Dr. Terry Wahls Discusses Her Multiple Sclerosis Protocol
[Rhonda]: Good morning.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick here.
We’re at Paleo f(x) 2014 in Austin, Texas.
I’m sitting here with Dr. Terry Wahls who
you may recognize from her famous TEDx video
entitled, “Minding Your Mitochondria” where
she talked about the importance of obtaining
micronutrients from your diet to not only
prevent diseases of aging, specifically neurodegenerative
diseases and autoimmune diseases like multiple
sclerosis, but also how you can obtain micronutrients
to reverse some of these diseases as well.
And she also has a recent book got called
“The Wahls Protocol” which we’ll probably
talk about in a minute.
So, thank you, Dr. Wahls, Terry, for joining
[Terry]: Oh, thank you.
Very pleased to be here.
So, tell us a little bit about your findings
on how important certain micronutrients are
[Terry]: Oh, sure.
[Rhonda]: …mitochondrial function and how
that relates to, you know, diseases.
Well, you know, like you in medical school
I had to memorize all sorts of reactions involving
mitochondria which mostly I forgot.
But sadly, we never got taught what we needed
to eat to fuel those mitochondria.
And as I became ill with the progressive MS
and was confined to a tilt-recline wheelchair,
I got motivated to start reading the rats
and mouse studies, and started reading about
other diseases, the shrinking brains.
And that led to being turned on to mitochondria
and then being turned on to what were the
things I could do to help my mitochondria,
which then led me to Dr. Ames’ work and the
interest and passion in micronutrients.
So, mitochondria are so important for so many
different cellular processes inside your body.
I mean, they literally are the energy producing
machine, so to speak.
And I guess something that you found very
interesting was that these mitochondria require
So, as I think about it and I communicate
the message, you need the whole family, B
vitamins, you’ll need minerals, magnesium,
zinc, sulfur, you need to protect the mitochondria
from poisons like arsenic, lead, mercury.
And then because mitochondria are really packaged
membrane factories because it’s in the membrane
where all these reactions happen, the essential
fats are critical.
And what makes it a little bit crazy, our
low fat society is very damaging to membranes
because membranes are fat.
So, you need saturated fat, cholesterol, omega-3
fats, omega-6 fats.
You know, something really interesting since
you mentioned the membrane, the fluidity of
So, all of our cells have cell membranes and
of course, mitochondria are also made of membranes.
And as we age, the fluidity of these membranes
become more rigid and…
Phosphatidylcholine ratios change.
Phosphatidylserine, these things they become
more rigid and what ends up happening is that
some of these micronutrients can’t get in
as readily as they could when we were younger.
So, we actually think in our research at the
Ames Lab that as we get older, we may even
need higher levels of some of these micronutrients
to help, you know, kind of overcome that.
[Terry]: To overcome that, slow the aging
And I think the quality of the diet, the quality
of the food, the micronutrient content, the
vitamins, minerals, essential fats, the antioxidants,
that’s really where health is.
I really don’t think the macronutrient ratios,
fat, carbs, protein is that critical because
a very flexible metabolic capacities in our
At least from my perspective, the most critical
thing is am I getting these essential fats?
Am I getting the B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin
A, vitamin K?
Am I getting sufficient minerals?
And of course, a sufficient supply of antioxidants.
And research tells us that actually we’re
not getting enough of those micronutrients.
In fact, you know…
[Terry]: Oh, absolutely, we are not.
[Rhonda]: Fifty-six percent of the U.S. population
is deficient in magnesium.
And magnesium as you mentioned is important
for mitochondrial function.
It’s a cofactor for almost every single DNA
repair enzyme in our body.
[Terry]: Oh, really?
I didn’t know that.
So, you actually…you can’t repair your damaged
So, we’re talking about diseases of aging.
We’re getting insidious damage.
Normal mitochondrial metabolism is generating
[Terry]: Yes, yes.
[Rhonda]: And these pro-oxidants, they’re
a normal byproduct from normal metabolism.
But, you know, in addition they end up damaging
DNA, damaging lipids, and proteins.
And that happens, it accumulates over time
[Terry]: Well, you know, one of the things…
This takes me back to an interesting observation
I had as I recovered and I started adding
more greens into my diet.
So this is, you know, after four years of
I discovered I had this incredible craving
So, I was probably having oh, easily, 9, 12
cups of greens everyday, raw, cooked.
Nine to 12 cups.
[Terry]: Of greens.
You know, I’m a big lady, over, you know,
And then I got well enough that I felt like,
okay, I could travel, go to scientific meetings
And I went, and when I got away from my food,
I was…in about 36 hours I could tell cognitively
I was declining, energy declined.
And I’d come home and my significant other
would have a huge salad bowl of greens and
I would devour that.
So, then the first couple years I would travel
with bags of greens because I just realized
I had to maintain that high intake of greens.
Six years later, I don’t need as many greens.
I have more nutritional reserve so I can travel
and my vegetable intake will dip somewhat,
but I don’t become symptomatic with fatigue
and brain fog now.
But it really took me about four and a half
years to fill my tank apparently…
[Terry]: …from all of that micronutrient
deficiency that probably contributed to my
I think, you know, when you have…when you’re
in a disease state, not only do you need micronutrients
to just maintain normal function, but you
need these micronutrients to…it’s they’re
getting sucked into this of fighting off…
[Terry]: To all the repair work, that’s…
All this repair work is going on.
So, it’s like there’s sort of a triage going
on here where you’re getting…these micronutrients
are being shunted into this repair work, but
then all the other processes that require
the micronutrients are sort of getting the
And so, this is, you know, this is something
that we think are, you know, Dr. Bruce Ames
who is my mentor, we think that this is something
that happens normally where there’s a triaging
of certain micronutrients that are going to
the short term, things that are needed for
short term survival.
[Terry]: Now, you’d be very pleased.
I discussed the triage theory in my new book.
I talked about Dr. Ames’ work and the critical
role of micronutrients in that.
If you’re not getting enough, your body is
going to maintain the most critical life functions,
but the long term health will obviously decline.
[Terry]: And we create this huge micronutrient
deficit, this huge hole that you have to dig
So, I can, you know, convey to my patients
that you’ve got a very, very deep hole.
So, not only you’re not meeting the nutritional
requirements for maintenance.
If you wanna heal, you have to go far beyond
the recommended daily allowance of nutrients
so you can dig out of your mincronutrient
[Rhonda]: Right, right.
We think magnesium is one of those micronutrients
where even though it’s required for every
DNA repair enzyme, you know, repairing your
DNA isn’t something that is required for short
You can have damage to your DNA, you can require
mutations and be fine because it takes a certain,
you know, amount of hits to eventually have
something which will be mutagen or cause cancer.
And so, having magnesium in your DNA repair
enzyme is not as important as maintaining
your heart beating, and making sure you don’t
go into cardiac arrest.
And also another really prime example of that
would be vitamin K. Vitamin K and this we
showed is, you know, it’s an essential for
blood clotting and we think that’s probably
a short term function.
You wanna make sure your clotting is happening,
you don’t wanna hemorrhage out and bleed out.
But vitamin K also is important for preventing
calcification of your vascular system, brain,
But, you know, that’s something that doesn’t
affect us until later on.
You can have calcium buildup and it takes
maybe, you know, a couple of…a few decades.
So, you’ll start to have…
So, you have already reproduced.
So, you know, the thing is is that while you
think you’re getting enough magnesium or vitamin
K, you actually may be getting enough to maintain
your short term and prevent, you know, acute
clinical disease to something that’s manifested
right now, whereas in fact there’s insidious
damage that’s happening.
And this insidious damage is going to rear
its ugly head, you know, much later in life
or earlier on.
[Terry]: Well, that’s why I’m such a huge
proponent of greens, you know?
[Terry]: Having three servings of green a
day which sounds shocking to so many people,
I think is so health promoting.
Gives you so much magnesium, it helps you
have a plenty of vitamin K on hand.
[Rhonda]: Let me stop right there.
So, did you hear that?
Magnesium, gives you magnesium because magnesium
is at the center of a chlorophyll molecule
and that’s why green plants are high in magnesium.
And vitamin K is actually part of the phosphorus
source of the plants.
So, you get vitamin K and you get magnesium
from these green plants.
So, you know, nature sort of color-coded micronutrients
in a way, you’ve got the beta-carotenes that
are red, the dark greens which have magnesium
and potassium also.
And so, it’s kind of nice.
I think you mentioned in your TEDx video,
I remember talking about getting a lot of
[Terry]: Yes, yes.
[Rhonda]: And you’re absolutely right.
Nature has color-coded the micronutrients…
And I think that makes it, at least according
to my plan, easier to design a micronutrient-dense
diet because you can follow the colors, you
get your greens.
[Rhonda]: You don’t have to think about it.
Just, yeah, get a wide range of colors.
[Terry]: The greens, yellow, red, blue, purples.
And then I talk about the sulfur rich vegetables.
I’m sure you have some comments about the
critical role of sulfur in the brain…
[Terry]: …and in our detoxification pathways.
[Rhonda]: Yeah, sulfur…
It’s interesting, when I was doing my graduate
work, I was studying mitochondrial structure,
and function, and metabolism.
And I found some early papers from like the
1970s where I found sulfur was necessary to
maintain the inner membrane structure of the
[Terry]: Oh, excellent.
[Rhonda]: Interesting, right?
[Terry]: Yes, yes.
[Rhonda]: And when they depleted rats of sulfur
and they looked at like their liver mitochondria,
I mean, the structure of them was like there
was huge holes in the structure.
And so, if your…
[Rhonda]: …membrane structure is not proper,
your mitochondrial metabolism’s…
[Terry]: Can’t work.
[Rhonda]: …not gonna be proper.
And if your mitochondria aren’t working properly
when they’re traveling during…down the long
axons to get to the synaptic cleft where they’re,
you know, needed to make energy for nerve
transmission, I mean, they’re not gonna get
They’re not gonna be able to do that.
Sulfur also is very important.
It’s an important thiol group, and these thiol
groups are very important reducing agents.
And so, they’re potent antioxidants.
Things like the glutathione is a very…it’s
a thiol containing antioxidant.
[Terry]: You know, and unfortunately, so many
people, the public think, “Well, I don’t have
any of that noxious flatulence.”
[Terry]: And so, because they’re afraid of
offending people when they pass gas, they
quit eating sulfur containing foods, leading
to this intracellular depletion and body depletion
sulfur with lots of negative consequences.
Another thing about like, the sulfur, I think
garlic also has very…
[Rhonda]: …beta-mercaptans and stuff.
Very high sulfur containing which is why they’re
[Rhonda]: And probably also cause flatulence.
[Terry]: And so healthy for us.
So, I’m a big proponent of the cabbage family,
garlic family, and mushrooms.
[Rhonda]: Sulforaphane which are in the cruciferous
family, they’re actually important, they activate
tumor suppressor genes.
So, they actually…it’s one of those epigenetic
changes where they activate tumor suppressor
genes and end up selectively, you know, killing
off precancerous cells in the body which is
[Terry]: It’s a good deal.
People always talk about eating broccoli and
cauliflower, you know, to fight off cancer.
[Terry]: Brussels sprouts.
Kale, collards, yes.
[Terry]: Very good stuff.
[Rhonda]: And you like mushrooms.
[Terry]: I love mushrooms.
[Rhonda]: So, what’s the…
[Terry]: So again, mushrooms will have some
sulfur, B vitamins, beta-lactams, and can
be very potent to add stimulating natural
[Rhonda]: Oh, wow.
Didn’t know that.
[Terry]: So, I’m very fond of mushrooms for
I like mushrooms, but that there’s some preliminary
research from our lab which I probably can’t
talk about too much because the person working
on it hasn’t published it yet.
But there is something in it called ergothioneine
which is in mushrooms.
And actually it’s been found to be accumulated
in mitochondria and we think it’s a new antioxidant
So, hopefully that will be published soon.
[Terry]: Published soon.
I mean, some of that what I mentioned is already
So, it’s known that it’s in mushrooms and
it’s known that this stuff accumulates in
[Terry]: So, briefly, I’m diagnosed with relapsing-remitting
multiple sclerosis the year 2000 on the basis
of a history of visual dimming 13 years earlier,
weakness of the left leg.
I had an MRI, my brain and spinal cord have
lesions at the level of my neck, the spinal
fluid was abnormal with oligo bands.
I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS.
I then, being an academic doc, wanted to see
the best people in the country.
I went to the MS clinic at the Cleveland Clinic,
took the latest drugs, still within three
years my disease had transitioned to secondary
And in that phase, you’re steadily declining,
there’s no more improvement.
I took mitoxantrone and then I took Tysabri.
It was apparent that conventional medicine
was failing me.
I was headed towards becoming demented and
bedridden ultimately from my illness.
That’s when I decided to start taking matters
into my own hands.
I began reading the mouse and animal models
of MS, decided mitochondria were key, did
more research, found some micronutrients that
were helpful, took those.
It slowed my decline, but I was not recovering.
The summer of 2007, I discovered the Institute
for Functional Medicine, took their course
Neuroprotection: A Functional Medicine Approach
for Common, Uncommon Neurologic Syndromes.
I had a longer list of micronutrients that
I was taking, then I had what was really the
most brilliant awareness, that I should get
these nutrients from the food that I ate instead
of synthetic compounds.
So, with more research, I again reorganized
I’m gonna back up for just a moment.
I’d gone to Paleo in 2002, taking gluten,
dairy, and eggs out at that time, but had
Fast forward to discovering functional medicine,
being more in tune with micronutrients, I
did more research, figured out where these
20 nutrients were in the food supply, reorganized
my diet using Paleo principles to maximize
these nutrients, started my diet.
Within three months, I’m able to walk using
a cane between exam rooms.
Within six months, I can walk throughout the
hospital without a cane.
I get on my bike for the first time in about
six years, paddled around the block.
My family and I were all crying because now,
I realized I was changing the world.
I had no idea what to expect, but possibly,
I could continue to improve.
And nine months later, I’m able to do an 18-mile
bike ride with my family.
The following year, I do a trail ride in the
I identify and decide that I plan to do a
We get some senior scientist to help me design
I write the grant, get funding, and in October
2010 we start the clinical trial.
And in fact, we’ve published.
Our first [inaudible 00:16:59] that through
the protocol showing that it’s safe, it’s
well tolerated, people can do it, and most
important, we have dramatic impact on fatigue.
[Terry]: So, we now have 20 people who’ve
We anticipate about five more papers coming
Very, very exciting stuff.
And of course, this has totally transformed
how I see disease and health, it transformed
my clinical practice, it transformed my clinical
[Rhonda]: And we hope it’s gonna transform
the public’s opinion of…
I mean, so…
[Terry]: Of treating MS, and treating, frankly,
all autoimmune and chronic diseases.
Because the root of the problem begins in
the cell, and the root of the cell’s health
is the micronutrient environment.
So, people, there you have it.
Dr. Terry Wahls was diagnosed with a autoimmune
Conventional medicine failed her, these pharmaceutical
drugs she was taking were not helping her.
In fact, it seems as though the disease progression
[Terry]: Continued, $40,000 a year.
[Rhonda]: She decided to take matters into
her own hands.
She figured out a common mechanism that was
common between a lot of brain dysfunctional
disorders which was mitochondrial function
is very important.
She figured out that micronutrients were important
for mitochondrial function and that most of
our diets are lacking in micronutrients.
And then she was able to not only consume
these micronutrients and keep her disease
at bay, but she was also able to reverse it.
And then she went on from there to actually
to get funding, and start doing research on
other people to see if her protocol what she
was…the micronutrients that she was taking
in would work for other people that have MS.
And so, this is absolutely great.
She was able to crowdfund some of this research
and she is still looking for crowdfunding.
So, if you are interested in donating to help
Terry Wahls’ research on the importance of
micronutrients to reverse some of these symptoms
of MS, and the disease itself…
[Terry]: And other autoimmune disease.
[Rhonda]: …and other autoimmune diseases,
you can help her out, terrywahls.com is her
You can donate whatever amount you want.
Also she’s got a book called “The Wahls Protocol”
where she discusses…she talks about her
personal story and then she discusses specifically
the micronutrients and also some of the macronutrients.
And how to get this through food.
We talk about other lifestyle issues.
It’s a very lay-friendly, step by step program
that you can begin to take your life back.