Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a degenerative autoimmune disease. Although scientists are still understanding the role of diet in treating and controlling MS, some people are able to slow the progression of their disease by following an MS diet.
One of those people is Dr. Terry Wahls, a physician who has MS. After becoming wheelchair-bound, she developed the Wahls protocol, a dietary approach aimed to rejuvenate cells and slow the process of MS. The Wahls protocol is similar to paleo or keto diets, but more restrictive.
Read on to learn about the Wahls protocol food list and the benefits you might gain from preparing Wahls protocol recipes.
Wahls Protocol for MS
The Wahls protocol is a specific, restrictive way of eating that’s designed to control the symptoms of MS. Some people use the protocol to help control other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s Disease.
The diet most closely resembles a paleo diet, although there are key differences. On the Wahls protocol, you’ll eat:
- Dark leafy vegetables like kale
- Vegetables that contain sulfur, like cabbage and mushrooms
- Fish and meat, with a specific focus on organ meat like liver and kidneys
- Seaweed, nutritional yeast, and fermented foods
People on the Wahl’s protocol don’t consume any dairy, grains, or sweeteners, including natural sweeteners like honey.
There are three levels to the Wahls diet. Since the diet can be hard to adapt to, the levels are meant to build on each other, and the higher the level of the diet that you follow, the greater benefit you’ll see, according to Dr. Wahls.
- Wahls Diet (Level One): You’ll give up all gluten and dairy, and focus on consuming 9 cups of fruits and vegetables each day.
- Wahls Paleo (Level Two): You’ll stop eating grains, and limit potatoes and beans to two servings a week. You’ll incorporate seaweed and fermented foods.
- Wahls Paleo Plus (Level Three): This level is a ketogenic diet with intermittent fasting. It eliminates potatoes, beans, and legumes, and limits fruit to one serving, preferably of berries. It incorporates coconut milk and limits meals to twice daily, with a long fast.
Who Is Dr. Terry Wahls?
Terry Wahls, MD, is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa. She’s also an MS patient who was diagnosed in 2000. Dr. Wahls became interested in how certain vitamins and nutrients could impact the progression of her MS. She looked at medical research, including animal research, to investigate the different ways that micronutrients can impact MS patients. In 2007, she developed the Wahls protocol. When she started following the MS diet she saw significant results, moving from a wheelchair to walking independently. She has since written books and cookbooks on the Wahls protocol.
Paleo Diet vs. Wahls Protocol
The Wahls protocol most closely resembles a paleo diet. A paleo diet is meant to mimic what prehistoric humans would have eaten. The diet focuses mostly on vegetables, fruits, and lean meats, and excludes grains, beans and legumes, dairy, and processed foods.
The Wahls protocol is even more restrictive than the paleo diet. Like paleo, the Wahls diet eliminates dairy, grains, legumes, and processed foods. However, the Wahls protocol specifically focuses on nutrients that Dr. Wahls believes help reduce inflammation and support brain and cell health. These include:
- Carotenoids and vitamin K to support neuron health
- Sulfur for brain health and to reduce degeneration
- Retinol for healthy bones and immune function
- Fermented foods to support healthy gut bacteria
Wahls has said that she did not see significant changes to her health following a paleo diet alone.
Benefits of Making Diet Changes With MS
Dr. Wahls was in a wheelchair, unable to even sit straight when she started following the Wahls protocol, she says. After following the diet she is able to walk unassisted, bike, and horseback ride.
However, Dr. Wahl’s experience is just one example, and can’t be expected for everyone that follows the Wahls protocol. The diet is recommended for many autoimmune disorders. Yet, healthcare providers are still learning about how diet can impact the progression of MS and other autoimmune disorders. Dr. Wahls herself is involved with clinical trials on the effectiveness of the Wahls protocol.
Wahls Protocol Recipes and Meal Plans
Wahls protocol recipes and meal plans incorporate tons of leafy vegetables, as well as meats and fermented foods.
- Bacon and Kimchi Veggie Stir Fry: Fry nitrate-free bacon in a large pan. Add chopped onions, kale, cauliflower, and carrots. Sauté for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in kimchi. Season with spicy peppers.
- Wahls Fudge: In a food processor, combine avocado, coconut milk, coconut powder, and walnuts. Top with fresh berries and the cream from the coconut milk.
- Spicy Beef Collard Wraps: Grind beef liver and combine it with ground beef. Sauté. Add onions, cilantro, green pepper, jalapeños, and cauliflower. Season with red pepper, lime, and other spices, to taste. Wrap in collard greens, like a burrito.
The Wahls protocol is an MS diet designed to help slow the progression of the disease. The plan involves eliminating grains, dairy, sweeteners, and processed foods. In addition, it focuses on nutrients that are good for brain and immune health, including vitamin K, sulfur, retinol, and probiotics. Healthcare providers are still studying the Wahls protocol, but it is recommended for patients with MS or an autoimmune disease.
A Word From Verywell
Facing a serious illness like MS can leave you feeling powerless. Taking control of your nutrition is one way to reclaim autonomy over your health. Although there are no guarantees, many people have had success following the Wahls protocol. If the protocol seems overwhelming, talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietician about how you can slowly start making changes that might help you cope with MS.
Frequently Asked Questions
When does Wahls protocol begin to take effect?
There’s no well-acknowledged timeline for when the Wahls protocol will begin to take effect. Dr. Wahls went from using a wheelchair to walking independently within a year of following it. Another woman on the diet reported similar changes within a month. You may notice results much sooner. Before starting the diet, talk with your healthcare provider about what to expect.
Can diet changes help slow MS progression?
Researchers are still studying whether diet changes can slow the progression of MS. Anecdotal reports are promising, however, and the Wahls protocol is often recommended for MS and autoimmune disorders. Talk with your care team about whether dietary changes might help you.
Is caffeine okay on the Wahls diet?
Some people on the Wahls diet consume caffeine, while others don’t. It’s best to talk to your healthcare provider about what’s best for your specific situation.
What’s the difference between the Wahls protocol and keto?
The most restrictive level of the Wahls protocol, level three, is a ketogenic diet. However, the Wahls protocol is different from mainstream keto because it focuses on the specific vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients that can benefit people with MS.