May 01 2014

Can Diet Cure MS?

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13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Can Diet Cure MS?”

  1. MikeLewinskion 01 May 2014 at 1:27 pm

    I’ve seen the work of Dr. Wahls used to blame the patient, by moralizing in effect that “If you ate better you wouldn’t be sick and wouldn’t need disability”. Every dietary choice was hyper-scrutinized and wheat was deemed the ultimate evil and cause of all auto-immune dysfunction.

    Needless to say the moralism didn’t result in changing diet, but did drive a wedge in that relationship.

  2. jblumenfeldon 01 May 2014 at 1:37 pm

    The idea of curing things purely with diet and exercise is oh, so seductive. For example, my own type II diabetes recently progressed to where I need to take a dose of insulin once a day. I was pretty dismayed by this and blamed my own lack of management for it. I was so sure that once I got back on track diet-wise I’d be able to get off the insulin. My GP/endocrinologist was sympathetic, but he basically said “it CAN happen, but don’t count on it. If I had to guess, you’ll be taking MORE not LESS insulin as time goes by.”

    This is not because I’m a bad person – it’s because that’s the way diabetes usually works.

    We all want to think we can manage our cholesterol, blood pressure, MS, whatever through pure force of will – and taking care of diet and exercise is of course very important. But the fact is there are all kinds of aspects to these diseases and some very physically fit people are just going to have high cholesterol or high blood pressure. It is not an admission of defeat to take medication for these things! It is a benefit that we get from modern medicine and we should be happy we live in modern times.

  3. nwkeiseron 01 May 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Steve, thanks so much for posting about this, I’ve been interested in your take on the MS/nutrition thing for a while. I am a researcher at the University of Iowa, where Dr. Terry Wahls works, and I have had the opportunity to see her speak locally on several occasions about her diet (amazingly called the Wahls Diet) and the clinical trial she is conducting. Although I’m glad she is conducting a clinical trial (, and the movies she showed at her talk showed patients’ gaits improving, the trial used a ton of different dietary changes, supplementation, plus electrical stimulation all at once (mainly to see if the patients could actually adhere to the strict regimen). She herself stated several times that the way the NIH would like her to proceed is to pursue one treatment at a time, but she seemed really resistant to that (despite the fact that it would help us see which treatment was actually working). When I asked her after the seminar to comment on her decision to include all these treatment regimens instead of just one or two, she kind of bristled, and then said, “You know, we’re just trying to help people.” Although I don’t doubt that she may really want to help these patients, she clearly has a huge conflict of interest in this case (to sell her books and diet plans), and furthermore, she has made many statements in the past, and in the article you linked to, that suggest that she sees herself as battling the medical establishment, as if her diet program is the “cure THEY don’t want you to know about.” This type of conspiratorial thinking moves her into quack territory, and seriously calls her philosophy into question. Although I think it would truly be useful to know if aspects of the diet can improve outcome for MS patients, it should be done in a proper, controlled, SCIENTIFIC manner.

  4. norsecloneon 01 May 2014 at 3:19 pm

    I sent Dr. Novella an email about Dr. Wahls about three years ago after she actually gave a lecture to my classmates and I during our first year of medical school. I’m so glad to see she’s finally ended up on his radar. The University of Iowa has actually done very well in staying away from the recent trend across the country of ‘quackademic medicine.’ But they love Dr. Wahls, and so does a large portion of the Iowa City community. She is a hero and paragon of the local alt med community. There is actually a Dr. Wahls salad in the salad bar area at the local Co-Op.

    Dr. Novella, on a more personal note, if you have time, I would love to see a more thorough takedown of some of her rhetoric. I think she’s actually doing some harm in my community and it seems like she is gaining more and more traction in more national alt med groups and discussions. I’m afraid she may be about to ‘break out,’ as it were. Thanks again for all you do.

  5. Bill Openthalton 02 May 2014 at 3:29 am

    jblumenfeld –

    The sense of personal failure in case of health issues is, as far as I can tell, widespread. I have personal knowledge of people who refused even glasses because they saw their visual problems as a personal fault. Maybe this comes from religion — if you are a bad person, you are punished by your god in your health, fortune and friendships; maybe it is profoundly human and is exploited by religions to bind their followers.

    To a degree, it is also empowering to think you have the possibility to fix whatever ails you. Some people seem to prefer the belief in their own powers combined with the observable failure to use them (which could be explained as a choice) over the realisation they might have been dealt a bad hand in life’s game of chance. Come to think of it, it is probably easier to motivate oneself through an illusion of personal power and control, than through the mere observation one has not been as fortunate as most others.

  6. SimonWon 02 May 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Just seen someone asking in patient support group about supplements after describing a diet that clearly has sufficient everything, and seeing “homeopathic doctor” who recommended a load of supplements (at least one of which might aggravate the condition). Argh…..

    I’m probably a bad example, having read the scientific evidence on diet, and exercise, I made a conscious decision to eat more foods that I like, worry less about what is good to eat, and to exercise more. Yes, I’m overweight, in fact slap bang in the bit of the body mass index associated with optimum life expectancy. My food isn’t going to kill me, and it isn’t going to cure me.

    Sure coronary heart disease might get me, but with low cholesterol, low blood pressure, no diabetes or smoking, it’ll be from complications of my existing medical condition. With very little cancer in the family (2 grandparents had it in their late 80′s after 60 years of smoking like chimneys), it is probably a leading contender but not the bogey man it might be. If I was a betting man I’d put my money on medical mistake, try not to make it too soon Doc.

  7. BillyJoe7on 03 May 2014 at 1:46 am


    “With very little cancer in the family”

    That actually doesn’t help much. Most people with a cancer do not have a family history of that particular type of cancer. And those with a first degree relative with a particular type of cancer are mostly no more likely to develop that cancer than anyone else. There are exceptions of course.

    (Note: there is really no such thing as cancer. There are cancers. Pleural. There will never be a “cure for cancer”, but there may one day be “cures for all cancers”. At least that is the position with our present state of knowledge)

    “If I was a betting man I’d put my money on medical mistake”

    You will likely lose your bet…unless you include mistakes made after the medical profession has prolonged your life by diagnosing and treating a potentially lethal condition.

  8. BaSon 03 May 2014 at 12:45 pm

    > Treatment literally decreases time to wheelchair

    I assume this is a typo and should read something like “delays time to wheelchair”. Decreases here seems to indicate they get debilitated faster.

  9. BillyJoe7on 04 May 2014 at 3:51 am


    I missed that completely.

    I’ll blame my dislike for the phrase “time to wheelchair”.
    I’m not sure anyone with MS wants to be reminded that they are heading for a wheelchair. Besides which, that’s not even true. Many with MS will never end up in a wheelchair, even if they live a normal lifespan. For example, my older sister was diagnosed about 15 years ago and she has no obvious impairment. She is fully employed and walks 10km a few times a week.

  10. Kathleen Mon 09 May 2014 at 9:12 am

    Dr Wahls seems to hit on one of my personal pet peeves. If something comes from “pharma” it is merely suppressing symptoms and cannot ever in any way be a cure, especially if you must take it every day. If something can be perceived as “natural” it is always in every case by definition curing the underlying cause of the disease, even if you have to adhere to that treatment plan daily for the rest of your life.

  11. RJSon 23 Aug 2014 at 3:48 pm

    I don’t agree. It doesn’t seem that you have read Wahl’s work personally and instead you pull and criticize quotes from someone else’s interview. The quotes from the interview don’t supply enough context. Dr. Wahls is actually quite careful in her books not to discount medical care. She doesn’t advise dropping conventional care to do her diet. She always wants the patient to do things with their current physician’s guidance and advice. She does advise how to maximize your nutrition, reduce your toxins and do all those things you talk about above… no matter if you are well or ill. She doesn’t recommend a ton of supplementation without testing for need. She prefers people get what they need from food rather than supplements, although she doesn’t bash supplements either. Is that quackery? If you are currently sick or if you are not, she is largely pushing for maximizing nutrition to help you heal and to prevent illness. She offers 3 variations of the diet and alternatives if people have intolerance of specific foods. If you feel that advice is taking down the medical establishment, then you might need to turn your critical eye on your own views.

    A quote from her book, “I still have multiple sclerosis, but now I have my life back.” She doesn’t say she’s cured. Why she published the book? It will take forever to do the research and she feels strongly enough with her improvements and the improvements of those she and her colleagues have seen in clinical practice and while doing pilot work that she wanted to give the information to the public. You can call that self promoting, but I don’t see it that way.

    She references research. She is formally researching her diet. She indicates in her book what she does and does not have research on. She is really quite careful. She doesn’t say you will never get sick. I still hope she will do the component analysis in her future work, because I think it’s important. She doesn’t say that the lesions in MS disappear… in fact she says they will most likely remain. I really think you have misrepresented her work. Before you put her on the quack list, I think you need to read her work personally, not just critique a talk or someone’s interview of her who may be aiming to take down modern medicine. Don’t blame Wahls for that.

    I appreciate her balanced approach as someone who wants to prevent disease first and also have great avenues for treatment through conventional medicine if/when it occurs.

  12. dougahmannon 10 Nov 2014 at 5:40 pm

    RJS, you make some good points. As much as I hate to give Dr. Wahls some money, if she does turn out to be way off track, based on your own review I feel compelled to read it for myself.

    I was led to this blog post because I first read an article similar to Dr. Drake’s in the Lifetime Fitness magazine that they send out to members. It smelled a bit funny to me, so I figured I better dig deeper. A web search turned up this well written blog post, and a whole bunch of references from non-science-based web sites. Not the least of which was that Mercola guy who I think has been completely discredited on many fronts.

    In regards to your critique of the blog post in question though, you might be over-stating his take on it as well. The bulk of Dr. Novella’s comments were in response to the article by Dr. Drake. Based on what you say about the book, it could be that Dr. Drake was over-exaggerating Dr. Wahls’ claims, and I got the sense that this over-exaggeration was what Steven was addressing.

    This is all of particular interest to me because my wife has relapsing/remitting MS. She had a particularly hard time early on, to the point where should could barely walk, had vision problems, etc. I think it has been about 16 years now since she was diagnosed. She had relapsed mutliple times.

    She has done no radical diet modification, on the scale of what Dr. Wahls suggests, but she has been on several of the big name drugs. A few were ineffective. She has been on Copaxone for probably 6 or 8 years, and it has been great. She hasn’t had any major relapses since being on Copaxone, and annual MRIs have shown no progression in lesions.

    This would seem to contradict Dr. Drake’s interpretation of Dr. Wahls ‘opinions. But MS is the kind of disease where it may have been the drugs, or maybe it just remitted on it’s own. No way to know for sure, but I sure hope that less informed people don’t forego science-based MS treatment in favor of eating a diet with little or no research backing it up. I would also be worried about excess supplements, given all the mouting evidence of the harm that taking those indescriminantly often does.

    Thanks to everyone for all the thoughtful dialogue. And especially Dr. Novella for writing it. I’m looking forward to reading your other work Dr. Novella.


  13. KarenJon 13 May 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Thanks for this post. I was diagnosed with RRMS a little over 3 years ago. Like most people diagnosed with a chronic, incurable disease that is potentially debilitating, I immediately began searching for some alternative that would cure me. I came upon Wahls’s “Minding My Mitochondria” and immediately began following it. My Johns Hopkins neuro, bless his heart, did not torpedo my fantasy, and merely noted that a number of MS diets have lurked around over the years. (I should note that I never stopped taking Copaxone and am proud to say I’ve never missed a shot. Hopeful, yes; foolish no). After 3 months, I decided I missed IPAs and bread too much and abandoned the “protocol” (yes, Wahls calls it a “protocol”). And, guess, what: 3 years later, no new lesions, no symptoms. Maybe I should write a book touting Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA as a cure for MS.

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