The Kellman Center sat down with Dr. Terry Wahls, an emergency room physician whose own diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis propelled Dr. Wahls onto a journey of healing that led her to author of The Wahls Protocol.
A Bit About Dr. Wahl’s Journey
The Kellman Center: What was the most shocking discovery during your recovery?
Dr. Terry Wahls: That recovery is possible. If I can come back from that level of disability, many others can also get their lives back
TKC: What’s your greatest accomplishment since you started healing yourself?
DTW: Having a TEdx talk with > 2 million views. My message has therefore reached millions, fueling conversations with family, friends and the health care teams about the role of food in creating health.
TKC: What do you think was really missing in the medical industry, the presence of which, would make a difference?
DTW: Are you cooking meals from scratch at home? Do you grow your own food?
TKC: What was the kind of mental shift that you had to go through, in order to venture out into uncharted territory once you realized that the current model you had been trained in (as a physician) wasn’t giving you the answers you needed?
DTW: I wanted to do everything I could to keep walking the few steps that I could for as long as I could. I had no hope of recovery because I knew that was not possible as I had accepted what my physicians had told me about progressive MS.
TKC: So many patients wish the doctors knew what they were going through. How has your personal experience shaped the way you work with your patients now?
DTW: Pain and function matter the most. Physical therapy and occupational therapy need to be used much earlier to help people understand how to maintain function before it is lost.
TKC: Your story demonstrates an enormous amount of tenacity. Where does that come from? What was your main motivation?
DTW: I grew up on a family farm. We all had word to do to keep the farm afloat. That gave me skills to thrive and be resilient in spite of all the challenges my parents faced in their farming years.
Understanding the Brain and Cellular Health
TKC: What were the most shocking discoveries you found when you started doing your brain research?
DTW: The amount of recovery that is possible. The brain is actually very plastic if given the tools to rebuild itself.
TKC: What is causing our brains to shrink?
DTW: Diet and lifestyle choices that are pro-disease and anti-health.
TKC: Since most people don’t think about their overall health as “cellular health,” can you expand on this concept and what we should know about how our cells function?
DTW: Cells are the basic unit of each organ in our bodies. If you have healthy cells you have a healthy organ. If you have sick cells you have a poorly functioning organ. Feed and nourish the cells to have healthy organs.
TKC: What is neuromuscular electrical stimulation? And who should take that test?
DTW: NMES stimulates the motor nerve to the muscle causing a contraction. Those who have weakness in the muscles may benefit from NMES. See a pnysical therapist for an evaluation.
TKC: Why are myelin important and how do we keep them healthy?
DTW: Myelin is the insulation around the nerves. This depends on proper building blocks (omega three rich food, greens, organ meats, seaweed, nuts and seeds) and proper nerve growth factors (strength training is the best stimulus for this).
TKC: You suggest that we become “ambassadors of our mitochondria”, why are the mitochondria so important?
DTW: Mitochondria manage the energy supply for our cells which use that energy to perform the chemistry of life. If the mitochondria are strained, the cell has less energy and can do less of the functions of that cell. The organs become ill and we become fatigued, have pain and often have memory problems and heart problems. Another early sign of a mitochondria problem is heart failure.
Key Practices and Suggestions That Everyone Can Do
TKC: What are the nutrients that you feel are most important to sustained optimal brain function? And what are the key supplements you recommend?
DKW: Key nutrients are found in eating greens, sulfur rich vegetables, deeply colored vegetables, grass fed meat, organ meat and seaweed. We also need some nuts and seeds. I do not stress supplements, it’s more important to have food and lots of vegetables. There may be a benefit from additional fiber and resistant starch.
TKC: You demonstrated so much strength during your recovery process. How do you suggest others develop that mindset when dealing with chronic disease?
DTW: Create a personal mission statement and review how diet and lifestyle choices help you more effectively support your personal mission.
TKC: What do you think needs to change immediately in regards to the typical American diet? What are the biggest problems with it?
DTW: Replace sugar and white flour with non starchy vegetables would be an excellent first step.
TKC: Why do you believe in the “hunter-gatherer” diet? What does this diet consist of typically? Is it the same as a Paleo diet?
DTW: The research identifies hunter gatherer diets/paleo diets as associated with higher nutrient density and those who adopt these diets are more likely to experience weight loss if overweight, improved blood sugar control, healthier blood pressure, better body mass index and better waist hip ratios.
TKC: What would you say to someone who is vegetarian? Do you disagree with the vegetarian diet? If so why? What should a vegetarian eat to get the nutrients that would be found in meat and organ meat?
DTW: If the vegetarian is at their ideal body weight and has both a healthy body and mental health then their interpretation of the vegetarian diet is working for them. However some vegetarians do not eat meat and also do not eat vegetables, fruit, few nuts and very little protein. Instead they are still eating sugar, white flour and little else. In my book I give guidance to the vegetarian and meat eaters on how to improve the quality of their diets and reduce the risk of developing health problems.
TKC: Why should dairy and gluten be avoided?
DTW: In the genetically susceptible person, gluten and dairy markedly increase inflammation and may be contributing to the develop of a wide variety of chronic diseases. Therefore I suggest to patients in our clinic that they remove all grain and dairy for one month and assess how they feel without either. That is the best way to determine if those foods are a problem for the person.
TKC: What would you say to someone who feels that it’s too expensive to eat the way you suggested?
DTW: It is not more expensive. You do need to cook at home from ingredients as opposed to from processed foods. One can do this without meat – as a vegetarian. Or one can do this eating meat. I encourage growing sprouts or mushrooms in your home. I also encourage growing food in container gardens on your deck or balcony or mixed in with your flower gardens and lawn. I encourage hunting, fishing and foraging for food. If you want someone else to cook for you, yes it is expensive. You can find environmental working group consumer guides to identify which foods are the most contaminated with pesticides and wish are the least contaminated to prioritize your spending. Eat as clean as your budget allows. Even if vegetables are not organic, eat vegetables. You will still detoxify and get healthier, but it will occur more slowly. Often as people adopt the lifestyle, they gradually figure out how to afford organic foods. They often find that the organic foods are the most flavorful.