Multiple Sclerosis is a tough disease. It put me in a tilt/recline wheelchair at age 48. Yet I consider it one of the most profound gifts I have ever receive because that time in the wheelchair transformed how I thought about medicine and the type of medicine that I now practice.
When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, or MS, in 2000, I knew that within 10 years, 1/3 of people newly diagnosed with MS will have problems walking and will need a cane, walker, or wheelchair, and that half will be unable to work due to severe fatigue. I had two young children and I was the main breadwinner for our family. Of course I chose to treat my disease aggressively. I sought out the best MS center that I could find: The Cleveland Clinic. I saw their best people and took the latest drugs. Yet, I continued to decline. Then one day, a colleague suggested I look into the work of Dr. Loren Cordain and the Paleo Diet. I found his work compelling. After 20 years as a vegetarian, I gave up dairy, grains and legumes, and went back to eating meat. I felt better in some ways, but my decline continued, if at a slightly slower rate. Within just three years of my diagnosis, my disease had transitioned to secondary progressive MS. In that phase of the disease, functions once lost are gone forever. I took the recommended chemotherapy. I got the tilt/recline wheelchair. My decline continued.
Finally, I understood that the best conventional medical care was not going to stop my slide into a bedridden and possibly demented life. Desperate to do something, to take some power back into my own hands, I decided that I should read the scientific papers from the labs that were studying the animal models of MS other diseases that also had slowly shrinking brains. The work was taxing, but eventually I found studies using vitamins and supplements to protect those mouse brains. Eager to try anything (because I had nothing to lose), I translated the mouse sized doses to human size ones. The speed of my decline slowed and I was grateful.
My next breakthrough happened during the summer of 2007, when I discovered neuromuscular electrical stimulation, a technique that athletes have used for decades to increase the effectiveness of their physical training programs. I had worked out every day since my diagnosis, but because of the progressive loss of function, my work was only a very easy 10 minute mat workout. I added neuromuscular electrical stimulation to the workout. My decline stopped. I could sit in a regular chair again.
Heartened, I kept up my research, and that summer I discovered the Institute for Functional Medicine and took their course, NEUROPROTECTION - A Functional Medicine Approach to Common and Uncommon Neurological Conditions. This gave me a deeper understanding of what I could do to support my brain. I compiled a much longer list of vitamins and supplements that I had identified as important for brain cell health, and I took them each day. I felt better, but I wanted more. Logic told me I might assimilate these massive nutrient doses better if they came from food, so I began to research which foods would supply me with the nutrients I needed. I restructured my diet into what I now call the Wahls™ Diet. That is when the real magic began to happen.
Within three months of starting this new diet and lifestyle, my fatigue was gone and I no longer needed Provigil, the medication I had taken for five years to treat MS-related fatigue. At six months, I could walk throughout the hospital without a cane. At 12 months, I completed an 18-mile bike ride with my family. The following year I did a trail ride in the Canadian Rockies.
I was a changed woman, and also a changed doctor. I began to talk to my patients about the quality of the foods they ate, their physical activity levels, their exposure to chemicals and other toxins, and how they managed stress. I advised them on diet and lifestyle changes, and time and time again I saw patients ' fatigue disappear, pain resolve, moods stabilise, blood pressure and blood sugars normalise, and the need for medications slowly decline, often until the patient needed no medications at all. The protocol that saved me became a part of my professional life, so it could save others.
Now in my clinical practice and my clinical trials, I focus on teaching why and how to use diet and lifestyle changes to get the root cause of why chronic health problems developed, and I study and measure the improvements I see when patients adopt the protocol. I have MS to thank. Without my years of progressive disability, I would never have had the motivation to design my recovery program, nor would I have been as motivated to teach others about the power of diet and lifestyle. Of course I am grateful. It has been a gift.