I spent four years in a tilt/recline wheelchair due to progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). Now, thanks to a diet and lifestyle program that I designed specifically for my brain, I am out of the wheelchair and back on my bike. My journey changed how I think about disease and health, how I practice medicine, and the research that I do.
I am a clinical professor at the University of Iowa, where I conduct clinical studies testing the efficacy of diet and lifestyle to treat M.S.-related symptoms. I strongly believe diet and self-care matter! It is my mission to teach the public how to use my principles to improve their overall health and better manage their chronic health issues. I also aim to conduct the research necessary to understand how diet affects M.S.-related symptoms, including my most recent study.
The impact of diet on M.S., according to my latest research.
To date, my team has conducted four clinical studies of the effect of the Wahls™ diet—a nutrient-rich paleo diet that includes greens, sulfur-rich and deeply colored vegetables, berries, grass-fed meat, wild fish, organ meat, and seaweed. Through my research, I have consistently found that people experience less fatigue and better quality of life as they followed this diet.
We just published a much larger study titled “Dietary Approaches to Treating Multiple Sclerosis,” where we enrolled 87 patients with relapsing-remitting M.S. and took baseline measurements of fatigue, quality of life, and walking endurance. We asked them to eat their usual diet and observed them for 12 weeks and repeated all the measures. Next, we randomly selected patients to begin either the Swank diet or the Wahls elimination diet. We repeated all measurements at 12 and 24 weeks.
For a little background, the key elements of the Wahls diet include eating six to nine cups of nonstarchy vegetables and berries and excluding gluten, dairy, and eggs. While the key of the Swank diet is limiting saturated fat to less than 15 grams per day. (Learn more about the Wahls diet here and the Swank diet here.)
Fatigue, quality of life, and walking endurance were largely stable during the observation phase, when participants were eating their usual diets. After 12 weeks, both groups experienced a reduction in fatigue severity and improvements in quality of life; however, their walking endurance did not change. Notably, the Wahls diet group had significantly better quality of life than the Swank group.
After 24 weeks, improvements continued in both groups, but those on the Wahls diet now had significantly greater reduction in fatigue, more improvements in quality of life, and significantly better walking endurance—compared to those on the Swank diet.
In the future, we plan to conduct larger studies with controls (people who follow their regular diet) and we will follow people for longer periods.
The research continues to build that if you have M.S. or another autoimmune condition, your diet affects your energy and quality of life. In my clinical practice, we see people with a wide variety of autoimmune problems who use diet and self-care to reduce fatigue and improve their quality of life.
We have several active clinical studies for people with MS. If you are interested in participating in other clinical trials that we are conducting, visit the Wahls Lab website here. We also periodically conduct free online five-day challenges that help people improve their diet and self-care routines. If you’d like to make these changes but your specialist doesn’t believe diet and self-care can reduce your symptoms, consider working with a primary care team that supports implementing such regimens.