Beating MS: The Doctor Who Walked Away from Her Wheelchair with Diet and Lifestyle Changes

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition affecting over 2.5 million people worldwide, and between 400,000 and 800,000 Americans. It is the leading cause of early departure from the workforce and one of the main causes of disability. People diagnosed with MS and their families are fearful of becoming disabled, as well as developing MS-related dementia. The expense of developing treatments every year is considerable, but there are now several options for patients to consider.

##Understanding Multiple Sclerosis

MS is most commonly diagnosed after 10 to 20 years of unexplained symptoms such as fatigue, balance problems, pain, or vision problems. In MS, the body attacks the myelin insulation on the wiring between cells in the brain or spinal cord. The exact cause of this is not well understood, but the current theory is that an infection in childhood was not adequately cleared from the brain. For unknown reasons, the immune system is then reactivated, and immune cells then begin targeting myelin, causing a slow, steady destruction.

Over time, the person experiences relapses followed by periods of remission, known as the relapsing-remitting phase. This can continue for several years, with around 10 to 15 years being typical for progression into the progressive phase of the disease, where the symptoms gradually worsen, and disability accumulates steadily.

The goal of MS treatment is to prevent or delay the onset of disability. In order to develop effective drugs quicker, scientists have turned to MRI scans to track and measure the disease. By focusing on a decreased number of brain lesions and fewer MS symptom attacks, they can begin to work on medications to halt the immune cell attacks.

##Current Drug Options

The first-generation interferon-based drugs could decrease the risk of attacks by about a third but came with a hefty price tag. However, as prescription coverage became more common in health insurance plans, many more patients were able to afford these disease-modifying medications. As our understanding of immune cell biochemistry has improved, it has become possible to design more effective drugs that target specific parts of the immune system. Known as biologics, these drugs can reduce the rate of new attacks and lesions by over 60%. However, with their effectiveness comes an even higher price, costing up to $5,000 per month. As a result, substantial costs are incurred for the care of MS patients, creating a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry.

##Functional Medicine Approaches for Multiple Sclerosis

An alternative to these expensive medications is to teach patients how to create healthier lifestyles using diet and lifestyle changes. The functional medicine approach to treating autoimmune diseases involves getting to the root cause of why immune cells began attacking the self. By looking comprehensively at nutritional status, physical activity levels, gut health, hormone balance, toxin exposure, infection history, sleep quality, and stress level, several areas may need modification to promote better health. By making these diet and lifestyle changes, patients experience stabilization of their condition and a steady regression of symptoms.

##Personal Experience and Continued Research

As a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa, a clinical researcher, and an MS patient, I (Dr. Terry Wahls) have firsthand experience of the benefits of the functional medicine approach when my decline continued despite following the latest drug treatments. When I discovered the Institute for Functional Medicine and applied their Neuroprotection approach, my health changed dramatically. Within six months, I no longer needed a cane, my fatigue disappeared along with my brain fog, and within 12 months, I was even able to complete an 18-mile bicycle tour with my family!

Not only did this change my life, but it also changed my perspective as a physician. I now practice medicine differently and conduct cutting-edge clinical research focusing on diet and lifestyle interventions for MS treatment. Our research team has shown others can adopt and sustain this approach, with minimal side effects and a significant reduction in fatigue. This has led to increased public awareness of dietary and lifestyle changes that can improve health and stabilize mood, motor function, and reduce pain.

As part of the Therapeutic Lifestyle Clinic at the University of Iowa, we employ this approach for all complex autoimmune conditions, and mental and medical health problems. This method has shown tremendous success in restoring health and regressing disability. To learn more about my work, visit