What Is the Wahls Protocol Diet and Does It Work for MS?

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), a healthy diet can help you feel your best. But experts don't know for sure whether special diets can ease MS symptoms. That's because there hasn't been a lot of research done on them.

One diet you may have heard of is the Wahls protocol, also known as the Wahls diet. It's named after Terry Wahls, MD, the doctor who created it. After she was diagnosed with MS, she began studying food and vitamins. She changed her diet based on her research and says it helped with her symptoms.

What Is the Wahls Protocol?

The diet is a version of the Paleolithic (Paleo) diet. That's based on the idea that humans should eat more like our ancient ancestors and avoid the foods we started eating in the past several hundred years, like wheat and processed foods.

On the Wahls Protocol, you eat lots of:

  • Meat and fish
  • Vegetables, especially green, leafy ones
  • Brightly colored fruit, like berries
  • Fat from animal and plant sources, especially omega-3 fatty acids

But you don't eat:

  • Dairy products and eggs
  • Grains (including wheat, rice, and oatmeal)
  • Legumes (beans and lentils)
  • Nightshade vegetables, which include tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers
  • Sugar

Does the Wahls Protocol Work for MS?

Wahls says her diet helped her go from using a wheelchair to biking miles at a time. While her personal experience may sound promising, there isn't a lot of research that shows it works for other people who have MS.

One small study found that people with MS who switched to a Paleo/Wahls-style diet for a year were much less tired. But those people also exercised and did stretches, meditated, and got massage therapy and electrical stimulation therapy. So it's hard to say for sure that the diet helped their symptoms.

With help from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Wahls and a team at the University of Iowa are doing a larger study that compares the Wahls diet to another plan, the Swank diet, which some experts also recommend for people who have MS.

Talk to your doctor before starting the Wahls diet. It includes many vitamin- and nutrient-rich foods, but you may have trouble getting enough of certain nutrients or enough calories. Your doctor may recommend that you work with a registered dietitian who has experience with MS to come up with a plan that's right for you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on December 22, 2016

Sources

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: "Wellness for People with MS: What do we know about Diet, Exercise and Mood and what do we still need to learn?" "National MS Society and University of Iowa Launch $1 Million Clinical Trial to Test Dietary Approaches to Treating Fatigue in MS," "Diet and Multiple Sclerosis."

Terry Wahls.com: "About the Wahls Protocol."

Bisht, B. Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, May 2014.

ClinicalTrials.gov: "Wahls Paleo Diet and Progressive Multiple Sclerosis."

Denice Taylor, RD, dietitian at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital.

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