When someone gets an autoimmune disease, it means their immune system has gone rogue and is attacking a healthy part of their body. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s three years ago, which meant my immune system was attacking my thyroid. In those with multiple sclerosis, it’s attacking the brain and spinal cord. In Crohn’s disease, it attacks the intestines. There are about a hundred autoimmune diseases, so I can’t list them all, but you get the idea.

Once the immune system goes rogue, 25 percent of people will wind up with two or more autoimmune diseases. For example, I have one friend who has celiac and rheumatoid arthritis and another who has Hashimoto’s and multiple sclerosis.

The conventional view of autoimmune diseases is that they cannot be cured. In many cases, the symptoms will get worse and worse until you die. Some autoimmune diseases result in death, but not all. The only thing that conventional doctors can do is give you medication to relieve symptoms, such as pain, or to compensate for deficiencies, such as prescribing thyroid hormones for Hashimoto’s. In severe cases of Crohn’s, they may remove the large intestines. But as my endocrinologist said to me, the belief is that you did nothing to cause the disease, and you can’t do anything to reverse it.

That’s what Terry Wahls, MD, believed when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, so she was certainly getting the best treatment that modern medicine had to offer. She ultimately found herself in a tilt-recline wheelchair, unable to even hold her body upright. She was about to lose her job when she decided to start doing a little research on her own. Fast forward five years after she gave her bicycle to her son because she was in a wheelchair … and she took back that bicycle and rode down the street. She had spent more than four years in a wheelchair, but today she travels all over the world lecturing.

How did she do it?

It would be considered a medical miracle, except that she simply changed her diet and lifestyle, which is not exactly modern medicine. Now she is an expert in treating autoimmune diseases naturally. She details her story, as well as her recommendations in her book, The Wahls Protocol. Because of her books and lectures, thousands of people have adopted her regimen and seen positive results. She has also conducted clinical trials at the university. She is very clear that her MS has not been cured. A MRI still shows damage in her spinal column. However, she is not manifesting the outward symptoms any longer. She also says that if she eats foods that she knows she shouldn’t, she pays for it in body aches and pain.

Although she was told by dietitians that no one would follow her suggestions, the compliance rate is more than 90 percent in her clinical trials. As someone who follows her dietary recommendations I can tell you that I stick to it because I feel so much better. I started on this journey because I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. However, I suffered from so much muscle pain that I’m pretty sure I’d have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, but I didn’t see any point in going to the doctor to simply be told that I had a disease that they couldn’t do anything to cure. Plus, my knees creaked loudly as I walked up and down the stairs, and I was told I’d need knee replacement surgery because of grade four arthritis. I’ve had arthritis in my neck that limited my mobility since 2007. When getting up in the morning or getting out of my car after an hour of driving, I’d limp because of the pain in my hips. I had carpal tunnel that limited the mobility of my right wrist. I thought all of these things were simply unavoidable side effects of aging. And I’m only in my early 50s! Since adopting this protocol, which is basically a modified paleo diet, all of those symptoms have disappeared, except for neck and upper back pain in the dead of winter. Plus my thyroid antibodies have fallen so low that some would no longer diagnose me with Hashimoto’s — something that the endocrinologist told me was impossible. On top of everything else — I lost 40 pounds without even trying. No doubt that’s at least partly responsible for the tremendous improvement in my knees.

Why do I stick with this protocol? Because when I see something like cheesecake on a menu, I don’t think about how delicious it tastes. I think about how I will be crying in bed tomorrow with muscle spasms in my back if I eat it. Suggesting that I eat a piece of cheesecake makes as much sense to me as telling me to stab myself with a fork. Why would I do something that I know will cause me pain?

The Wahls Protocol

Although I’ve read a dozen books on autoimmune diseases, this is my #1 recommendation to someone who wants to learn how they can help themselves when they’re diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Why? Because she doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. She actually has three different diets in the book. They’re called the Wahls Diet, Wahls Paleo, and Wahls Paleo Plus. The Wahls Diet involves the fewest changes, so it’s a great place to start. Many books have one strict diet, which totally scares off people. But if you’re not scared off by the challenge, you can try Wahls Paleo or even go straight for Paleo Plus. Everyone is different, so some people may see total reversal of symptoms by simply adopting the Wahls Diet. Others may need to make more changes and will do better with one of the more strict diets. Most people will probably find their happy place with some combination of the diets. As your body heals, you may be able to start eating foods that originally made you feel terrible. But there may be some that you will never be able to eat again comfortably. Everyone is different.

Another great thing about the book is that she doesn’t just stop with diet. Remember, I mentioned lifestyle changes. She devotes more than a hundred pages to Part III: Going Beyond Food. She talks about reducing your toxic load, exercise, e-stim, drugs, supplements, alternative medicine, and stress management. She recommends keeping a diary, and most chapters have questions to give you food for thought. The book also includes sidebars with case studies of people who have reversed their diseases by following the protocol.

I originally purchased this book as an audiobook, but I loved it so much that I bought the paperback so that I could easily look up information and have access to her menus and recipes.

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