“Diet is profound. Lifestyle is profound. All patients should be taught how profound these things are.” — Terry Wahls, MS thriver and founder of the Wahls Protocol
Western medicine has long approached multiple sclerosis (MS) and autoimmune disorders through traditional methods. While there have been great strides in our understanding, the science has proven incomplete. There’s a growing number of experts who are looking at alternative modalities for answers and promise. One such professional is Terry Wahls, MD.
I had the privilege of attending the Wahls Protocol Seminar and Retreat in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in July. The seminar, which Wahls hosts as a retreat is a three-day immersion where hundreds of people living with MS, brain fog, chronic pain, or other autoimmune disorders gather together. These “Wahls Warriors,” led by Wahls herself, spent three full days celebrating each other, and learning from some of the most forward-thinking (and eating) integrative medical professionals in the industry.
To say these few days were inspiring would be an understatement. From the cutting-edge content to the precise scheduling, every day was packed with a Michelin star-quality menu of the latest scientific research, interactive community building, mindful exercise, and opportunities to learn and explore new and creative strategies to heal and uplevel the functionality of the body, mind, and spirit.
Wahls and her team curated an all-star speaker and sponsorship panel that offered something for everyone no matter what stage or phase of life they were in. The goal is to educate the public by exposing them to high-level mitochondrial, cellular, and detoxification products including the opportunity to experiment and explore some of the treatments first-hand. Wahls is adamant that the only way for someone to learn is through experience. All other forms of education are not lived, and therefore nullified, she says.
The seminar began with a powerful keynote by Wahls, where she inspired everyone in the room with her hero-like healing journey living with MS. Her moxy, positivity, and willingness to challenge the status quo of modern medicine was represented and echoed by the diverse community of medical professionals, artists, movement specialists, and healers.
Ken Sharlin, MD, one of the noted speakers, is a neurologist and founder of the Brain Tune Up! protocol and author of “The Healthy Brain Toolbox.” He shared his food-as-medicine approach, grounded in the philosophy that “there is no way to disconnect conditions that surround the nervous system with what we eat. They are intrinsically related and connected — there is no separation at all.”
His protocols are rooted in lifestyle modification and food synergy, which he describes as obtaining nutrients primarily from food. Critical nutrients for neurological health include B vitamins, B12, magnesium, zinc, iodine, selenium, and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA). Whereas DHA supports brain health, EPA supports heart health, and both are equally important for homeostasis.
Sulfur-based cruciferous vegetables should be included daily for proper production of glutathione, an essential antioxidant that combats reactive oxygen species in the cell such as free radicals, peroxides, and heavy metals.
Threaded throughout many of the presentations was the role of gut health in the prevalence and progression of MS and related neurological diseases. A new treatment advancement that is gaining popularity is the role cannabidiol (CBD) can play in healing gut dysfunction and inflammation.
Phillip Blair, MD, delivered a fascinating presentation on CBD and its impact on the body. Blair is an expert on this topic with a pedigree that includes service as a U.S. Army colonel where he practiced family medicine and disease management during the first Persian Gulf War.
Although CBD is relatively experimental as a treatment option under the supervision of a medical professional, Blair shared that he has had success with it helping to improve gut integrity by “firming up the strength of the lining of the intestine, the brain and the kidneys protecting them from leakage, as well as from those proteins and substances getting into the body therefore causing more inflammation. Bacteria from the gut can produce lipopolysaccharides (LPS), which is inflammatory in the brain because it crosses the blood-brain barrier and is signaling in the brain and all the organ systems.”
Blair and Sharlin were only two of the highly qualified transformative lecturers presenting at this seminar. They and their colleagues are disrupting and expanding the current worldview around how autoimmune disease is being treated and the importance of a holistic body, mind, and spirit approach to healing.
As I was leaving the seminar, I stole some time with Dr. Wahls, who perfectly summed up the gravity of her work, and the need for this food and lifestyle consciousness to be integrated into the Western medicine model as a collaboration.
“As patients improve via nutrient dense and lifestyle interventions, they will improve across the board. Blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight will normalize,” she said. “Patients must work with a primary care physician as to conscientiously monitor medications and decrease dosing as needed. My mission is to teach the public and neurology colleagues to answer the question: What is the role of diet and lifestyle in the care of the patients?”
My hope is by continuing to take this proactive approach to care and paying attention to answering this question, the essential role of food and lifestyle will continue to become more and more relevant in the treatment and management of MS and related autoimmune diseases.
Alana Kessler, MS, RD, CDN, E-RYT, is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, weight management expert, and an accredited member of the CDR (Commission on Dietetic Registration) and the American Dietetic Association. She is also a yoga and meditation teacher, Ayurveda specialist, and the founder of the New York City-based fully integrated mind, body, and spirit urban sanctuary, BE WELL. Alana’s BE WELL ARC System and Method Mapping technique is a holistic multi-disciplinary approach to health and wellness that blends Eastern and clinical Western diet and lifestyle support to effect long-lasting behavior change.
A graduate of NYU with a BA and MS in clinical nutrition, Alana is dedicated to helping others learn how to nourish themselves, create balance, and understand their true nature through nutrition, yoga, and inner wellness. She leads Yin Yoga workshops and trainings as well as wellness retreats at international locations. Her health, fitness, and lifestyle expertise has been featured in Aaptiv.com, Droz.com, EatThis.com, RD.com, Redbook, WomensHealthmag.com, and Vogue. For more information, visit her website at bewellbyak.com.