact on my functionality for the rest of my life. I read Jelinek and understand his principles, and I LOVE Sarah’s IQS diet. I am just confused as to what I am suppose to eat. All these people have so much amazing information but I am starting to think I should be eating mainly veggies but with no dairy or grains or sugar I am not sure what I am allowed to eat??? (as a working mother of a one year old, with fatigue issues, I don’t have a lot of cooking time!).

    Thanks Sarah for these great articles, it encourages wide-ranging discussions that I find very useful.

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    emma. Reply:

    HI Laura. Sounds like we have been on a similar path… I, too, started off doing heaps of research determined to minimise the impact. Then became totally confused by the completely contradictory information. I gave up for a year because it was doing my head in! But now I am determined to find a way forward that feels empowering rather than simply taking a drug. And, most importantly, through everything I’ve read I do believe that MS can be managed through diet. Gives me a hope that it’s not the cruel life sentence I first thought it to be. I now see a chinese doctor for acupuncture and herbs. Their approach is that every body is different and has different needs. Slowly that is starting to take the pressure off any one way being absolute. I am learning to listen to my own body better. (It’s taken awhile!) And even since I posted a couple of days ago I have had more clarity about my approach. I think more veggies is the key. And like you I am also giving up dairy, grains (after reading Grain Brain) and sugar. Not long before I was told I had MS I went on a very high protein diet to build up my energy (not realising why I felt so fatigued all the time….) I felt fantastic on that. But stopped soon after diagnosis when I read the Jelinek book. I think I am going to reintroduce protein (lean meat – chicken, kangaroo and fish) back into my diet. And generally keep saturated fats low while amping up Omega 3. But you are right it does take time. I am trying to put together a collection of ‘go-to’ recipes to replace all my old ones. I have found some great blogs etc that give me ideas. The ‘Green kitchen” is one…..

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  • Mary

    Kay, I buy Vitamin D from Queensland. The place is called Hippocrates Health Centre of Australia. The Vitamin D is in purified Olive Oil.

    There is a book titled ‘Take Control of Your Health’ by Elaine Hollingsworth. It discusses the dangers of the inactive ingredients in vitamins. I buy some vitamins from America because by law they have to list the inactive ingredients on the bottle. There is no law enforcing this in Australia.

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  • http://www.hellogreathealth.com.au/ jenny wright

    I love this. food is amazing. this just reinforces that. suppose I better get making some pate now!

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  • Oksana

    Hi Sarah, would you be able to clarify the point about arachidonic acid. Dr. Wahls mentions liver as one of the best sources and that it is essential for someone with autoimmune disease. However, it is an Omega 6 fat and as mentioned in most lay literature we need to reduce 6s in favour of 3s if fighting inflammation (which always takes place in case of AI disease). I also remember from one of IIN lectures by Barry Sears of the Zone diet that egg yolks, another source of arachidonic acid, need to be reduced or avoided precisely for this reason. I know you research things carefully and hope you can help. Many thanks in advance

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  • Anzjuli

    This gives me some great hope. My cousin’s husband (newly married) was diagnosed with MS and has had to stop working, Doc says he could drop at any minute. He is a vegan I think. I’m going to pass on this info and hope that it will help him! Also I wonder if this could fix Irritable Bowel Syndrome? I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as a teenager, that kinda ‘went away’ or was misdiagnosed or something but I got IBS soon after and then endometriosis and Adenomyosis now later in my twenties. OH in three’s! Although I dont think the latter are auto-immune. ANYWAY gonna read into what Dr Wahls is saying, cause to live a normal healthy life is a dream!!

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    Sacha Reply:

    I also have IBS and have found the best solution is to follow a low fodmap diet. It is quite a restrictive diet so really needs to be monitored by a dietitian initially, but it is worth it as I am now 90% free of symptoms whereas before I suffered with it every day. Good luck!

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