Josie ByzekIn 2000, Dr. Terry Wahls was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis and by 2003 she was taking chemo for secondary-progressive MS and using a power wheelchair. “I continued to decline and thought, this is terrible, and the best clinic in the country is not stopping this,” says Wahls, a professor of medicine with the University of Iowa, where she conducts clinical trials. “So I went back to the basic science and experimented on myself.

That was in 2007, when she applied her knowledge of neuroprotection to her own case by creating nutritional supplements. “It helped, but I still declined. A couple of months later I realized, what if instead of taking supplements I ate food to get those nutrients? And I redesigned my diet to get in enough of those nutrients.” She upped her vegetable and lean protein intake in a very specific way. “Three months later I was using a cane, six months later no cane, nine months later I was bike riding. It changed how I thought about disease and how I practice medicine.”

Her recovery was greeted with skepticism. “So many people say, ‘Did I have progressive MS, or did I have MS at all? Did the physicians make a mistake?’ And OK, let’s say everybody was incompetent. So I held a clinical trial with 20 others with progressive MS and published multiple papers showing dramatic improvement from quality of life to improved motor function.” That was the breakthrough, and two years ago the National MS Society funded a $1 million ongoing study directed by Wahls to look at the role of diet in MS.

“We have outside statisticians,” says Wahls about the NMSS study. “I don’t handle the data, and there are other safeguards, and now other scientists are studying whether diet matters. It’s had a huge impact.”

Wahls’ book and other resources, including a free Wahls Paleo Diet Food Pyramid, can be found at Terrywahls.com/diet.