Research on viral ‘Wahls Protocol’ treatment for multiple sclerosis continues at University of Iowa

In 2007, Dr. Terry Wahls found a way to stop the progression of her multiple sclerosis using diet and lifestyle changes –– and she continues to study her method with University of Iowa Health Care.


Katie Goodale

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as seen on Sept. 17, 2018.

Rylee Wilson, News Reporter

Terry Wahls’ treatment method for multiple sclerosis, the Wahls Protocol, has already gained a large following online — but with a best-selling book and a TEDtalk with more than 3 million views, she still has plans to advance her research.

With a new $2 million grant, Wahls, a clinical professor of internal medicine in the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, is working to further her method through studying multiple sclerosis patients who elect not to take medication to manage the disease.

“There are no studies comparing what happens to people who are newly diagnosed with MS and elect to not take drugs and follow the diet and lifestyle that I outlined,” she said.

The study is currently being reviewed by the Institutional Review Board, and Wahls hopes to launch it next year with hopes that the Wahls Protocol will be able to be tested in a randomized, double-blind study once its completed.

Wahls developed her protocol — an approach to treating multiple sclerosis and other immune diseases using a modified diet approach — while suffering from multiple sclerosis herself.

While managing secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, Wahls began researching vitamins and supplements to treat the disease and then began searching for a way to incorporate those nutrients into her diet.

“I had a really big ‘a-ha’ moment that I should redesign my paleo diet to match my intake of all these key brain nutrients I’ve identified in food,” she said. “I start that new way of eating in December of 2007, and within three months my pain is gone, my brain fog is gone. I’m beginning to walk with a cane.”

After writing up a case study from her own findings, Wahls began studying the method through a series of small pilot studies.

Wahls said that, although she has faced some criticism for publishing the Wahls Protocol without having gone through a scientific double-blind study, the funding for her research comes from families who have benefited from her treatment protocols.

“The fact that I have done this publicly with my TED talk, with my book, has allowed me to have the visibility that has allowed us to have a very successful philanthropic support for my research lab for the last nine years, which is how I’ve conducted many of my small pilot studies,” Wahls said.

Warren Darling, department head of health and human physiology, has been involved with Wahls’ research for several years.

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Darling said research he and Wahls have conducted so far shows improved quality of life for patients treated using the Wahls Protocol diet.

“There was a clear reduction in perceived fatigue. These people with multiple sclerosis, they often feel exhausted almost all the time,’ he said. “After being on that program with diet and exercise they’re able to do more without being tired. We’ve also found improved quality of life related to feeling less tired and improved motor function.”

Linda Snetselaar, a professor of epidemiology and chair of preventive nutrition education, is involved in the experimental design of the current study.

She said the study intends to be more scientifically rigorous than previous small pilot studies.

“Maybe the numbers were super small, sometimes there was a sample size of two patients — what we’re trying to do is have a larger number of participants in the study and additionally use a scientifically rigorous study design,” she said.

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