Episode 07: The Wahls Protocol with Dr. Terry Wahls

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Meet One of My Sheroes

If you’re new to paleo and you haven’t heard of Terry Wahls, prepare to be inspired. If you’ve heard Terry speak before, and she’s one of your sheroes as well, you’re going to love this interview.

Terry is a physician with multiple sclerosis, for whom standard medication failed. In spite of receiving the best treatment available, she quickly declined to a wheelchair and was on her way to being bedridden, with no hope of improvement. She put her scientific background to work and began researching the nutrients our bodies need to heal and regenerate. She dramatically changed her diet from vegetarian to the nutrient-dense Wahls Protocol, adding 9 cups of vegetables daily to a high-quality paleo diet. Within a year, she was out of the wheelchair and on a bicycle.

Today, we talk about her protocol in detail, advice for beginners, common mistakes people make, transitioning from vegetarianism, do a guided meditation, and get an update on her clinical trials.

Listen to the Show

Show Notes

  • Intro (0:00)
  • Meet Terry (0:51)
  • Her Healing Story (1:37)
    • She was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS. In spite of receiving the best medical treatment available, she developed secondary progressive MS 3 years later.
    • Upon her doctor’s advice, she gave up 20 years of vegetarianism and began the paleo diet. However, it didn’t reverse her symptoms, and soon she was in a wheelchair.
    • Seeking solutions, she delved into nutritional science and found supplements that improved brain health. Taking those slowed her decline. But it wasn’t until she switched from supplements to whole foods that contain those nutrients, that the magic happened. Within 1 month, her brain fog was gone. Within 3 months, her fatigue was gone. Within 6 months, she was walking without a cane. Within 12 months, she was able to do a 20 mile bike ride with her family.
    • Her health and abilities continue to improve every year. She shares her improvements, as well as her remaining challenges.
  • The Wahls Protocol (9:03)
    • Targeted nutrition focuses on neurotransmitter, antioxidant and detox pathway support.
    • Level 1: Wahls Diet – Transition level from a standard American diet, with vegan, vegetarian and omnivore options.
    • Level 2: Wahls Paleo – Paleo diet with focus on the nutrient-density of organ meats.
    • Level 3: Wahls Paleo Plus – Ketogenic paleo diet with focus on coconut oil and plenty of vegetables.
    • Level 4: Elimination diet.
    • All levels incorporate 9 cups vegetables daily (on average) and are gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free.
    • Terry herself started with level 1 and progressed to the top levels over her 7 years of healing and self-experimentation. She now follows the ketogenic Wahls diet, personalized to her food sensitivities.
  • Advice for Transitioning from Vegetarianism to Paleo (14:18)
    • Start with bone broth.
    • When you become accustomed to that, add finely chopped meat to the broth, simmer until cooked, and blend into a smooth puree.
    • Next stop blending it, and grow accustomed to the texture of the meat in the soup.
    • Then expand to eating meat in other wyas. Stews and slow braises are easier to digest then grilled or roasted meat, and rare meat is easier to digest than well-done.
    • Terry shares her personal experience transitioning from vegetarianism. It took her several months to become fully comfortable with the smell, texture and taste of meat after 20 years without it.
    • Resource: Can I Do the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol as a Vegetarian?
  • Advice for Eating 9 Cups of Vegetables Daily (19:03)
    • 9 cups of vegetables is an average. Terry is 6 feet tall, so she eats 12-15 cups. Petite women do fine with 6 cups. Her advice is to remove all of the nutrient-poor foods from your diet (grains, legumes, paleo desserts, etc.), eat 6-12 ounces of meat daily (according to size and gender), and then eat as many vegetables to be satiating. If you aren’t filling up on other forms of carbohydrate, you’ll be hungry and have room for more vegetables. But don’t feel like you have to force-feed yourself to reach 9 cups.
    • Be sure you eat some from each food category every day: greens, sulfur-rich, and brightly colored.
    • Terry personally tries to eat 200 different varieties of plants over the course of a year. The more diverse our diets, the deeper our nutrition.
  • Advice for Eating Organ Meats (27:55)
    • Organ meats are incredibly nutrient-dense, so are an important part of the Wahls Protocol.
    • If you like seafood, eat some shellfish. Any time you eat the whole animal (like you do with shellfish) you are getting organ meat, which is one of the reasons shellfish are nutrient-dense as well. Mussels, clams, oysters, scallops, shrimp, etc.
    • Similarly, cricket flour is organ meat.
    • Liverwurst and liver pate are a good way to blend other flavors with organ meat to make it more palatable.
    • Terry’s great grandmother’s slow-cooked liver and onion recipe is in her book. Her children even liked this recipe.
  • Common Mistakes People Make on a Healing Diet (32:33)
    • In the gluten-free community: giving up gluten, and then stocking up on gluten-free replacements of the same packaged foods, instead of switching to a whole foods diet.
    • In the paleo community: focusing only on the foods to avoid, rather than the foods that nourish.
    • In both communities: not realizing that nutrient-density is the key to healing.
  • Lifestyle Recommendations of The Wahls Protocol (35:41)
  • Terry Guides Us Through A Simple Meditation (40:12)
  • How Soon Can People Expect to See Results? (42:47)
    • The first symptoms to improve are energy, mood and mental clarity, which usually happens within 3 months.
    • Pain relief usually occurs within 3-6 months.
    • Motor function (strength, balance, walking speed) usually improve between 6-12 months, because those abilities depend on exercise. Fatigue and pain need to improve first, before increased exercise is possible.
  • Terry’s Clinical Practice (45:15)
  • How Soon Can I Get Off My Medications? (50:45)
    • If you’re newly diagnosed and haven’t yet started medication, you might be able to avoid them altogether by starting the Wahls Protocol right away.
    • If you’re on medication, it’s important to keep taking them when you start the diet, because it takes time for the diet to lead to improvements. Work with your doctor to monitor your symptoms and only reduce and eliminate medication as you no longer need them.
    • Blood sugar medication can often be reduced within the first few weeks. Blood pressure medication can sometimes be reduced rapidly as well. Immunosuppressants take longer.
    • If you go off medication too soon, you will often cause a flare of your disease, not because the diet isn’t working, but rather because it hasn’t had time to work.
    • Ideally, work with a functional medicine practitioner to help you make these choices.
    • Also be aware that tests will often still show the presence of your autoimmune disease, even when you are feeling fabulous. This is the difference between reversing autoimmune disease and a cure. Don’t be discouraged – how we feel is far more important than what an MRI or a blood test shows.
  • Terry’s Clinical Trials (57:38)
    • Update 2020: Listen to Episode 145 for a review of all the clinical trials to date.
  • Outro (1:01:25)
    • For more information, visit Terrywahls.com. There you can find success stories for a wide range of health conditions helped by her protocol. You can also sign up for her newsletter to be kept informed of research and events. Her book, The Wahls Protocol, is available in hardcover, kindle, and paperback.
    • Eileen (your podcast host) is the author of multiple books, written to help people thrive with autoimmune disease. Learn more on the Books Page.
    • If you like this podcast, follow or subscribe through your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe to Eileen’s biweekly newsletter.
    • Check out the entire archive of podcast episodes.

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19 comments on “Episode 07: The Wahls Protocol with Dr. Terry Wahls”

  1. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s June, 2016. I ordered Wahls Protocol & started paleo plus in Aug, 2016. I am also under a functional medicine practitioner & take a lot of supplements. 6 months later my tremor is about 95% gone. I am so glad that I found the Wahls Protocol so soon after being diagnosed & immediately went to a functional medicine doctor.

    1. Kathy, how wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your testimonial. I’m so happy for you! If you haven’t already, please also write to Terry’s website. I know she loves to hear Wahls Warrior success stories: [email protected].

  2. Thank you, Eileen, for another great podcast! Really appreciate yours, and Dr. Wahl’s work. Thank you also to your husband for the music, it adds a heartwarming touch to a great interview!

    1. Thanks, April. Terry Wahls is one of my sheroes, and I will pass your kind words onto my husband. It always makes him smile.

  3. I LOVE this interview! I’ve been following Dr Wahls for about 6 months now and have significant improvements in my 20 year old MS struggle! The newly updated info in this podcast motivates me even more to push forward with new levels of compliance in hopes of more healing Thanks!

  4. What a great interview! I love all of the practical advice. I’m a vegan turned Wahls protocol, on day 15! I love my veg, but eating meat and offal is taking a lot of getting used to. I’ve found seafood– salmon, shrimp, especially smoked salmon– have been the easiest for me to enjoy. Here’s to hoping great health is on the way!

    1. Seafood is very healthy, so it’s a great place to start. Congratulations on making it day 15! It can be hard to change our diets, but the results make it so worthwhile, and it does get easier over time.

  5. I finally got around to listening to this podcast. I really appreciate Dr. Wahl’s sharing this information, and a big thank you to you too, Eileen, for making this possible. I am definitely going to increase my greens and read Dr. Wahl’s book. THANK YOU.

  6. Thank you both for this interview. I’ve been following Dr Wahls for well over a year and started her protocol 11 months ago. Now I’m starting on the AIP and I hadn’t been able to find a detailed account of how she got off her meds. I’ve listened to pretty much every interview she’s done on this subject and I can honestly say I think this is the best one- it covers everything! Thank you so much!

    1. Thanks so much, Rob! My goal with this podcast is for it fill a unique niche, asking and answering the questions from the autoimmune perspective. Terry is wonderful, because she’s so honest and has so much to teach!

  7. Thx so much Eileen for another GREAT podcast episode! Dr.Wahls is doing pioneering work that’s benefitting us all in the AI community. She and other functional medical practitioners are doing vital work to change the culture of how conventional medicine approaches chronic disease. Thx for your part in spreading the good news : )

  8. Thank you so much, Eileen and Dr. Wahls, for this very informative interview. I’ve been interested in the development of the Wahls Diet/Protocol since the original TED talk (now with ludicrous disclaimer?!) and hope to begin implementing at least the first level after an appt with my rheumatologist later this month.
    This was an excellent interview – well done, both!

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