Balanced Bites Podcast #130: Dr. Terry Wahls on “The Wahls Protocol;” Paleo for Multiple Sclerosis & Autoimmunity


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1.  Updates [2:55]
2.  Introducing our guest, Dr. Terry Wahls [4:07]
3.  Autoimmunity diagnoses younger and younger [12:17]
4.  The importance of nutrient density [14:05]
5.  Other autoimmune conditions benefited from the Wahls Protocol [17:12]
6.  Signs of mitochondrial starvation [20:06]
7.  Levels on the Wahls Protocol [22:56]
8.  Why the Wahls Protocol eliminates eggs [26:17]
9.  Nightshades [28:23]
10.  Why sulfur is so important [32:36]
11.  Incorporating organ meats [36:45]
12.  Beyond the food; lifestyle elements on the protocol [38:10]
13.  The Wahls Foundation [43:09]
14.  Final comments from Dr. Wahls [47:22]
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Diane Sanfilippo: Hey everyone! Diane here. Welcome to episode 130 of the Balanced Bites podcast. I am really excited today; I have a very special guest, and we’ll jump into that interview in just a minute. But before we do that, I just wanted to mention our sponsors. Paleo Treats, if you are looking for individually packaged paleo goodies so you can enjoy one, and maybe not dive headfirst into an entire dozen of grain-free cookies maybe you just baked, check out Paleo Treats. Get 15% off when you enter the code BALANCEDBITES at checkout over on their website, which is For those of you who are tree nut free, their Mac Attack is delicious, which is like a coconut macaroon with cacao nibs in it. That one’s my favorite. Pete’s Paleo, bringing fine dining to your cave. Pete’s Paleo makes eating real food easy by taking the work out of your meal planning and prep. It’s a great idea for those nights when you get home from the gym and it’s too late to cook or you just want to just get dinner on the table fast, forget about the boxed preservative and junk-loaded meals, and keep some Pete’s Paleo on hand in your freezer. It can be ready in a flash. Pete’s is offering a free pound of bacon. They’ve got some really amazing locally sourced, well raised pork that they make the most delicious bacon out of, and you can get a free pound of that with any meal plan order. Just enter code BALANCEDBITESROCKS at checkout. Their website is Finally, Chameleon Cold-Brew, our favorite organic, fair trade, smooth tasting caffeinated beverage. That’s Chameleon Cold-Brew coffee. You can find out where you can buy that locally by checking out their website, or, you can get an amazing discount off of your online order when you enter code BALANCEDBITES at checkout. is their website.
1. Updates [2:55]
Diane Sanfilippo: And, I think the only update that I’ve got for everyone today, I just wanted to remind you guys that the Balanced Bites online nutrition workshop will be rolling out in the coming months. We’ll put a link here on the show notes to make sure you have a chance to sign up to find out when registration opens up for that. Liz and I are really excited to be able to put this whole thing online with additional resources, transcripts, and worksheets, and so much more information than we were ever able to give you guys in a full day seminar, even teaching in person, because 8 hours seems like a long time, but shockingly we can’t cover as much as we even want to in a full day plus obviously tons of you are just unable to come out to the handful of cities that we’ve been able to get to, so we really wanted to find a way to reach as many people as possible with this information, and also give you an opportunity to learn it at your own pace and kind of get some self-checks along the way, and also review it. You can go back and review the information, it’s not just a one-time thing. So, stay tuned for that. Be sure to click on the link on the website. I believe I have it up on, if you click on events you can get to that page where you can sign up, but we’ll also put the link in the notes.
2. Introducing our guest, Terry Wahls [4:07]
Diane Sanfilippo: So, without any further hesitation, I want to introduce briefly my guest here before I let her introduce herself. Dr. Terry Wahls is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa, Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City. She’s made it her mission to spread the word about the Wahls Protocol through her book, her lectures, and her website, and Food is Medicine classes. In 2009, her first book, Minding My Mitochondria was the first time she introduced her ideas about a specific nutritional protocol for MS, and her new book is called The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine. I am absolutely thrilled to have her here on the show today, and I just wanted to say welcome, Dr. Wahls.
Terry Wahls: Great, thank you so much. I’m very glad to be here, as well.
Diane Sanfilippo: I will never forget at PaleoFx last year when we were getting ready for this Women in Paleo panel, and I think it was myself and 4 other ladies up on the stage, and you came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder, and you knew my name, and it was like this really nerdy nutrition geek moment for me. I was like, Dr. Wahls knows who I am? This whole thing, I just had this little moment where that was probably my little, I don’t get geeked out about movie stars and celebrities like that, but I got really geeked out that you knew my name, so I just figured I would tell you about that because I thought it was really funny {laughs}
Terry Wahls: Oh, thank you.
Diane Sanfilippo: So why don’t you tell folks. For those who haven’t seen your Ted Talk, which if you haven’t I’m going to link to it [click here], we might actually be able to embed it right in the show notes page.
Terry Wahls: Yeah.
Diane Sanfilippo: I’m sure there are a few folks who haven’t seen it, but why don’t you tell folks a little bit about the background.
Terry Wahls: Sure.
Diane Sanfilippo: You don’t have to get too in depth, because I’ll point them to that video, but where you came from and how you developed the protocol?
Terry Wahls: Absolutely. So, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis n 2000, and that was on the basis of having had some dim vision earlier in 1987, episodes of occipital neuritis, facial pain, and then in 2000 I started stumbling and had weakness in my left leg. I had a big list of blood tests, nerve conduction velocities, MRIs of my brain and spinal cord, and a spinal tap, which showed lesions in my spinal cord and abnormal spinal fluid, or oligobands. I decided to get a second opinion at one of the best MS centers in the world, the Cleveland Clinic, and they said, yes, you have MS, so I started taking a disease modifying drug, copaxone. In the next 3 years, I only had one episode of weakness in 2001, which did resolve. So that would be considered a success, except I had steadily deteriorated so that by 2003, my physicians told me it was time to get a scooter, then changed his mind and suggested a tilt recline wheelchair because of the severe fatigue and the back weakness that I experienced. You know, when I hit the wheelchair is when I was motivated to start taking matters into my own hands more. I started reading the scientific literature, looking at the basic science, because I knew the studies in mice, somewhere in there would be the standard of care that would happen in 20 or 30 years. And I’ll also tell you, Diane, in 2002, while I was still walking around, I discovered Loren Cordain, and I had adopted a paleo diet, stopped grains, stopped dairy, stopped legumes, but I had continued to decline. Now, when I hit the wheelchair, I started reading mouse studies, and I was looking at studies with shrinking brains, and so I slowly identified some vitamin supplements, amino acids that I could add, and I had the sense that this was slowing the rate of my decline, and I was very grateful but of course I was still declining. In 2007, I discovered the Institute of Functional Medicine, which deepened my understanding about leaky gut and detoxification pathways. I had a longer list of supplements that I added. And then later that same fall, I had a really brilliant idea that I should take this long list of nutrients, I had 19, I should figure out where they are in the food supply. So that took more research, but I reorganized my diet using paleo principles to make sure I was getting these 19 nutrients from the food. And that’s when the magic began to happen. Very quickly my fatigued markedly improved. My mental clarity markedly improved. I was soon able to walk using a cane between exam rooms. And then walking fairly well without a cane. I was able to get back on my bike after 6 years of not being able to bike. And within the year of starting my diet that I now call the Wahls Protocol, I was able to do an 18-mile bicycle ride with my family. You know, and I was tired, but it was a gift I thought I would never, ever get to do again. The following year, I did a trail ride in the Canadian Rockies, and met with some people in Canada who agreed to give me funding to being a clinical trial. So that trial is now testing my protocol in others with MS. And I’ve written a book, I’ve written now a second book. I’m really so grateful to have my life back that I’m committed to try and teach people that food and lifestyle either create disease or create health, depending, of course, on the choices that we make.
Diane Sanfilippo: It’s just such an incredible story, and I think that one of the big pushes is that sometimes people don’t take this stuff as seriously as I think they should, because I think a lot of times it’s almost more upsetting to realize how much control we can have. As strange as that sounds. People want that diagnosis, and I’m going to ask about this one in a minute because I know you talk about this in your book, this whole, what do I have, what’s my diagnosis, and I think that tendency to want the diagnosis and then a pill versus learning about exactly what you just said, you know; what we do is either supporting our body or not in achieving that health and natural balance. I think people are so used to the victim mentality, and that doesn’t mean they want to be that way, they’re just used to it. I think this is a very empowering movement that we have all around, so I think having your experience with a very specific diagnosis and being an MD is really just what, for me, helps to solidify it for a lot of people.
Terry Wahls: Yes.
Diane Sanfilippo: It brings those things together. I wanted to just quickly ask you, and I don’t know if maybe you mentioned this or just you said what year; what age were you when you hit the point where you were given the wheelchair?
Terry Wahls: 48.
Diane Sanfilippo: Ok, so what I’m seeing in just meeting folks and kind of talking to people and questions is that these diagnoses of MS are coming younger and younger.
Terry Wahls: Yes.
Diane Sanfilippo: I’m talking to a lot of women; do you see that it’s more women than men?
Terry Wahls: It’s 80% women.
Diane Sanfilippo: Ok.
Terry Wahls: The primary progressive is much more men, I think about 70% men.
Diane Sanfilippo: Ok. So, I’ve had women in my seminars who are in their 20s and 30s, and there was one seminar I had where it was 2 or 3 women who had been diagnosed with MS. So, younger and younger, and this is true of really, I think all autoimmunity that we’re seeing.
Terry Wahls: Yes.
3. Autoimmunity diagnoses younger and younger [12:17]
Diane Sanfilippo: Why do you think it’s hitting younger and younger?
Terry Wahls: Well, with each generation, the onset of the chronic disease tends to occur 6-10 years earlier. So, your autoimmune disease will occur earlier, diabetes, heart disease will occur earlier. That’s because we have these terrible diets, we have toxins, and it’s making epigenetic changes in our own DNA and the DNA of our offspring. So, the bad diet and lifestyle choices that you make will take 4 generations of optimal health and nutrition to fully reverse that.
Diane Sanfilippo: Right, so It’s a very cumulative effect?
Terry Wahls: It’s a cumulative effect.
Diane Sanfilippo: And so this is, a lot of times we talk about constitution as being sort of a foundation upon which we’re building, and our constitution is really the sort of what you were born with. And it’s not really just your genetics, it’s sort of what you’re saying. It’s almost like internal epigenetic triggers, like these nutrient deficiencies that are really deep, or just certain switches that have been turned on and off from that many generations back of nutrition and lifestyle of our great-grandparents or our great-great-grandparents, and forward. So a lot of us are really working with the hand that we’re dealt, and then we need to build upon that, which is I think why it’s so important what you’re talking about, which is my next question. I want to get a little bit more in depth on the difference between the Wahls Protocol and the Wahls Paleo Diet versus the “paleo diet”, what people think of.
4. The importance of nutrient density [14:05]
Terry Wahls: Oh, sure.
Diane Sanfilippo: And you know, Liz and I often talk about chicken, broccoli, and coconut oil becomes this thing. You know, people think about paleo and they hear to ditch certain foods, and the first approach people to start with is just getting rid of what they shouldn’t eat. And that’s ok.
Terry Wahls: Yeah.
Diane Sanfilippo: That’s kind of where you started, too.
Terry Wahls: It’s an important step.
Diane Sanfilippo: Right. So, at some point, it becomes a suboptimal approach because of exactly what you said, trying to get more of these nutrients, and trying to make sure we’re getting a nutrient-dense diet. Can you talk a little bit more about that, and just that switch, and how important it is to really focus on that?
Terry Wahls: So, nutrient-density is what really drives health. If you look at traditional hunter-gatherer societies, we have the Inuit in the far north that have a 90% fat diet, fermented meats and fat, whale blubber, and then you can look at the Kitavans that have a 60% carbohydrate diet. But when you analyze the micronutrients of both these diets, they still exceed the RDA, two to tenfold depending on the nutrient. So, that’s very, very helpful. But they’re eating wild foods. Us modern hunter-gatherers who are eating agricultural foods that have less vitamins, minerals, essential fat content than the wild foods. So that’s problem number 1, that we’re dealing with agricultural foods, less nutrient density. And we don’t have that ancestral wisdom to tell us how to organize what we’re eating every day to maximize the nutrition. So, what I did, based on my review of the scientific literature, I identified ultimately 31 nutrients that science says are very important to brain cells. Then I went through food research to figure out what foods and food groups would I need, and created a structure so people could then plan their day. Then we created menus, and we tested using our nutrition analysis software, at the same scientific level I do in my research, does this diet plan meet what I say it needs to have? So, in a process, we created the Wahls diet, the Wahls paleo diet, and the paleo plus. So, it’s paleo, but it’s structured in a way so that if you follow this, you’ve maximized your nutrition for your brain cells and your immune cells. So, I think that’s why I see such extraordinary youthening in my clinical practice when we get people fully on board.
Diane Sanfilippo: I want to ask you a little bit more about the mitochondrial starvation and kind of more details on that.
Terry Wahls: Yes.
Diane Sanfilippo: But before we even talk about that, I actually I want to point out, and I guess ask you as well, your book talks about a focus on how you beat progressive MS doing this, but it’s really helpful for anybody. Any of us could be eating this way,
Terry Wahls: Yes.
5. Other autoimmune conditions benefitted from the Wahls Protocol [17:12]
Diane Sanfilippo: Whether or not we have an autoimmune condition, we can all be focusing on mitochondrial health. But what other autoimmune conditions have you seen folks coming in and tackling this protocol and really seeing some amazing benefits with?
Terry Wahls: Psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, eczema. And, Diane, the latest research now says atherosclerosis is an autoimmune disease, and that some of our psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar, may be autoimmune in nature. So, my clinical impressions are if you have an autoimmune problem, this approach will certainly help you reduce symptoms, and over time very likely allow you to reduce and potentially eliminate your disease modifying drugs. And, people with heart disease, diabetes, and obesity who adapt this protocol, they come in losing weight, having more energy, more mental clarity, and they do very well. It’s a great tune up for everyone.
Diane Sanfilippo: It’s not surprising to me at all. One of the things that I did with Practical Paleo which, I think the reason you came up to me at PaleoFx is that I point people to your information, which when I do an update to that book I’ll make sure that it’s a little more specific to the new book as well, but in the meal plan I have for MS, I did a similar thing where I was looking at nutrients that are supportive for brain health, and listing out, which is what all of the meal plans in my book do, specifically the write ups before the actual food part. What I did was I introduced the nutrients and what they do, and then gave a list of foods to find them in, and let those people know, these are the foods you need to focus on. The meal plan itself, because it’s based on the recipes in the book, it wasn’t vetted the way yours is.
Terry Wahls: Yeah.
Diane Sanfilippo: So yours, really, run through all these nutritional calculators, it’s not the same approach that I had in my book. It was a little more like, here’s where to start. Yours is way more in depth and way more specific, but the same kind of approach because that’s what we learn as nutrition consultants. We go through hundreds of hours of nutritional training, and it’s about just supporting the body’s own natural function. So I think that’s really what people need to understand about what we’re looking to do with nutrition, and why it’s so critical. So, I want to just have you go over a couple of the signs of mitochondrial starvation, because I think it’s really interesting to hear what that might look like.
6. Signs of mitochondrial starvation [20:06]
Terry Wahls: Sure. So, I want to refresh the knowledge on mitochondria. They are in our cells, and they take the food energy, convert it to chemical energy in the form of ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, and your cells use that to power all the chemistry of life so that we can make our protein molecules, make structures, and have that cell live. The mitochondria can use sugar, fat, and some amino acids to make this conversion. They need a lot of B-vitamins, they need minerals like zinc and magnesium, sulfur, and they have to be protected from heavy metal poisons like lead, mercury, arsenic. They have to be protected from a lot of free radicals, because that will damage the membranes. If the mitochondria don’t have all of those minerals and vitamins to function well, they can’t generate very much ATP. And so the cell can’t function. The best way of looking for strained mitochondria or mitochondria that are starved are fatigue. When the person is fatigued, the mitochondria are not creating enough energy. Another good signal is brain fog. Heart failure will do this. A very focused resuscitation or reinvigoration of your mitochondria through this very intentionally designed nutritional program is generally quite successful. In my clinical practice and in my clinical trials, fatigue is the first thing we see improve with this intentional nutritional program.
Diane Sanfilippo: And fatigue is one of those nonspecific symptoms. People are dealing with fatigue all over the place, but it’s really one of the first signs that things are headed south regardless of what maybe the next step might be. It’s funny, that’s one of the things I talk about with the 21-Day Sugar Detox is this whole feeling of being tired because we’re not feeding our cells what they need and literally our cells can’t get what they need to produce energy in the form of ATP. It’s something that people don’t think about on the cellular level what the problem is with these nutrient-poor foods or refined foods that are basically causing our body to use up stored nutrients to metabolize them. But they’re not delivering any nutrients, so we’re creating this deficit. Our cells are trying to create more ATP, but we’re not giving them the nutrients they need to really do that.
Terry Wahls: Yes.
7. Levels on the Wahls Protocol [22:56]
Diane Sanfilippo: Leading to this really serious fatigue in some ways. Can you talk a little bit more about sulfur and its importance in your protocol? I’m kind of going into some details before I talk about some of the bigger picture stuff, so maybe actually I’ll back up and have you just talk briefly about the different levels of your program.
Terry Wahls: Oh, sure.
Diane Sanfilippo: And then some of the details of the program. So, let’s talk about the levels first, actually.
Terry Wahls: So, in terms of the nutrition levels, I decided it was very important to have an introductory level that would be very approachable, easy, less intimidating. That’s the Wahls Diet, and that stresses the 9 cups of vegetables, 3 cups of green leaves, 3 cups of sulfur rich vegetables, 3 cups of brightly colored vegetables and fruits, high quality protein, preferably animal protein but I do give guidance to our vegetarian and vegans who are not going to eat animal protein, and we talk about getting enough omega-3 fats. That’s the Wahls Diet. Then, the next level is the Wahls Paleo Diet, and I should say in the Wahls diet we are, of course, gluten-free, dairy free, and egg free. You continue to be gluten free, dairy free, and egg free in the Paleo. Now, we insist on animal protein. We talk about organ meat, 12 ounces a week. Omega-3 sources of meats, 16 ounces a week. Fermented foods, nuts and seeds that have been soaked or sprouted. And seaweed. Then I talk about Wahls Paleo Plus, and that’s the ketogenic diet, and we explain why people may want to use a ketogenic diet. Then I discuss some of the flaws with the other ketogenic diets that are out there and the risks of coming into ketosis but not having enough of the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to run your cells metabolism properly. And so we have, in the ketogenic version of the diet, further restriction on the carbs, further restriction on the fruit, and we teach people how to monitor their ketones and make dietary adjustments as necessary.
Diane Sanfilippo: Ok, so a couple of things that you mentioned in talking about the different levels, which I think that’s critical for people to understand, that they don’t all need to jump into that most intensive level to see a benefit. Which is the same thing that we talk about all the time, first getting rid of problematic foods is critical, and then taking that first step, and touching that the Wahls protocol initially they’ll see amazing benefits, and to assume that they need to go right to that Paleo Plus to see the benefits I think can be overwhelming for people.
Terry Wahls: Yes.
8. Why the Wahls Protocol eliminates eggs [26:17]
Diane Sanfilippo: So I want to make sure that people know that there are stages for a reason, and you don’t have to go through all of them, I’m sure, but I think in order to make it more sustainable, that’s really the best kind of approach. So, just a couple of food specific things that you mentioned that I know people will be curious about. You mentioned it being egg free, do you want to talk about just briefly why it’s egg free?
Terry Wahls: When I look at the risks of food sensitivities, we all know about gluten and dairy being at high risk. The protein in eggs can also be sensitizing in higher risk, so I ask people to remove those three foods. If they want to do a rechallenge after they’ve been free of those foods for at least a month, but ideally several, I explain how to do that. The reason we have continued to be egg free is that I have a severe food sensitivity to eggs. If I have any eggs, I end up with horrific pain, so when we started doing our clinical trial, the institution review board said that we had to implement the protocol that I used as closely as we can. So that meant we’ve been using an egg-free diet, as well. And that’s the diet that I have our clinical research on. So we’ve continued that.
Diane Sanfilippo: I think that’s an important note to make. I did have a client with MS, this was maybe 2 years ago now, or maybe a little bit less, and I did have her come off of the eggs for a while, and she didn’t feel any better being off of the eggs, and for her, she reintroduced them and I recommended that she do it with the yolk first.
Terry Wahls: Smart.
Diane Sanfilippo: Because it’s not going to have quite that problematic protein. And yolks are, correct me if I’m wrong, rich in sulfur.
Terry Wahls: Yes.
Diane Sanfilippo: And choline, which are really critical for our health. But it’s getting the good with the potentially irritating proteins is not always the best approach. So that’s one of those individual needs, and I think it’s important for people to know that they’re eliminated pretty strictly because that was the protocol that you were following.
Terry Wahls: Mm-hmm.
9. Nightshades [28:23]
Diane Sanfilippo: I always recommend that people get rid of those foods for at least a month, as well. Nightshades. Can we talk a little bit about nightshades?
Terry Wahls: Yes, nightshades.
Diane Sanfilippo: I know those are a hot topic in every autoimmune paleo protocol, and this even from my holistic nutrition studies.
Terry Wahls: Yeah.
Diane Sanfilippo: More specifically, generally focused around joint pain. When we talked about nightshades, it was more about arthritis and things like that.
Terry Wahls: Mm-hmm.
Diane Sanfilippo: But I’ve seen a lot of folks have irritation from nightshades beyond joint pain.
Terry Wahls: Yeah.
Diane Sanfilippo: But your program includes them. Can you just talk about your research there?
Terry Wahls: So, this is all about lectins and the sugar protein molecule, and whether or not these lectins are particularly irritating. I think what people may not realize is that nearly all of our foods that we eat have lectins in them. So it’s not simply the nightshades as the only ones that have lectins. There is some literature, and Cordain did a very nice article talking about the lectins and people with rheumatoid arthritis having a higher probability of problems with that. So, in my book I talk about that nightshades do have lectins, and that for some people they will have increased inflammatory response to these lectins. So, they may want to remove the nightshade family from their diet. I did not universally remove them; one, I’ve had no problems with nightshades. In my clinical practice, and in our clinical trial, most of our subjects are still consuming nightshades and doing so without problem. I tried to be very thoughtful about what foods I’m going to say you must remove, and then in my book I talk about foods that may cause problems, which of course include tree nuts, citrus, strawberries, shellfish, and the nightshades. And we talk about the potential need to go on more strict antigenic restricting diets to help sort this out and food allergy testing and ALCAT testing to give final guidance. It’s very tough
Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah.
Terry Wahls: To give a public health message, which foods are safe, which are not.
Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah.
Terry Wahls: I think you have to have a very narrow area. This is what you need to take out. These other foods may be problematic, and then you may need some guidance with a nutritionist and a health care practitioner to help sort out which of these other foods could be giving you problems.
Diane Sanfilippo: It’s one of those things, too, where a lot of folks who are becoming critical of paleo because some of us have become, quote unquote, more strict or even less strict than what the original approach to paleo would have been. I think those of us who are teaching people about this know very, very well that it isn’t just a broad sweeping, these foods are not ok for us, these foods are ok for us. Because for some people, you know, nuts, and nightshades, and eggs are problematic, and for some people they’re not. And for some people, white rice is not problematic, and so we’re trying to teach people about all these different nuances, and at the end of the day, we’re trying to teach people how to tune into what their body is telling them.
Terry Wahls: Precisely.
Diane Sanfilippo: And make the decision for themselves based on the information we’re presenting in terms of options and, “here’s what we’re seeing, now what do you see.” And you do it because everybody wants these nutrition and diet books to tell them exactly what to do and the problem is none of us can do that in the most specific fine-tuned way because every person’s constitution is a little bit different. So, I think that’s important to pay attention to, and I think it’s important also to follow these protocols as written, but if you’re experiencing major problems because you’re still including certain foods that may be problematic, to pay attention to that.
Terry Wahls: Mm-hmm.
10. Why sulfur is so important [32:36]
Diane Sanfilippo: So, anyway. Just a couple more notes on the specifics of some food. I did want to ask you, as I alluded to before, more about sulfur and its importance in your protocol, because you have folks eating 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables. Can you tell us why sulfur is so important?
Terry Wahls: Yes. Sulfur is going to be used by your mitochondria to help generate the energy. There is a particular compound, glutathione, that is in our cells that is a very potent antioxidant. It captures those free radicals and protects the cell membrane to the cell DNA very well. So, to continually refresh your glutathione, you need a rich source of sulfur, and that’s where eating the sulfur vegetables is so helpful. So it helps you with your antioxidants, it helps your ATP, make more energy, and then in your brain there is a neurotransmitter, gamma aminobutyric acid, that is a very calming transmitter. It inhibits pain, it calms the mood, and it inhibits muscle spasticity and stiffness. So, as I was designing my protocol, I wanted to be sure that my mitochondria had plenty of sulfur, and that my brain could make plenty of this gamma aminobutyric acid. So, I particularly stressed vegetables from the cabbage family, the brassicas, the onion family, and the mushrooms for that reason.
Diane Sanfilippo: It’s also really important to note how critical sulfur is to liver detoxification and just how much our liver is actually doing all the time. I kind of love talking about the liver, but I know a lot of folks too who get hung up on digestibility of those foods, and they also get a little hung up on the goitrogenic potential of …
Terry Wahls: Yeah.
Diane Sanfilippo: You know, it’s like every single food we talk about, it’s all these amazing healthful properties, and then there’s always some downsides to them as well. I guess I won’t say every food, primarily it tends to be plant foods that are sometimes, you know, the good and the bad.
Terry Wahls: Correct.
Diane Sanfilippo: And plant foods more than animal foods.
Terry Wahls: It’s those little bad parts of the plant that stimulate the enzyme productions in our liver and our kidneys to run more efficiently at detoxification.
Diane Sanfilippo: Nice.
Terry Wahls: It’s part of why I talk about the need to have diversity, in that our ancestors had 200 different species they would consume in the year.
Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs}
Terry Wahls: We should be trying to consume 200 species. I’m working on it; I’m over 150, so I’m going to get to my 200. But it does require intention.
Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, I think a lot of us are eating the same probably 5, 10 if we’re lucky, vegetables. So, I was thinking about this. I don’t want to set myself up on a challenge, yet, but I was thinking about doing a 30 day, 30 different plant foods challenge or something like that, because I think a lot of us do eat the same ones over and over again.
Terry Wahls: Yes.
Diane Sanfilippo: So I think that would be really interesting challenge.
Terry Wahls: It gets a little bit easier, Diane, if you include your teas and spices as the different species.
Diane Sanfilippo: That is a good point.
Terry Wahls: So when I realized I could do that, it’s like, ok. I got a nice bowl of some extra numbers that way.
Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah.
Terry Wahls: So I think it’s quite possible to get 30 new species in a month if you include your teas and spices.
11. Incorporating organ meats [36:45]
Diane Sanfilippo: Alright. I’m going to set that one up at some point in the not so distant future. Ok, so let me see what other questions I definitely wanted to ask you here. So, before we get to some beyond the nutritional approach, beyond the food, what are your favorites ways to incorporate organ meats into the diet, because this is a huge topic that we have. Liz and I talk about superfoods, and a bunch of the stuff you’ve been talking about; organ meats, we talk about sea vegetables, and omega-3 and getting that from food. So what are your favorite ways to eat organ meats?
Terry Wahls: Liver and onions with mushrooms, and I make a big batch so you have that for supper, then I take the leftovers and make them into liver pate, and I have that in the mornings for my breakfast. Heart with mushrooms and onions; that’s like the best steak you’ll ever, ever have. I’m of course very fond of oysters and mussels, raw or cooked. And if I cook them, I’ll make them a little bit spicy with some horseradish and red pepper. And I’m grateful the nightshades don’t bother me, so I can still enjoy my red peppers and hot peppers.
Diane Sanfilippo: I’ve been on an oyster kick, this weekend I think I had 2 dozen oysters because I wanted to get a ton of zinc in.
Terry Wahls: yes!
Diane Sanfilippo: Trying to kick this sinus infection. I was like, I don’t take zinc lozenges, but I’ll buy myself a dozen oysters right now. Just raw oysters with fresh lemon juice, that’s my favorite way.
Terry Wahls: That’s very good.
12. Beyond the food; lifestyle elements on the protocol [38:10]
Diane Sanfilippo: Ok, so let’s just talk a little bit beyond the food about what kind of lifestyle elements are covered in the book that people should know they’ll be addressing when it comes to the Wahls Protocol.
Terry Wahls: One of the things we talk about is journaling. The benefits of writing a few minutes and becoming more intentional in terms of what are your challenges and what your goals are. So that is helpful. Talk about stress reducing activities and the wide varieties of things that thousands of studies have shown to be helpful. Of course, I have a very detailed chapter about supplements, which ones may be helpful for your brain, for detoxification, etc, and I explain that these supplements may have been helpful, and these are where those compounds are in the food supply so this is why I designed my diet the way I did. I then help people understand why they might want to take a supplement, or why not. We talk a lot about exercise, and the need to have progressive exercise; in particular, strength training and balance training. It’s not just cardio that we have to work on. So I have some great drawings, illustrations for this progressive exercise program. And we talk about electrical stimulation of muscles, electrical therapy, and again I have some diagrams there for that, as well. I also help people see inspiration from other Wahls Warriors as the book goes through, so people realize that this helps far more than just MS.
Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, I do love the stories throughout. It was actually on my list of notes, and I’ve seen you’ve posted a lot of that up on Facebook and social media just to share the stories. I think a lot of time all of this can seem really overwhelming to people, and I don’t know that it’s as compelling without those stories. You know what I mean? When you just look at this, ok here’s what I have to do, it seems scary. But when you actually see how many people are able to help themselves, it should be empowering.
Terry Wahls: It’s easy for my physician colleagues to dismiss me as a single case, so what?
Diane Sanfilippo: Right.
Terry Wahls: But, when we have more and more people saying, you know, I was in a really bad way too. I’ve adapted the diet, and now I’m going to the gym and working with a personal trainer.
Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah.
Terry Wahls: You know, that’s a very impressive story.
Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, it is.
Terry Wahls: And we see that time and time again.
Diane Sanfilippo: I want to point out too, for people who are listening who, if this might affect you or someone you know, in terms of mobility and needing to work on some of the exercise. I know a lot of the exercises in your book involve a stability ball. I personally worked with a CHEK holistic lifestyle coach and also a CHEK certified exercise coach. Paul Chek is the organizer of that organization. He founded the organization, and the acronym is Corrective Holistic Exercise Kinesiology, and I know a lot of times people are looking for trainers who get it about all of this stuff, and I always point people to the CHEK Institute website, because your CHEK trainers are not just going to be there to give you a hard workout. They’re really there to help correct your movement and help your body move better, and so I think folks who are dealing with issues of movement patterns and perhaps some issues around some less able-bodied movement, those are the type of people who I think would be very gentle and understand how to help you move better in a progressive way. So I always like to point people to the CHEK Institute if you’re looking for a trainer, you can bring them the book and say here’s what she wants me to do, and you’ll find that Paul Chek actually has all of these same exercises in his program that he puts people through. So I just wanted to point that out. We covered most of what I wanted to talk about, so I’m really glad you actually ended up bringing up some additional questions I had here. I wanted to briefly talk also about the Wahls Foundation, because I am not somebody who will donate money to cancer research, for example. I don’t feel like certain foundations are going to do what I want them to do with my money. {laughs} You know, the research or the money might be going to a lot of different things that are not specific to the kind of research that I would hope that they’re doing. Right?
Terry Wahls: Yeah.
13. The Wahls Foundation [43:09]
Diane Sanfilippo: So, the Wahls Foundation is one, when people ask me {laughs} where they could donate money to help with some paleo oriented research, it’s where I point them.
Terry Wahls: Oh, thank you!
Diane Sanfilippo: Can you talk a little bit more about the foundation and how people can get more involved with that?
Terry Wahls: So, the foundation raises money for the Wahls Research Fund, which is managed by the University of Iowa’s foundation. And the Wahls Research Fund is funding studies that use the Wahls diet, the Wahls paleo or paleo plus diet. We have a study now going on in MS that uses the entry level Wahls diet and the ketogenic diet, and usual care. And we’re trying to show the level of difference between those diets and usual care. It’s very exciting. I’m writing a grant now to go to do essentially the same kind of study in fibromyalgia, which there are 4 million people with fibromyalgia with lots of pain and fatigue, and we’ll be using usual care and the USDA diet, and the Wahls diet for the intervention arms for that study. And so, having the Wahls Research Fund, it lets you have access to pilot studies, so there will be about 50 to $100,000 to run a small pilot nutrition study like this. We get the money to run that, we get preliminary data, then I sit down with my team, we write a big grant, or at least a larger grant to go to the MS Society or the NIH. But for all of those, you need preliminary data, and that’s where the seed money from the Wahls Research Fund is so profoundly helpful.
Diane Sanfilippo: I think it’s really important, because a lot of times people are throwing around studies and saying, ‘red meat causes cancer” and it’s all kinds of correlative studies, and they’re not done on an actual nutrition program that people are following very specifically, and it’s really hard to do that kind of research, and it’s really hard to get the money for the research.
Terry Wahls: Mm-hmm.
Diane Sanfilippo: Exactly what you’re saying; if people are looking to donate to get this information out there and proven in a better way, if we can help fund some of these pilot studies, that’s where I think it’s a much better way to spend our money if we’re looking to contribute to something that will be able to have a more far reaching effect. And fibromyalgia; I mean, that is such a huge problem because people don’t know what’s causing it. It matters and it doesn’t. It’s like, we need to figure out the root.
Terry Wahls: The root cause is going to be in the diet and lifestyle.
Diane Sanfilippo: Exactly.
Terry Wahls: So addressing diet and lifestyle will help reduce symptoms, whether or not it completely eliminates them, we don’t know yet.
Diane Sanfilippo: Right.
Terry Wahls: But I’m very confident, and when we get the fibro study up and running, we’ll have some very exciting results from that study, as well.
Diane Sanfilippo: I think that’s amazing, and I’m excited about all of that. To have something that we can really turn to as a way to give back to some of this. I know a lot of people are grateful for the information that we’re all sharing, and certainly they can purchase a book and help themselves and support the work in that way, but this is kind of a more profound way to help out and keep the movement going.
Terry Wahls: So if people want to do that, they can go to my website, You’ll see on the front page a place to donate to the Wahls Research Fund, or you can go see a bit more information there., and you’ll see a place to donate to the Wahls Research Fund.
14. Final comments from Dr. Wahls [47:22]
Diane Sanfilippo: Awesome. What else do you want to tell folks about the book, about the protocol, about your work, anything?
Terry Wahls: Well, a couple of things. I’ve had many people ask me in social media; so I have your first book, I love it. Do I really need the second book?
Diane Sanfilippo: Right.
Terry Wahls: My answer is, there is so much more new information, new guidance that you absolutely should get the second book. It’s easily 80% new material. We’ve advanced the diet, we’ve provided more structure so we have greater nutrient density. So absolutely. The purple book was great, but this is so much better.
Diane Sanfilippo: That’s great. I think those of us who’ve put information out there in different iterations, we know just how much it’s tough to keep everything you know at the cutting edge at the time you go to print. So, the moment you finish the work on a book that gets published, you’re still working to develop…
Terry Wahls: To continue the work.
Diane Sanfilippo: More depth on what you’ve done. It’s always great to get whatever the latest information is from anyone who’s putting it out there.
Terry Wahls: And the other very exciting news is our first paper. My study is a three year study, and we are publishing our results on the first 10 that went through, and that has been accepted to the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary medicine. I don’t have an issue date, so I don’t know when it will be in print.
Diane Sanfilippo: Wow.
Terry Wahls: That’s now in press, and it’s a very exciting time for us.
Diane Sanfilippo: That’s amazing. I’m really excited about that for you, and for everyone looking for this information. I think those are all the questions that I have for you today. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you. I know you and I were kind of running in some of the same circles, and just trying to find newer, bigger, better ways to really share our message with everyone, and really help continue to support people in their quest to help themselves and take control of their own health so I think this is a really important message. So, they can find you. The book is available, well, upon air date of this podcast, the book will be actually on sale the day this podcast airs. It’s called The Wahls Protocol. You can find it, obviously, on Amazon and I’m sure, and bookstores everywhere.
Terry Wahls: We should also tell them to go like The Wahls Foundation on Facebook, because we have lots of great information that is there, as well.
Diane Sanfilippo: I’m going to highly recommend, too, that as you take on the Wahls Protocol and look into this information, whether you’re sharing it with friends or family members who you think it might help, or it’s yourself, jump onto Amazon, leave a review of the book and of the program, and that may not be day 1 when you get the book. Work with the program and actually see what it does in your life, and then tell your story. Whether it’s on social media, on Facebook, or in a review, because in my experience with all of my books, it’s the most compelling thing when you can tell what’s changed in your life, and someone else can read that and identify themselves and the struggles that they have in your review. Anything that myself or Dr. Wahls might say can help, but it’s really your stories, and like you said Dr. Wahls, the Wahls Warriors. Their stories, too, it becomes the most compelling thing. To hear that someone who has been struggling the way you are has seen an immense change and is living a better life. So I want to encourage people to make sure that you’re doing that. You’re sharing your story. Because I think a lot of times people get the book, they follow the program, they have great success, and they kind of are quiet about it. Or maybe they post something on Facebook here or there, but sharing it. Even sharing it back with your organization.
Terry Wahls: Yes.
Diane Sanfilippo: I’m sure you guys are resharing all of that through your Wahls Warrior stories, and making sure that’s accessible to just reach more people.
Terry Wahls: Absolutely, I could not agree more. That’s a very important community service.
Diane Sanfilippo: I always invite folks to share their story if they ever want to have it shared on the blog or something like that, because it’s just huge. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I’ve really enjoyed this interview, and I think we’re going to reach a lot of people with this approach, and I’m just more and more excited about all of the information that we’re able to get out there about the effects of nutrition and functional medicine on healing people. That’s it for today. We’ll be back next week with either more questions or another fantastic interview. If you’ve enjoyed the podcast, please help us spread the word by leaving a review in iTunes. Until next week, you can find me at You can find Liz, who is normally here with me, at You can find Dr. Terry Wahls at, and her book, The Wahls Protocol is available everywhere. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll be back next time.

Liz & Diane

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