“I am the canary in the coal mine.”
These words were spoken recently by Terry Wahls, MD, in reference to her journey with progressive multiple sclerosis (MS)—a disease considered by most to be incurable. “I did not expect to recover,” she said. “For years, I thought genes were the biggest risk factor—diagnose people quickly, treat them with drugs—that’s conventional medicine. What I really should have been doing is focusing on environmental factors and addressing those.” She did just that, and in 2007, Dr. Wahls successfully altered the course of her progressive MS.
Life for an actual canary in a coal mine (dating back to 1911) could be described as short but meaningful, as the birds were brought in by miners to serve as an early warning of the presence of toxic gases. Life for Dr. Terry Wahls, thanks to a revolutionary treatment protocol she developed for MS, will not be short—but it certainly has and will continue to be meaningful. She has paved a way for those diagnosed with MS and other autoimmune diseases, conducts clinical trials on her research, and teaches her techniques to clinicians across the globe.
In 2007, bound to a wheelchair, Dr. Wahls began rigorously researching scientific articles about the latest multiple sclerosis research. Night after night, she relearned biochemistry, cellular physiology, and neuroimmunology to understand the articles, and eventually redesigned her diet so that she was getting important nutrients, not from supplements, but from the foods she ate. She also began incorporating neuromuscular electrical stimulation into her therapy. That summer, Dr. Wahls discovered Functional Medicine, which gave her a framework for understanding MS as a disease of inflammation, autoimmunity, and cellular energy dysfunction, and began the Wahls Protocol™. The results stunned her physician, her family, and herself. Within a year, she was able to walk through the hospital without a cane and even complete an 18-mile bicycle tour.
The core of Wahls’ therapeutic lifestyle, which she detailed in her 2014 book, The Wahls Protocol, is a modified Paleo diet very high in vegetables, grass-fed meat, and wild fish, and largely free of grains, dairy, and starches. The diet is augmented with targeted nutraceuticals that Dr. Wahls believes improve mitochondrial function and promote production of myelin and neurotransmitters.
“When I first met Terry Wahls, she was wheelchair-bound and was happy if she was able to sit upright in her chair instead of lying flat,” said David Jones, MD, founding president of The Institute for Functional Medicine, as he presented Dr. Wahls with the organization’s highest honor: the Linus Pauling Achievement Award in 2018. “To say, ‘She got a lot better’ is a major, major understatement.”
Dr. Wahls’ story is being turned into a feature documentary, Defying All Odds, on Indiegogo. The team is currently raising funds to complete production. Five cents of every dollar raised will go to Dr. Wahls’ Research Fund. If you choose to donate, you will be directly involved in furthering the development of the clinical trials on MS.
“Ever since Dr. Terry Wahls’ TEDx talk, ‘Minding Your Mitochondria,’ went viral in 2011, I have been fascinated by her amazing life story,” said Caroleen Moise, producer/director. “And what a story it is: plagued by an incurable disease, this incredible woman, herself a medical doctor, found a way to effectively treat her illness and recover from a disease no one thought one could recover from.”
Defying All Odds is not only about one brave woman’s journey to save her own life and regain health, it’s also the poignant testimony of how, ultimately, the power of healing lies within us.
“I felt morally bound to teach the public what I was doing … Because the public—the people with chronic disease—they can’t wait another 10–20 years for these clinical studies to come out. They are going to be demented, in refractory pain, and totally disabled. So I put it out there for people who are ready for action and who want to try this relatively safe diet and lifestyle intervention,” said Dr. Wahls in a 2018 interview with IFM founder Dr. Jeffrey Bland. “And for people who want to have the security of clinical trials—I’m doing them. To the clinicians who are intrigued by what I’m doing and want to learn about it—I will teach them.”