Brain Health,

#136: The Wahls Protocol: Fighting Fatigue With a Fork

July 08, 2016

Dr. Terry Wahls is back for a third time to talk functional medicine, ketosis, and implementing the Wahls Protocol™.

Who is Terry Wahls, M.D.?

In case you missed her earlier episodes (Episode 15 and Episode 27), Dr. Wahls is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa and is also a patient with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.

That diagnosis confined her to a wheelchair, prompting her research into functional medicine and the Paleo diet.  The research and subsequent experimentation paid off, as within a year she was out of the wheelchair and completing an 18-mile bicycle ride.  She wrote a book, Minding My Mitochondria, about her experience recovering from MS.

The Wahls Protocol

Based on her experience and research, Dr. Wahls developed the Wahls Protocol™, a diet to treat chronic autoimmune conditions.

At its core, the Wahls Protocol™ is focused on consuming high levels of the most brain-healthy vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids from food (as opposed to supplements).  The Protocol focuses on tons of veggies (nine cups a day for men; six for women), wild or grass-fed meat (including organ meat), fermented foods, and seaweed.  On the blacklist:  sugar, dairy, and gluten.  As Dr. Wahls puts it, it’s “Paleo Plus.”

Of course, the diet can be personalized for food sensitivity issues (nitrates, tree nuts, etc.)

One tip:  to save money, you’re going to have to cook your own food.  That doesn’t mean slaving away in the kitchen though.  Dr. Wahls has a repertoire of quick weeknight dinners (like soups and stews) that take no longer than 30 minutes from cutting board to plate.

Potential Pitfalls

Dr. Wahls admits her diet can be “pretty tough” to stick to religiously.  Unfortunately, even “cheating” as little as 20% of the time can derail benefits, since that 20% of your diet will probably include inflammatory foods.

What’s the key to success?  Recognizing what your social triggers are for eating inflammatory foods (almost everyone will struggle with having a piece of birthday cake set down in front of them) and then purging your environment of those triggers.

So many of our food habits are automatic and influenced by other people.  Counteract this by getting friends and family onboard with supporting your diet when you’re together and figuring out different ways of socializing.  For example, go for a hike instead of meeting up for drinks and bar snacks.


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The Benefits of the Protocol

In Dr. Wahls’ clinical trials, she’s seen significant benefits to mood, cognition, and fatigue across a variety of conditions.  So, what conditions does the Wahls Protocol™ benefit?  It’s almost easier to list what it does not benefit…  but here’s a partial list:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Moderate traumatic brain injuries
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Diabetes

A New Take on Ketosis

Dr. Wahls has plenty of experience with ketosis — she once spent 18 months (!) in ketosis.  But she’s come to a new, seasonal-based understanding.

Distant ancestors who lived in regions with distinct summer and winter seasons would not have been in a state of ketosis all year.  Even arctic dwellers aren’t in year-round ketosis.  Instead, during the warm summer months, people would have eaten a non-ketogenic diet high in sugary fruits and vegetables.  As the weather turned cold, their diet would have increased in fat and decreased in carbs, leading to ketosis during the winter months.

Based on this idea, Dr. Wahls now allows herself berries from her garden during the summer months (yum!), while following a stricter, true ketogenic diet in the winter.

Further Reading

PS:  For more delicious and nutritious news, don’t miss our weekly Brain Breakfast emails.

Read Full Transcript
Show Notes
  • 00:00:32

    Our third episode with Dr. Terry Wahls

  • 00:01:45

    This Week in Neuroscience: Exercise Releases Brain-Healthy Protein

  • 00:05:06

    The audience interaction section

  • 00:07:15

    The Wahls Protocol

  • 00:11:47

    Trials being conducted using the Wahls Protocol

  • 00:15:29

    Different "levels" of dieting and social triggers

  • 00:18:31

    Acute symptoms and "dwindlers"

  • 00:19:50

    Seasonal ketosis

  • 00:23:53

    Where does fatigue come from?

  • 00:26:23

    Adjustments in the Protocol for people with traumatic brain injury

  • 00:29:16

    Eating properly at a low cost

  • 00:31:17

    Dr. Wahls' seminar in August 2016 and call for MS patients looking to get involved in a Wahls Protocol study

  • 00:33:02

    Ruthless Listener-Retention Gimmick: Greater Busyness Is Associated with Better Cognition

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