If you have Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and have searched for natural treatment options, then there is a good chance that you have heard of Dr. Terry Wahls and the program that she has created called the Wahls Protocol.
Dr. Wahls used the Wahls Protocol to reverse her own progressive MS symptoms, going from being in a wheelchair to walking, and within a year riding a bike 18 miles.
Lots of people can have amazing stories of recovery from their illnesses, and if it is only one person who recovered it is hard for other people with chronic health issues to relate.
But with the Wahls protocol, there are now thousands of people who have improved their health with conditions from MS to autoimmune problems.
Have you tried diet changes but have not seen benefits?
The Wahls Protocol is more than a diet, and it is not a one size fits all approach as there are different levels to the Wahls Protocol.
If you want to find out more about the Wahls protocol this article will give you a step by step guide, and how it can help improve a wide range of chronic health conditions.
What Is the Wahls Protocol
There are a number of key areas to focus on when implementing the Wahls Protocol, but the important thing to remember is that you don’t have to start with everything at once - it is ok to ease into the program.
If the Wahls Protocol looks overwhelming it is a good idea to get a Wahls Certified Practitioner to help guide you along the way - this means the program can be customized to your specific needs and level of health.
I have completed the Wahls training to be a certified practitioner.
The Key Areas of the Wahls Protocol
Resilience and Vitality
This focuses on many things but some of the key points are having good social support, breathing exercises and finding your purpose in life. There are many ways that you can improve your mental resilience and develop a positive outlook despite your illness and we will discuss many of these - you don’t have to implement them all but find the ones that work for you.
The Wahls Diet
This focuses on increasing the nutrient-dense foods in your diet too much higher levels than standard diet recommendations, as it is always better to get as much nutrition from food and not rely on supplements. The diet also focuses on the foods to exclude to reduce inflammation, heal the gut and help with the healing process. There are 4 different levels to the Wahls diet, when we talk about the diet in more detail I will help you work out what the best level is for you.
Exercise and Movement
Improving strength, balance and flexibility is important for everyone and if you have a chronic illness this is just as important. The Wahls exercise guidelines help you find the best exercises that will work with your level of health, there are many possibilities even if your movement is limited.
High cortisol levels which are your main stress hormone is a major contributing factor to chronic illnesses and there are many different ways to help reduce your stress levels. This can include walking in nature to meditation, or laughing at your favorite TV show with a close friend - the key is finding one that works for you.
Address Nutrient Deficiencies
While the Wahls diet is designed to be super nutrient-dense, sometimes it may be necessary to supplement with key nutrients that you are still lacking. Deficiencies can be identified by specific Functional Medicine tests, and your Wahls certified practitioner can help guide you with this.
Functional Medicine Testing
The standard medical tests are essential to do but they can also be very limiting on what they can tell us about your health - doing detailed stool testing, hormone testing, and nutrient testing can help identify areas of your health that can be contributing to your illness. This can include gut infections, hormone imbalances, mold toxicity, Lyme disease, and other infections.
Let’s look at each of these key areas in detail, and don’t worry if it sounds overwhelming as there are programs available to help walk you through this process step by step, or you can schedule a consultation, as a Wahls certified practitioner, I can help guide you along the way.
Mental Resilience and Vitality
Diet alone is not enough to bring about healing, and “resilience and vitality” are emphasized in the Wahls Protocol for its importance to bring about health and wellbeing.
So what are resilience and vitality?
Resilience is having the internal motivation necessary to make the changes to your diet and lifestyle that will help you heal, without this it is easy to fall off track and back into bad habits.
So how do you get resilience?
You need to find out your “why”!
Why do you want to get well? What goals or dreams do you have? What is your purpose in life?
Having a purpose in life helps to have a more meaningful life, and can help to motivate you to make the changes necessary.
You will have to find your own purpose but it could be things like a family that motivates you, a physical challenge that you want to achieve, or a career that you are passionate about.
Having family support or a good network of friends can help you on this journey, it’s hard to make changes if you feel alone - having a guide to help with the Wahls Protocol can also be helpful.
Positive Self Talk
A lot of us have an inner critic that keeps putting us down, developing positive self-talk and using positive affirmations can help with your internal motivation to succeed.
With the Wahls Protocol, we use a number of techniques to improve resilience and vitality:
Some people might find these exercises a bit “woo woo” or not science-based, and while I agree that just focusing on these techniques is not going to make you better it is still an important part of the healing process.
Having a good support network and healthy social life has been shown to improve health outcomes.
If you have Multiple Sclerosis (MS) or some other type of autoimmune condition, fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome it can be easy to feel like a victim, and while these conditions can cause a lot of pain and suffering, to get well you need to develop a positive outlook. The Wahls Protocol will help you develop the confidence to improve your health.
The Wahls Diet
This is a major part of the Wahls protocol and the main focus is on two things.
- 1Increasing the nutrient-dense foods in your diet to get the optimal amount of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to help support the healing process
- 2Eliminating the foods that cause inflammation, disrupt the gut microbiome and your immune system, and don’t support the healing process
There have been a couple of small studies showing positive results for MS symptoms with the Wahls diet, plus the thousands of people who have tried the diet and seen improvement in their quality of life.
This diet is very anti-inflammatory, and this type of diet has been shown to help autoimmune conditions and improve symptoms.
There are 4 different levels of the Wahls diet, let’s look at each one in more detail.
Wahls Diet - Level One
This is the least strict option and it focuses on getting the optimal amount of nutrients and eliminating the major inflammation-causing foods and for many people, this is a good place to start.
The level one diet is still going to be a big jump if you have been previously eating a standard Western diet, but the improvements to your health will be worth it - once again you can ease into the diet and you don’t have to do everything at once.
However, you don’t have to start with level one, you can go straight to one of the other levels and while they may be stricter they can bring about faster results for some people.
Ideally, you will need to remove these foods 100% for 100 days and then review your progress and symptoms, you could then try introducing the foods one at a time to test your reaction but this can lead to a regression in your symptoms.
Gluten and High-Glycaemic Flours
Gluten can cause leaky gut and neurological symptoms in people who are sensitive and elimination is the best way to assess.
Gluten-free grains like rice are allowed.
Gluten can be degraded into several morphine-like substances, named gluten exorphins and they can mask the inflammation caused by gluten, elimination for a period of time is the best way to assess, even if you have done a test for celiac disease and it is negative.
Dairy consumption is associated with higher levels of MS.
Milk proteins are particularly strong allergens and are an additional source of bioactive peptides including β-casomorphin-7 and exerts its influence on nervous, digestive, and immune functions via the opioid receptor.
There are a lot of positives to eating eggs as they are super nutrient-dense, but for some people, they can increase inflammation and can be a trigger for autoimmune conditions. It is recommended to avoid eggs for 100 days and then do an introductory trial to see if they cause problems.
Pros of Eggs
Grass-fed eggs are rich in - DHA, choline, biotin, lutein, Vitamins A, D, K2, and B3, B6, B9, B12.
Cons of Eggs
Sugar and Processed Foods
Affect blood sugar levels, cortisol, and neurological function - this can lead to a worsening of Multiple Sclerosis and autoimmune symptoms.
While it is easy to focus on the foods that you can’t have on the Wahls Protocol, let's focus on what you can have!
Plus if you follow these recommendations for 3 months and notice an improvement in your MS or autoimmune symptoms this is going to give you the motivation to continue - especially if you want to improve your energy levels, reduce pain and improve symptoms like brain fog.
Foods to Include
This is a summary of the key nutrient-dense foods to include.
6 - 12 ounces of grass-fed meat which is 150 to 300 grams of meat daily
Vegans and Vegetarians
It is possible to do the Wahls diet level one if you are vegan or vegetarian but there are a few key points to watch out for
The First Two Weeks
For most people, they will feel an improvement in the first two weeks but for some people, they may not see improvement or even feel a worsening of symptoms - this does not mean that it is not working.
It can take time to adapt to the new foods and for inflammation levels to reduce. Plus, the body needs these extra nutrients to repair and heal and this can take time.
Wahls Paleo Diet - Level Two
The big difference between level one and level two of the Wahls diet is the reduction in grains and the increase in nutrient-dense foods such as organ meats and oily fish.
9 Cups of vegetables still needed!
Meat and Fish
Nuts and seeds sprouted or soaked up to 4 ounces a day (110 grams).
¼ cup day or more.
Examples include kimchi, sauerkraut, and quality Kombucha.
Note: Do NOT exceed 1100 mcg Iodine / per day!
Reduce or Eliminate Grains (1-2 times a week)
Grains and Legumes can be potential problems for some people so on the Wahls Paleo level two we encourage you to either eliminate them or reduce to small amounts 1-2 times a week
If you eat grains then sprouting or soaking the grains will help by:
Note: Aim for 200 plant species a year, including spices.
Wahls Paleo Plus Level Three - Keto
The level three keto version of the Wahls Protocol is not for everyone, or necessarily an option to do long term, but for some people, it can have some great benefits.
If you have insulin resistance or are overweight the level three keto option is a great option to get things back into balance - in this situation it could be a good option to do for 3 months and then switch back to level one or level two.
If you have a neurodegenerative disease or cancer the Keto version can also be a good option with a number of studies showing improvements in cognitive conditions.
Level Three Keto Macronutrients
Monitor cholesterol levels and if there is a marked rise in LDL and apolipoprotein B then you will have to focus on monounsaturated fats like olive oil and eliminate/ reduce the saturated fats.
Track your ketone levels with a blood ketone monitor or a Ketone breath monitor.
Who Shouldn't Do the Level Three Keto Version
Wahls Elimination Diet - Level Four
This is the strictest of the four levels of the Wahls diet, but for people who have had long term pain and inflammation, they are often highly motivated to go straight to level four and do the elimination diet.
This is not designed to be a long term diet but something to follow strictly for 100 days and eliminate all of the potential allergens from the diet, and then re-introduce them one by one.
What to Eliminate
We continue to eliminate all of the things from level two, plus you cut out the following foods:
An elimination diet is a good option if you have done level two or three but you are still experiencing pain and inflammation OR if you are new to the Wahls Protocol and your main issue is pain, this would be a great place to start if you’re up for the challenge.
Anyone with MS, Rheumatoid arthritis, SLE or Fibromyalgia would benefit from doing the Wahls elimination diet.
Exercise and Movement of the Wahls Protocol
Exercise and movement are to help improve flexibility, balance, endurance, and strength …. And these are all aspects of health that are important for everybody, but especially if you have a chronic illness.
But you may have to do things a bit differently depending on your current fitness and level of restriction in the way you can move.
It is recommended that you work with a physical therapist who can evaluate your current level of fitness and ability, and customize a workout program just for you.
This program should focus on these key areas:
Terms like Interval Training can sound scary but when it is customized to your needs it will be something achievable for you to do.
If you are very restricted in your movements there are a number of options to help you speed up your progress - one of the main things that Dr. Terry Wahls used to aid her in recovering from being in a wheelchair to walking and riding a bike is NeuroMuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES).
NMES can help to train the muscles to get stronger, even when you are not moving or have limited movement.
Another good option is the Power Plate - these are available in many gyms or even available for purchase for home use.
Benefits of the Power Plate
Other Tools To Help Muscle Recovery
Stress Reduction and Chronic Illness Connection
Stress is a major contributing factor to chronic illnesses like MS, autoimmune conditions, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue.
A lot of people when they think of stress automatically think if mental and emotional stress, and while this can be a big factor, another major cause of stress is physical stress.
It is also important to remember that not all stress is bad, but when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed that is a good sign that you are not coping.
Examples of Emotional and Mental Stress
Examples of Physical Stress
How to Reduce Stress
There are so many ways to reduce stress, and the key is to find the one that works the best for you, while techniques like meditation are proven to reduce stress some people can struggle with sitting still and maybe need a movement based stress reduction technique.
Some of the best ways to reduce stress include:
Nutrition and Functional Medicine Testing
On the Wahls Protocol, the emphasis is to get your nutrition from whole foods, and this diet is a super nutrient-dense diet no matter which level that you choose to start at - but sometimes you may have a higher demand for a specific nutrient, or have a genetic reason why you need more, or potentially absorption issues.
I won’t recommend specific nutrients to take here as that is going to vary from person to person, but the important thing is to do specific testing to find out what nutrients you may be lacking in.
The standard doctor’s tests are good to do but they can be lacking when it comes to testing for nutrients, identifying gut issues or hormone imbalances. This is where functional medicine testing can be very helpful to identify the underlying cause.
Testing Digestion Function
This is important as absorbing nutrients and eliminating toxins is important for your health and recovery from illness.
If you know you have digestion issues the two main tests that I recommend are:
The key hormones to test are thyroid, sex hormones, and adrenal hormones as these are important to help with energy, mood, and vitality.
- 1Thyroid hormones control your metabolism, energy and if they are low can be a common cause of fatigue, weight gain, and constipation - it is important to not just be in the reference range but make sure you’re in the optimal range for TSH, free T4 and free T3 and many doctors only test TSH. Find out more about hormone testing here.
- 2Sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone need to be in the right balance, not too high and not too low - and this is equally important for both men and women. My preferred way to test the sex hormones is the DUTCH hormone test.
- 3Adrenal hormones cortisol, cortisone, and DHEA also need to be in the right balance, not too high and not too low. Adrenal dysfunction can cause inflammation, fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, and many other chronic health symptoms. The best way to test adrenal hormones is the DUTCH hormone test.
Other Functional Medicine Tests
There is a wide range of tests available and you don’t need to do them all, it is best to work with someone who is experienced in interpreting the tests and helping you with a treatment plan.
My other favorite test to do is the Organic Acids Test which measures many key areas of health like mitochondria function, fatty acid metabolism, nutrient deficiencies, methylation, neurotransmitter metabolites, and candida/ mold markers.
Depending on your symptoms you may also want to do specific tests for Lyme disease or Mold toxicity.
Quick Summary of the Wahls Protocol
These are the key aspects of the Wahls Protocol to help you overcome chronic health issues like Multiple Sclerosis, autoimmune conditions, fibromyalgia, and Chronic Fatigue.