Updated 10/8/23; Originally posted 4/18/22
Doctors are people – just like the rest of us. When a doctor gets sick, sometimes they buckle down with what they already know and sometimes they strike out in new directions seeking healing. Terry Wahl, MD went from being a marathon runner and mountain climber to a wheelchair and spending all day lying in a zero-gravity chair. She fought her diagnosis and symptoms of progressive Multiple Sclerosis with food and the principles of functional medicine (new to her!).
Through this book, we get to learn how she improved her brain health and body health through her Wellness Lifestyle. Whether you have MS or not, everything she talks about in this book can help you heal and prevent disease and just generally have a healthier, younger brain.
Healing from an Autoimmune Disease
When you have a chronic autoimmune disease, your own immune system attacks your body causing your body to turn those parts “off” to protect them. Functional medicine practitioners now know that autoimmune diseases are initiated by your immune system getting confused between “you” and “non-you”. “Non-you” molecules and other bits can be environmental toxins, cellular trash, mold, heavy metals in the air you breathe, pesticides in your food, chemicals in your drinking water, etc.
In the case of Multiple Sclerosis, the brain and central nervous system are being attacked. When a part of the body is under siege and feels it can not win, that area shrinks and shuts down activity. In order to restore function, the invaders must be removed through detoxification. Once the invaders are eliminated from your body, you can self heal with plenty of the proper ingredients.
Food As Brain Medicine
Hippocrates and Dr Wahls both believe that food is medicine. Her brain healing protocol begins with diet. Her guiding dietary principle is to feed your cells everything they need to heal themselves through a nutrient dense whole foods diet (locally grown is best for nutrition). A quick summary of the Wahls Diet is:
- 9 cups of vegetables and fruits daily – 3 cups of greens, 3 cups of sulfur rich, and 3 cups of deep colors for anti-oxidants, minerals, and vitamins so your cells can work and heal
- Animal protein from organic, grass-fed, and wild-caught sources
- Plenty of healthy fats
- Low legumes
- No gluten, conventional dairy, eggs
- Seaweed, algae, and organ meats
- Fermented foods
- Time restricted eating
There are 3 levels to choose from depending on how fast you want to progress and how willing you are to commit to dietary changes that will improve your wellbeing.
Brain Healing Through Detox
Our bodies and brains are challenged by toxins all of our modern lives. Some of us do better and eliminating these toxins than others. When your toxic load rises too high to feel good and be fully functional, a detox is needed. Dr Wahls protocol for healing involved these detox ideas:
- Eliminate exposure to toxins
- Support your body’s detox pathways through nutrition and supplements
- Sweat in an infrared sauna (particularly if movement is difficult)
- Algae for your diet and your skin
- Dry brushing to help skin detox
Exercise Is a Must for Brain Healing
MS affects your muscular control and energy levels but you were designed to move. Exercise is simple planned, organized movement with a purpose. Movement is healing for the brain so finding safe, manageable exercise options is very important. Exercise should be a daily occurrence just like eating is but variety is important. Dr Wahls recommends you work on all 5 of these types of exercise alternating them and aiming for strength work every other day. Remember that your abilities will change as you work and to celebrate your successes!
- Flexibility and stretching – like in Zen Flow Yoga or Fascial Release classes
- Balance – which I offer in every movement class
- Strengthening – like Pilates Equipment or Zoa’s other strength oriented classes with particular attention to legs and feet or Vibration Therapy
- Neuromuscular reeducation – guiding your brain and body to work better together by using props that challenge your whole body stabilizing system which I typically offer in all movement classes except for yoga
- Cardiovascular fitness – work for your heart, blood vessels, and breathing so you can get oxygen and nutrients up to your brain – like using the CAROL AI controlled Metabolic Bike
In the beginning, your exercise will be mostly fighting the decline that comes with age and poor health or disease. With time, you see forward progress towards the shores of your fitness goals. As you exercise, you are stimulating your nervous system to work better. There are additional ways that Dr Wahls discusses for providing healing stimulation for your nerves but she is firm that exercise is non-negotiable in her protocol.
Heal Your Brain By Managing Your Stress Levels
Stress is crucial for life but there is a big difference between acute beneficial stress (life enhancing) and chronic draining stress that damages your health. Chronic stress gets your hormones out of whack, encourages you to become insulin resistant, and increases inflammation in the body. You can damage your blood vessels and brain by being overstressed!
Stress relief is a big part of the Wahls protocol for healing. Dr Wahls encourages twice daily opportunities to do something you enjoy that will help you de-stress and reset your nervous system. Ideas include:
- Be in nature
- Meditate or pray
- Social contact with supportive people
- Contemplate your higher purpose or dharma
- Massage (fascial release class can substitute)
- Epsom salts bath for magnesium
Sleep is when we heal the most and stress can keep you from getting great sleep. When you are trying to heal from an injury or a disease, good sleep habits are crucial. Even if you think your sleep is good, lowers stress levels could make a big difference!
Work on Your Wellness with Zoa
Whether you are looking to heal from an existing autoimmune disease or prevention is your focus, a Wellness Lifestyle is your key. You can take this information and run with it on your own, but if you would like a partner in your wellness journey I would love to talk with you more!