Announcer: 00:00 Welcome to the Dr. Gundry podcast, the weekly podcast where Dr. G. gives you the tools you need to boost your health and live your healthiest life.
Dr. Gundry: 00:21 Welcome to the Dr. Gundry podcast. Imagine what it would be like to be confined to an electric wheelchair for years, and then one day being able to walk and even ride your bike again. My guest today knows exactly what that feels like and says food, imagine that, helped her get her life back.
Dr. Gundry: 00:45 Today I’m speaking with Dr. Terry Wahls, a professor at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, a modern-day medical marvel, and a friend of mine, who I’ve known now for a number of years. In 2000, Dr. Wahls was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide. After steady years of decline, despite being a professor of medicine, she was actually able to turn things around with her Wahls protocol. She invented that in 2007. It’s basically, and I’m not going to put words in her mouth, a hunter-gatherer diet that employs food as medicine.
Dr. Gundry: 01:32 The results are absolutely astounding. I hope you’ve seen her on the Internet. Within a year, Terry was able to walk throughout a hospital without a cane, even though she had been in a motorized wheelchair, and even completed an 18-mile bike tour.
Dr. Gundry: 01:50 Today, we’re going to discuss Dr. Wahls’ journey, how the right diet can dramatically decrease the symptoms of MS and other serious health issues. Terry, thank you for joining us. It’s great to see you again.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 02:04 Hey, thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here.
Dr. Gundry: 02:08 Maybe start right in and explain to our listeners and viewers what is MS and what do the symptoms look like?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 02:18 It is an inflammatory disease, where you have damage to the spinal cord and/or the brain. We think it’s negated by immune cells that are attacking the myelin, but we now know… That’s the insulation on the wiring between brain cells, but we also know now that the brain cells themselves are also damaged, and because these damages can occur anywhere in the spinal cord or the brain, no two patients look exactly alike. You’ll have sensory disturbances, commonly visual problems, sometimes balance problems. You may develop motor problems, so weakness, balance troubles, stumbling, falling, and sensory problems with pain, and it’s a progressive illness.
Dr. Gundry: 03:10 Yeah, so take us through. I mean, here you are a physician. Take us through what was happening to you, because I think your story is… I could hear it a thousand times and not get tired of it.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 03:26 I had my first set of symptoms during medical school. I had episodes of electrical face pain involving either the right side of my face or the left side of my face. These episodes would come on more frequently if I was sleep deprived or under severe stress. Then the next round… These became progressively a bit more frequent, more severe. After medical school and residency, I had an episode of dim vision in my left eye. That went away, and then 13 years later, I started stumbling, having problems with my left leg, had a big evaluation with a spinal tap, MRIs of my brain, my spinal cord, lots and lots of blood tests, nerve conduction and velocity test, and I was found to have abnormal spinal fluid and lesions in my spinal cord at the level of my neck.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 04:24 My physician said, “You forgot to mention that you were blind in your left eye 13 years ago,” so that was interesting that I would forget something so dramatic. He said, “You have relapsing-remitting MS. That episode 13 years ago was probably optic neuritis. I don’t think these episodes of face pain are necessarily related.” He suggested that I start a disease modifying therapy, which I did. Then I also decided that I wanted to treat my disease aggressively and be sure I was getting the very best care, so I sought out the best center that was doing research here in the Midwest. That was the Cleveland Clinic. I saw their best people, and they agreed that I had MS and that disease modifying drugs were appropriate. I saw three different MS specialists, who all agreed with the diagnosis and with the plan.
Dr. Gundry: 05:24 Then what happened?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 05:25 Well, I took all those drugs. I had an episode of weakness involving my right hand in the next year, so had I been in a drug study, that would’ve been a huge success, but I was continuing to get slowly worse every year. My Cleveland Clinic physicians told me about the work of Dr. Loren Cordain. I read his papers, read his books, and decided that it made sense. After being a vegetarian for 20 years, I gave up all grain, all legumes, all dairy, went back to eating meat, and continued to decline.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 06:01 The next year, I needed a tilt-reclining wheelchair. I took mitoxantrone, which is a form of chemotherapy. I continued to decline. I then took Tysabri, which is the new, very potent, biologic drug. I was very excited to take that. I continued to decline, and then I was put on CellCept, and that… Steve, it’s so clear to me that the best drugs, the newest drugs, the best people are not stopping my decline, and I’m clearly headed towards becoming bedridden, quite possibly demented.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 06:36 Remember, I said I had these electrical face pains, trigeminal neuralgia, that were getting steadily worse, and so I was beginning to be quite concerned that I was going to have my face pain turned permanently on, so that all sensory input, light, sound, touch, a breeze on my skin, would trigger these electrical pains. This was difficult, and so, ultimately I decided to go back to reading the basic science literature, trying to see what else I could do. Of course, at first I’m looking for the latest drug therapy.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 07:17 Then it occurs to me, I should be investigating things I could access, so I start reading, ultimately, about vitamins and supplements. There’s really not that much in the MS world. There’s a bit more in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, ALS, so I’m reading all of these disease states, and I see that mitochondrial dysfunction is the big driver, and I decide that mitochondrial dysfunction is probably the big driver for MS-related disability, as well.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 07:53 Based on all these animal models, I would eventually develop a supplement cocktail designed specifically for my mitochondria in my brain. I started taking those, and after six months, the conventional professor of medicine takes over. I decide I’m wasting my money. I stop all my supplements. I’m so disgusted, and within 24 hours, I’m even more exhausted. I just cannot get out of bed. I can’t function.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 08:26 After three days, my wife comes in and says, “Honey, I think you ought to take these again.” I take them, and 24 hours later, I can get up and go to work, and I think, now that is really interesting. Two weeks later, I do the same thing. I stop all my supplements, and again 24 hours later I am totally exhausted. I can’t function. I wait three days. I start them back up, and 24 hours later, I’m back up, and I can go to work, so now I’m very excited that my supplements may not be fixing me, but clearly they’re doing something that’s very, very important. I decided what they’re doing is slowing down my decline, and they are helping my fatigue, because clearly I’m more functional when I’m taking them.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 09:16 At this point, I’ve been reassigned to work on the institutional review board, and so I’m reviewing the clinical trials for safety issues, and I tell the IRB that I would like to read all of the brain-related studies. Now, all the trials that I’m reading are related to the brain. I’m getting more and more comfortable reading the brain research. I keep adding to my supplement cocktail.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 09:43 Then, the summer of 2007, my chief of staff calls me in and tells me he’s assigned me to the traumatic brain injury clinic. I’ll start there in January, in about six months. I’ll be seeing patients without residents, which means I’ll have to get up and examine folks, and this is a task that I know I probably cannot do, so this is pretty tough, because I realize that I’ll probably now finally have to apply for medical disability in January, but God works in mysterious ways, Steve. The following week, in my packet is a protocol that uses electrical stimulation of muscles for spinal cord injured patients. I read through that, and ultimately convince my physical therapist to add electrical stimulation to my physical therapy program.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 10:34 I start doing that at his clinic, and also, at the same time, I wrote into the Institute for Functional Medicine on the Internet, and they have a course on neuroprotection, which I order, and I begin working my way through. This is pretty tough, because I’m struggling with brain fog. My fatigue is more severe, so it’s a while to get through all these lectures, get through these cases. I have a deeper understanding of mitochondrial dysfunction. I have a longer list of supplements, which I add.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 11:12 Not a lot is happening yet. At this point, I am so weak I cannot sit up in a chair anymore. I have a zero gravity chair, one at home, one at work, where I recline and my knees are higher than my nose. I can walk maybe 10 feet, using two walking sticks. I’m losing my keys and my phone. I’ve lost them a couple times that summer, which is sort of expensive, and my face pains are getting more frequent, more severe, more difficult to control, but again, I’ve discovered the Institute for Functional Medicine. I’ve added their supplements. I’ve added E-stim. Then I have this really big aha moment, like what if I redesign my paleo diet, based on the supplements that I’m taking, figure out where these nutrients are in the food supply.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 12:06 That’s more research, and the Linus Pauling Institute online really helps me create these long lists of foods that I’m going to start stressing. December 26th, 2007, we start this new, very focused way of eating, where I’m really focused on what to eat, as opposed to my previous focus was what I couldn’t eat. Then, January comes, and I go off to the traumatic brain injury clinic. Now the first week, I’m just watching, so I should be able to do that. The second week, I’m beginning to examine these patients, and to my surprise, Steve, at the end of the week, I thought, well, that wasn’t too bad. I was actually able to see those patients.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 12:55 The end of the third week, I’m thinking, yeah, I can do this, and I’m also making the observation that my energy’s better, and I’m feeling like my mental clarity has improved. At the end of three months, I begin walking with a cane at the hospital, and people are just astounded when they see me walking, because it’s been about four years since anyone had seen me walking around.
Dr. Gundry: 13:25 Because you’re literally in a motorized wheelchair.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 13:27 Yes, a motorized wheelchair, a tilt-recline, so I’m going around in the wheelchair, and I’m reclined going around in the wheelchair, so to see me upright was really quite astounding. Then at six months, I’m walking without a cane. At nine months, and so this is Mother’s Day… Well, actually, before then, I call my neurologist and say, “There’s been a big change. I think I need to see you.”
Dr. Terry Wahls: 13:54 He sees me, and I walk in. His nursing staff are astounded. He’s astounded. He’s so excited, he orders an MRI. We’re actually both disappointed, because my lesions have not changed. I have lesions in my spinal cord and just a couple in my head. He says, “You know, that was probably naïve to think that they were going to change, because these lesions are eight years old, so of course they’re not going to change.” He said, “Clearly, you have rewired your spinal cord, and you’re rewiring your brain.”
Dr. Terry Wahls: 14:30 A few months later, I’m continuing to improve, and I decide to do a bike ride. My family is in a panic. They don’t think it’s safe for me to ride my bike, because that’s been six years. We have a big family meeting. Wife decides that it’s okay, so she has my son jog on the left, my daughter jog on the right, and she’s going to be the chaser on her bike, and I bike around the block.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 14:57 Now, my kids are crying, I’m crying, Jackie’s crying, and if you could see me now, my eyes are still tearing up now, because that was such a miraculous moment. It was at that moment that I understood that the current understanding of multiple sclerosis and progressive MS is incorrect, or incomplete. Who knew how much recovery might be possible? That really changed how I understood disease and health. It would change the way I practice medicine, and it would ultimately change the focus of my research.
Dr. Gundry: 15:40 Take us back to January. You had read all of Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet, professor at Colorado State.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 15:50 Yes.
Dr. Gundry: 15:50 What change in your diet occurred that January?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 15:55 Sure, so I had also removed eggs, so there was one more food that I removed, and I really ramped up the vegetables, so I had a huge amount of greens. I was probably having six cups of greens every day. I was also dramatically emphasizing the cabbage, onion, and mushroom family vegetables, and then I was ramping up the color, things that were deeply pigmented. I put a lot more emphasis on variety, in terms of all of the foods that I was having.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 16:38 The other thing that I did was we decided that the only food I was going to eat was organic, that if it wasn’t organic, I was not eating it. I was doing all this, Steve, not to recover, because my neurologist, all of my physicians had always told me, secondary progressive MS, you don’t recover. Functions, once lost, are gone forever. I added the E-stim. I had this complicated supplement regimen, and then I had this very intensive nutrition. I also added in meditation again, and I did this to slow the decline, because I could still walk very short distances. I knew if… That was huge. I wanted to hang onto that as long as I could.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 17:31 The other thing that’s surprising, Steve, is that with a progressive neurologic disorder, you end up… Finally, when you get to acceptance, you can just let go and take each day, as it unfolds. Here I am, remarkably better. I’m walking around. I can walk around the block again, but I’m still taking every day one day at a time, as it unfolds. I don’t really know what this means, but the day I got on my bike, that’s when I was like, I’m recovering. Who knows how much recovery might be possible?
Dr. Gundry: 18:15 Wow. No wonder everybody’s crying.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 18:17 Yeah, I’m still crying. It’s 10 years, and I’m still crying when I tell that story.
Dr. Gundry: 18:28 That’s obviously… That was a moment that obviously changed your career path.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 18:35 Yes.
Dr. Gundry: 18:35 Tell me what happened. How did that affect you?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 18:41 In primary care, and in my traumatic brain injury clinic, I started talking more and more about diet quality, stress patterns, toxin exposures, physical activity levels, and how those impact health, and getting my veterans fired up about diet and lifestyle. In the traumatic brain injury clinic, my partners would say, “There’s nothing we can do. You’ll recover or not.”
Dr. Terry Wahls: 19:08 I’d walk in and say, “No, no, no, there’s a lot we can do. We can be sure that you’re getting rid of the foods that are inflammatory and destructive, ramp up the foods that are helpful, address sleep, address stress, get you exercising again.” You could tell who I saw in the traumatic brain injury clinic, because those guys would still be working. They’d still have their spouse. They’d still be involved in family life. Whereas the people I hadn’t seen had lost their jobs and were divorced.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 19:39 In my primary care clinics, I was using… I wasn’t talking about drugs anymore. I was just talking about vegetables and walking and getting step counters, but suddenly my patients with diabetes were reversing their diabetes. My patients with high blood pressure were reversing their high blood pressure. My patients with severe obesity were losing weight. The people with severe mental health problems, anxiety, depression, PTSD, were highly functioning again. My residents were beginning to get fired up about diet and lifestyle, and you know what? They were really pretty funny. They were very impressed that I could convince nearly every curmudgeon, that I ran into, to begin making these huge changes in their diet and lifestyle.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 20:36 The residents would say, “Doc, Doc, I can’t wait to see how you get Joe Blow… How he’s going to respond, because I haven’t been able to do anything with him, but…” Then I walk in and tell him in very basic ways that if you want a blue ribbon steer or swine, you’ve got to give them the best rations. Like yeah, yeah, yeah, they get that. If you want the best output on your corn fields, you’ve got to test the soil and take care of it. Yeah, yeah, they get that. It’s like, well, we’ve got to do the same thing for you, buddy. The light bulb goes off.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 21:16 You have to tell a story and a metaphor that makes sense to that person’s educational and work life. When you do that, then they will go on that journey with you, and so it really transformed the primary care clinic. It transformed the traumatic brain injury clinic, but I did have a few practitioners who were very uneasy and filed complaints, so then my chief of staff called me in and said, “Okay, Terry, what’s going on? People are complaining about you.” That was a very interesting conversation, of course.
Dr. Gundry: 21:55 You and I obviously get that now in our careers all the time, that this is a placebo effect, or we’re going against telling people that they need to get their blood pressure under control with one or two or three medications. How did that go with your chief of staff?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 22:16 Well, you know, he was a little concerned, and so then we had a follow-up meeting, and I brought down a cart of 85 papers with me, and I had them classified to explain, here’s the science behind all of this. He goes, “Well, but you still can’t do that. You have to follow the standard of care.”
Dr. Terry Wahls: 22:39 I go, “Well, I’m perfectly happy doing that when I get an email that goes out to all of the faculty that we have to follow standard of care, and we’re not able to use the latest science that we’re reading in the New England Journal and elsewhere to guide our decision-making. If that’s how we’re all going to practice here at the VA, of course I’ll do that,” and I smiled.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 23:07 There was a big pause. He goes, “Well, you have a point, I see,” and so what we agreed was that I always had to have a scientific rationale. I’d have to be very careful to document in the medical record that that, what I was doing, was an alternative to FDA-approved care, based on the latest science, and so I was very careful in my charts now to always document that this is not FDA approved. This is based on… Sometimes I’d quote papers. Sometimes I’d just quote some of the latest science studies.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 23:47 When I give public lectures, I have this big disclaimer slide that I always start with, saying, “This is education. I’m talking about non-FDA-approved alternatives,” so that I’m very careful to not overstate my claims, but to always state that I’m using science, and we’re trying to improve physiology, and that, depending on where you’re at in your disease process, you may stop your decline, you might regress your decline, or it’s possible you’ll continue to decline, that you’ll want to work very closely with your personal physicians to monitor your medication use, because those needs may change.
Dr. Gundry: 24:33 And so far, so good.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 24:35 Yeah, it’s all worked out very well. You know what is fun, Steve? As you know, I was directed to do a little feasibility trial, which we did, and we had stunning results. Then we did another two more studies after that, again stunning results. As I’ve gone around the university, talking about our results, with these amazing videos that I have, people have decided that, you know, maybe I’m onto something, and so what had seemed to be so odd and eccentric 10 years ago is now being seen as this brilliant, bold, visionary approach.
Dr. Gundry: 25:17 Is that because seeing is believing, that even skeptics have to say, “Well, wait a minute here; look at this”?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 25:25 Well, I think it’s because I have done the research at a slow, tedious process. You do the pilot studies. Then you can do larger pilots, and then it keeps going, but when I started getting my results published and peer review journaled, and now that my research is being cited by other authors and researchers, I’m getting a lot more respect, a lot more appreciation. I have an appointment now in the department of neurology. I teach the neurology residents about nutrition and MS, so progress has happened, but it’s because, I think because, I’m very cautious to not overstate my claims, and most importantly, I do the research.
Dr. Gundry: 26:21 Yeah, I think and congratulations on doing the hard research. Nobody can pick your research apart. It’s good stuff.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 26:32 Yes, I mean, it is so important to do that. If we’re going to change the standard of care, we have to have research, peer reviewed, published, and you have to go out and present those findings.
Dr. Gundry: 26:47 Yeah, no, I totally agree.
Dr. Gundry: 26:50 If you’re listening to this podcast through your favorite podcast app, I’ve got some great news. You can also watch every episode of this podcast, plus hundreds more special videos on my YouTube page. Just go to YouTube.com/drgundry, and be sure to click the subscribe button.
Dr. Gundry: 27:10 You’ve had three bestselling books now.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 27:14 That’s pretty exciting, yeah.
Dr. Gundry: 27:17 Yeah, and you’ve certainly branched from just MS to autoimmune diseases in general.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 27:28 Yes.
Dr. Gundry: 27:29 You said, “Well, I used to… I eliminated foods,” and that’s a big part of what I advise, as well, but the big change was obviously when you added other foods in, so for a person with MS, or for that matter autoimmune diseases, what sort of foods are good for you? I think you’ve alluded to that, but what’s your prescription?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 27:52 I want people to ramp up their vegetables, ideally a minimum of nine cups a day. Now, if you’re very petite, and you’re only 4’10”, yes, it’s going to have to be somewhat less. The greens have lots of vitamin K and carotenoids, which are critical for retinal health, brain health, and there’s more and more research coming out that vitamin K is very important in making myelin and very important to brain stem cells that are going to be involved in making the cells that will be involved in repairing the myelin damage and repairing the synapses, so greens incredibly important.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 28:35 The cabbage family, onion family vegetables boost the detox pathways. They also boost pathways involved in neurotransmitters. Mushrooms boost your natural killer cells, which are good for your immune cell function. There’s actually a couple more papers that have come out, showing that lion’s mane mushroom is good for nerve growth factor, but a very recent paper came out last month that showed it’s more than just lion’s mane, that we have multiple culinary mushrooms that have been shown to boost nerve growth factor. Nerve growth factor is one of the nurturing hormones that are very helpful for trophic support, or support for brain cell health overall.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 29:25 Then the deeply pigmented foods are rich in polyphenols and antioxidants, and we have many, many studies showing that the more color you eat, the lower the rates of dementia, lower rates of cancer, lower rates of diabetes, lower rates of mental health problems, and that we have some great studies that have used even just a cup of blueberries equivalence in randomized controlled trials that show in just 16 weeks or 24 weeks, we can get improvement in thinking. Those are very powerful reasons to ramp up those vegetables. I encourage fermented foods and seaweed, as well.
Dr. Gundry: 30:15 Great. Where does olive oil play in your program?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 30:19 Swim in it. Drink it. It’s really good. You know, there are so many studies that show the benefits of olive oil for cardiovascular health and for brain health, as well. I love for people to use olive oil. I prefer that they use it cold, because when you heat olive oil, you lose a lot of the antioxidants, and you accidentally make some trans fats in the skillet, so I’d much rather people bake, roast, steam, and then pour their olive oil on cold at the end, so lots of olive oil. I’m very keen on ketogenic eating. I talk now that you can… You want to monitor your lipids and know if you tolerate a coconut oil, or if your lipids go up with coconut oil, then you’re just going to use the olive oil with your ketogenic plan.
Dr. Gundry: 31:19 Yeah, I think that’s something I stress. I take care of a lot of people with the APOE e4 mutation, and coconut oil… I follow their lipids, and coconut oil, particularly in these folks, really makes their small, dense lipids go up, and they oxidize those small, dense LDLs. My-
Dr. Terry Wahls: 31:42 Yeah, if you’re going to go on a ketogenic diet, and I have a lot of folks on ketogenic diet, it’s very popular right now, and they use lots of butter, lots of bacon, and they’re not advising these folks to monitor their lipids. I think that’s a disservice. I think you need to know how your lipids are responding, so you can sort out, is olive oil what you’re going to use? Do you have to use periodic fasting instead? Or are you able to use butter? Are you able to use coconut oil? It’s a very important question, so you can start whichever way your culinary tastes take you, but check your lipids, please, and then see, make… Then you can decide which way to continue.
Dr. Gundry: 32:27 Well, you know, I absolutely agree with almost everything you’re saying. In fact, one of the things I tell my patients now is I want them to be a gorilla who lives in Italy. By that, I mean I want them to eat a lot of leaves, and I want them to pour olive oil on them, which brings us to what’s behind you. For those of you who are listening rather than viewing, can you please describe… You have a bunch of friends on the shelves behind you. Can you describe them for us?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 33:00 I am covered with poop all around me. I have poop over my shoulder, poop by me on the computer here. Poop is so important. This is sort of my poop shrine.
Dr. Gundry: 33:12 Could we suggest more personal hygiene? Or no, what she’s saying folks is she actually has dolls and puppets that are shaped like giant piles of poop, and they have a smiley face and eyes, so she’s not actually covered in poop.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 33:30 Thank you for being precise there, Steve.
Dr. Gundry: 33:32 Yeah, she is surrounded by poop in her room, I can assure you, but doll poop.
Speaker 4: 33:40 Poop emojis.
Dr. Gundry: 33:41 Poop emojis, that’s right.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 33:42 Yes, thank you. You know, our microbiome metabolizes the food we eat, and those small metabolites get into our bloodstream, and these metabolites run the chemistry of life, so for the steps that we can no longer perform, if our microbiome metabolites filled in those gaps, then our ancestral mothers had reproductive success, and at that moment in our lineage, we exported that gene from our ancestral DNA to our microbiome DNA, which is why having a diverse microbiome is so, so helpful. We talk a lot about poop in my clinics. We talk a lot about poop in my clinical trials.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 34:32 I ask people, are you pooping rocks, logs, snakes, pudding, or tea? If it’s pudding or tea, you need less fiber, so cut back on the fiber. Cut back on the raw vegetables. If you’re pooping snakes, that’s perfect. If they get into your pants, you probably have to back off a little bit, because that’s socially not very helpful. If you’re pooping logs very comfortably and easily, that’s okay. If you’re pooping rocks, you need more vegetables, more fermented foods, and more fiber.
Dr. Gundry: 35:02 I think I may have shared with you, but if I didn’t, I know your fondness for nine cups of vegetables, and when I was writing The Plant Paradox, I said that when you look down in the toilet bowl, you should see a giant anaconda looking back up at you. My editor said, “Wait a minute. There was a movie called anaconda, where it’s coming out of a toilet bowl, and I don’t think we want that visual,” and so we changed it to snake, but I credit you with that passage in my book.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 35:35 Oh, perfect. I’m happy for that.
Dr. Gundry: 35:39 All right, all right, so what are the worst foods for people with autoimmune disease?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 35:46 Well, sugar is really terrible for us all. It feeds the wrong microbiome. Gluten and casein have a lot of cross-reactivity with structures in our brain, and that drives increased inflammatory and molecular mimicry, damaging structures in our brain and in our cerebellum. That’s really bad. The third most common food sensitivity is eggs, so that’s why I take eggs out. Then soy can be a problem. Peanuts can be a problem. In my plan, I have a staged process, so at the level one we take out gluten, dairy, and eggs, and ramp up the vegetables. Then I get progressively more restrictive, as people are willing to go on a more intense journey towards health.
Dr. Gundry: 36:40 Now, I know you’re a pretty big proponent of grass-fed meats, organ meats, liver and gizzards. Where does that fit in with all these vegetables?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 36:51 Well, I really like to have people get organic meat, grass-fed meat, according to what they can afford. I really like them to have liver once to twice a week. If they can find it, heart once a week would be ideal. Oysters, mussels, that would be marvelous, as well. When you get these organ meats, we get more fat-soluble vitamins, more CoQ in that meat. If it’s a grass-fed animal, then you’re going to get vitamin K2, particularly in that liver. You’ll also get retinol.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 37:28 If we’re thinking, well, I can make retinol, or vitamin A, from the beta-carotene, that depends on the genetic variations of the enzymes that convert beta-carotene to retinol. I tell my patients that if they have an autoimmune illness, if they have a cancer or a cancer dysplasia illness, that tells me that their enzymes, that involved in making retinol, are less efficient, and they, in particular, would do very well at eating liver. In my VA, we would teach people how to make green smoothies, how to make cooked greens, and we talk a lot about how to make liver, so it actually be quite tasty. By the way, my kids like liver and onions. When my daughter’s going to make an exotic meal for friends, she will include liver in that meal.
Dr. Gundry: 38:25 Ah! What do you say to the argument that meats in general are aging and beef, red meat, may contribute to cancer? I know you’re from the Midwest, and that’s where I came from.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 38:48 If your meat… If you have a really high protein intake, you may be increasing your mammalian target of rapamycin, and that is a pro-growth hormone, and so you could be increasing your rates of benign and cancerous tumors, which is one of the reasons I am not a proponent of the carnivore diet [inaudible 00:39:11] you’re going to have a high mTOR. I would much rather moderate the meat intake.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 39:18 Compared to the paleo diet, the meat intake that I recommend is actually quite a bit lower. I think meat is complete protein. It’s good for us, particularly if you have grass-fed meats. If we’re having factory farmed meat, that’s a different kind of meat, and it may be more inflammatory. When people are looking at the research that says that TMAO is a problem, and that may increase atherosclerosis, what they forget is it has to do with the microbiome, and did that meat become harmful, because the person was eating a diet high in trans fats and high in sugar, which changed the microbiome remarkably away from the type of microbiome our ancestral mothers and fathers would have had?
Dr. Gundry: 40:10 Yeah, and I think there’s some really exciting research that actually was, to the Cleveland Clinic’s credit, done partially by them, that there’s components in a lot of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and red wine that paralyzes the enzyme systems of bacteria, to keep them from making TMAO from choline and acetyl-L-carnitine.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 40:38 You know, I think this is an interesting but complicated story. If red meat was a problem, our ancestral mothers and fathers would not have had reproductive success, so what changed? It’s not just the red meat. It may be what we’re feeding our conventional farmers. It’s certainly what we’re feeding ourselves. If we’re eating our six cups of greens, nine cups of vegetables, we have a very different microbiome. I think it’s an interesting question that we’re going to continue to tease out.
Dr. Gundry: 41:11 All right, so how do you make eating nine cups of vegetables enjoyable?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 41:17 The first thing we talk about is why do vegetables appear to be bitter, and they have a high pH, so they’re sort of alkaline. You have two strategies. One is adding more fat, so olive oil, our good friend, or clarified butter can also work. People are thrilled when I say, you could fry up bacon and save the bacon fat. Stir your vegetables in with the bacon fat, because that fat will take care of that bitterness.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 41:44 Then the second tool you have is some acid, so you could add lemon juice, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, bring the pH down, and again, that takes care of the bitterness, because if the food is bitter, your kids will push back. If you lower the pH with some acidity, add oil, the kids will say, “Mom, this is delicious,” and they’ll be delighted to eat it.
Dr. Gundry: 42:10 You know, one of my original recipes was Brussels sprouts you’ll eat, and it actually used bacon fat and bits of bacon. Yeah, it’s a great trick.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 42:22 The recipe for vegetables that I would teach my vets is you take up two to four slices of bacon. Fry them to the desired level of crispness. Take the slices of bacon out. Chop them up. Put your vegetables in the bacon fat. Stir. Cook two minutes or less, just until the greens, they’re wilted. If it’s Brussels sprouts, two minutes. Take them off the heat. Add the crumbled bacon, and serve. They’re like, “Oh, my God, that sounds delicious.” I said, “Yes, if it wasn’t delicious, just double the bacon and do it again.”
Dr. Gundry: 42:52 You’ll do anything to get greens in your patients.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 42:55 Yes.
Dr. Gundry: 42:55 That’s good. That’s good. What we want to do is you mentioned that you experimented, and I think still do, with supplements. Take me through. You noticed, you were an N of 1. You were the guinea pig, and you noticed the difference on and off supplements. I used to think supplements made expensive urine. I really did. I don’t anymore. I have some clinical papers that I’ve published with people on and off certain supplements, looking at the flexibility of their blood vessels, their endothelial function. Give me your take, now, on where, even if you’re eating a perfect diet, what is the place of supplements, if any?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 43:50 I really want it to be personalized, based on your family history, so your genetic vulnerability and your ethnic background. I certainly want everyone to get a vitamin D level, and then have their supplementation to maximize their vitamin D level. Then, as they’re increasing their vitamin D intake, I want them to couple that with vitamin K2. My preference is to get K2 out of emu oil, because then we know it’s natural K2, as opposed to a synthetic K2.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 44:23 The other supplement that I like is a extra virgin cod liver oil. The molecularly distilled fish oils are helpful, in that there’s less fear of contamination. However, when you molecularly distill, I don’t know if that changes some of the characteristics of the fish oil, so that’s where an extra virgin cod liver oil may be superior.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 44:53 Curcumin or turmeric, I think, can be extremely helpful, in terms of boosting your detoxification efficiency. The other nutrients that I like to monitor have to do with homocysteine level, which look at the efficiency of your vitamin B metabolism, and then I adjust to get your homocysteine within the target range. Now, beyond that, depending on your symptoms, your disease state, and your family history, I may make additional recommendations to boost your detox pathways, or also your neurotransmitter function, but ideally we personalize this, based on an exam, and perhaps some targeted lab testing.
Dr. Gundry: 45:46 Okay, so as you know, I like people to try and get the major dietary lectins out of their diet. What’s your thoughts about eliminating major lectins?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 45:59 We have a similar approach, in that I think lectins can be a huge problem for many individuals. However, in my practice, I give people an entry level diet to begin with, and then I progress them towards a more lectin-reduced diet, as they go, so we can get symptom elimination. Now, I do find that I can… 80% of my folks do great just going on my level one diet, and we do not have to progress. I am able to predict, based on some disease states, particularly rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune issues involving joints, that they’re going to need the very low lectin diet.
Dr. Gundry: 46:47 Yeah, I think that’s very true. We definitely see, particularly in rheumatoid arthritis, fairly immediate changes in symptoms by… Yeah, it’s often striking.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 47:01 Yeah, I try very hard to get the rheumatoid arthritis patient and the patient who has that autoimmune process involving their joints to do the elimination diet first up, but sometimes they’re ready, and sometimes they need to do level one and work their way to it. I feel very strongly that people have a lot of self-determination, and so you present the options, and either they’re ready to do the elimination diet, or like okay, well, we’ll start here with level one, and we’ll see how you do.
Dr. Gundry: 47:33 That’s good. That’s good. Okay, your critics say you’re giving false hope to people with MS. What say you?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 47:44 Well, what say me is that I do the clinical research, so… A lot of folks say that, “Well, you never had MS, because progressive MS, you don’t recover. The Cleveland Clinic must be incompetent. The University of Iowa must be incompetent. The Marshfield Clinic must be incompetent.” My response is we’re all unique. Who knows? Maybe everybody was incompetent that took care of me. The real question is what about those prospective trials that I’ve done that have shown benefit each time I’ve done the trials? Why not give your patients the option to change their diet, have a more nutrient-dense diet, add stress reduction, add movement, and see what happens?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 48:25 In the decision to take drugs or not take drugs, that’s up to the neurologist and the patient. I’m simply advocating that, as part of everyone’s wellness plan, for whatever health challenge you have, whether it’s MS or another autoimmune condition or other medical problem such as diabetes, diet and lifestyle should be part of your wellness plan. I think the Wahls diet is a great diet. Unlike most other diet authors, I also do research, so we’ve done the research that tests the efficacy of the diet, and we’ve done research on the nutrients contained within the diet, so I can say… and we just published the analysis of the Wahls diet in nutrients, which showed that, in fact, it performs superiorly to the healthy eating plan the government sanctioned.
Dr. Gundry: 49:29 Food pyramid.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 49:30 Yeah, food pyramid plan, thank you. The research answers that question, as it should for anyone who’s advocating for any kind of intervention.
Dr. Gundry: 49:42 Perfect. Yeah, your last book, The Wahls Protocol: Cooking for Life, came out about two years ago.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 49:48 Yeah, yeah, plug that book.
Dr. Gundry: 49:50 It’s a fantastic book, and where can people find it, the obvious places?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 49:57 The obvious places. Please go to your local bookstore. We want to keep those bookstores going. Go there. You can always go to my website, terrywahls.com, and we have a one-page handout to get people started at terrywahls.com/diet.
Dr. Gundry: 50:14 Perfect. Since my new book, The Longevity Paradox, came out a few weeks ago, I’ve been asking all my guests the same question. What’s the one thing listeners can do today for a longer, healthier life?
Dr. Terry Wahls: 50:28 Eat more greens. Have a goal of at least one heaping plateful of greens. If you’re really ambitious, go for two.
Dr. Gundry: 50:36 I totally agree with that. Terry, thanks so much for joining us today. We’ve got a reader question, and I think this is right up your alley, so let’s see. [inaudible 00:50:52] Mama on Instagram, “My husband says he needs more meet than The Longevity Paradox allows. He says he will be too hungry. Your response.” Well, I think I know what it’s going to be.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 51:06 I’d rather you have more fats, so I’d rather you have more olive oil. If you really want to control satiety, this is about the fat. He could have two palm-size servings of meat, and then he should have lots of olive oil, avocados. If he’s hungry, I would rather he do that. Ideally, he’s a big boy, probably, so he could have four plates of vegetables, and if he’s still hungry after that, if he wants another serving of meat, I’ll give him his extra serving of meat, but he ought to have four heaping plates of vegetables first.
Dr. Gundry: 51:42 Yeah, I used to counsel my weight loss patients. I’d draw them a little picture, and I’d draw a one-inch cube of cheese, which has about 150 calories, and then I’d draw pictures of five bags of organic lettuce, which have about 35 calories. You would have to each five bags of lettuce to get the calories of one piece of cheese. I’ve actually tried this experiment, and I got to two and a half bags of lettuce before I had to quit, because I was too full, and I could eat 10 pieces of cheese and still be hungry, so I absolutely agree with you. Even these big guys, I’ve never met a guy that I can’t fill up with a lot of greens and a lot of olive oil.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 52:30 I would tell my patients, what I tell them now is, we don’t want you hungry. I want you eating lots and lots of vegetables, lots of olive oil. The goal is to not be hungry, but I don’t want you eating all that meat, so if you get four heaping plates of vegetables, and you’re still hungry, and you want another serving of meat, then yes, but not until you’ve had your four plates of vegetables.
Dr. Gundry: 52:58 Great advice, and if you have those four plates of vegetables, you’ll have your friend behind you thanking you the next day.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 53:08 That’s for sure.
Dr. Gundry: 53:09 All right, Dr. Wahls, Terry, great to see you again. Thank you for everything you’re doing, and thanks for joining us.
Dr. Terry Wahls: 53:17 And thank you.
Dr. Gundry: 53:19 Thanks for joining me on this episode of the Dr. Gundry Podcast. Before you go, I just wanted to remind you that you can find the show on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts, and if you want to watch each episode of the Dr. Gundry Podcast, you could always find me on YouTube, at YouTube.com/drgundry, because I’m Dr. Gundry, and I’m always looking out for you.