Eating for Health – Wahls Diet Fights Multiple Sclerosis

Food is the greatest healer, according to Dr. Terry Wahls. Photo: Courtesy Dr. Terry Wahls

In 2000, her doctor diagnosed Terry Wahls with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that was steadily robbing her of the independence she treasured. A former Tae Kwondo instructor and marathon runner, the loss of mobility was devastating. For four years, she required a tilt-recline wheelchair to conduct the affairs of her daily life.

Dr. Wahls, sitting in her tilt-recline wheelchair, October 1, 2007. Photo: Courtesy Dr. Terry Wahls

Once an MS patient begins using a wheelchair, the likelihood of regaining full mobility is pretty remote.

Multiple sclerosis progressively inhibits the ability of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to communicate with each other, leading to extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, and vision and hearing loss, among other symptoms.

Wahls had no expectation of casting aside her wheelchair to walk again. Yet, today, she not only walks, but swims and rides her horse, unaided — and smiling.

Dr. Wahls is a clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and the Iowa City VAHCS (also known as the VA Medical Center).

As her health and mobility declined, the physician and researcher began seeking the commonalities in diseases that affect the brain. She found a link: mitochondrial failure.

Mitochondria are organelles within cells that essentially take what we eat and repackage it, so that we can use the nutrients from food to run the biochemistry of our body.

“Mitochondria are our energy stations, our bodies a power grid. If you don’t take care of these energy stations, the power grid is going to fail,” says Wahls.

Using Foods to Heal

Mitochondrial health soon became the main focus of Wahls’ dietary regimen, and she began eating foods that provide the essential nutrients the brain needs.

Dr. Wahls, out of her wheelchair and riding her bike again. October 1, 2008. Photo: Courtesy Dr. Terry Wahls

She developed what is now known as the Wahls diet: three servings of vegetables, three servings of sulfur-rich foods (like cabbage, broccoli, and kale), and three servings of brightly colored foods, mostly fruit.

Wahls also eliminated dairy and white flour from her diet, and limited her intake of meat.

“Now I eat much more like people would have eaten 50,000 years ago, mostly raw, and mostly plants,” Wahls says.

Her nutrient-rich diet, combined with an electrical stimulation program and physical therapy, slowed the progression of her disease.

In a few months, she was doing well enough to stand, make dinner, and shop.

“I began to do the tasks of daily life again,” Wahls says.

Nine months into her new diet, she was off all medications for multiple sclerosis. Eventually, she no longer needed a wheelchair or walking canes. Today, she bikes to work, cross-country skis, rides her horse, and swims.

Following her miraculous recovery, Wahls felt she needed to answer a very important question: Could this revolutionary diet have the same healing effects for others?

She assembled a team of senior scientists, neurologists, nutritionists, and neuropsychologists to conduct clinical trials using the conduct clinical trials using “intensive, directed nutrition and neuromuscular electrical stimulation to combat advanced Parkinson’s disease and secondary and primary progressive multiple sclerosis.”

In one study, participants with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis are following the Wahls diet for one year. In just the first three months, the preliminary data has already shown a dramatic improvement in participants’ energy level, mobility, and mood.

A Diet for Everyone

Terry Wahls, healthy and happy. October 1, 2009. Photo: Courtesty Dr. Terry Wahls

Wahls stresses that her diet is not just for those suffering with multiple sclerosis. As individuals, she says, we all need to learn to eat for health.

“The standard American diet is so poor that 90 percent of Americans are likely missing nutrients that are very important to conducting the biology of life.

“We ingest a lot of calories, but very few micronutrients, so we are increasingly obese plus increasingly starved. It is food that restores our health, especially when we are faced with chronic disease and mental illness,” says Wahls.

“Most Americans do not understand that we could eat for greater health. We spend a lot of money on caffeine, a lot of money on energy drinks, a lot of money on food to make us feel better as ‘quick fixes.’

“If we ate for health, we would have so much more energy, so much more vitality, so much more joy in our life. We wouldn’t need caffeine to get through the day.”

Since her recovery, Wahls has written two books. Up from the Chair chronicles her story of overcoming secondary progressive MS.

Minding My Mitochondria provides an enlightening look at why Americans’ health has declined, the importance of micronutrients, and solutions to eating healthier.

Dr. Wahls is also popular lecturer, whose Food as Medicine series teaches participants the essential connection between what we eat and our health — or lack of it. For more information, visit or

Kara Bennett

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)