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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Iowa Researcher Partners with National Multiple Sclerosis Society to Compare Therapeutic Diets

Dr. Terry Wahls knows first-hand what the right diet can do for a person’s health and well-being. It has been 10 years since she created the Wahls Protocol, a diet that helps her combat the fatigue and physical symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Wahls, a University of Iowa professor of internal medicine and epidemiology, was confined to a wheelchair before she began following the diet she created to treat herself.

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[Photo: Dr. Terry Wahls]

The Wahls Protocol — a diet and supplement regimen based on a Paleolithic diet — led to a dramatic improvement in her mobility.

“In three months the fatigue was gone,” Dr. Wahls says. “In six months I was walking without a cane, and after nine months I was biking around the block. A year after I started, I did a 20-mile bike ride.”

Hers was not the first diet designed to minimize the physical symptoms of MS; Roy Swank began studying MS in 1948 and created the saturated fat–minimizing Swank Diet around 1950.

Now, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) has awarded Wahls a $1 million grant to compare the two diets’ effects on multiple sclerosis–related fatigue, a disabling symptom that can significantly interfere with a person’s ability to function at home and work.

The grant is one of the largest financial commitments made by the NMSS to research this year. It is part of a projected investment of $50 million in 2016 to support more than 380 new and ongoing studies around the world aimed at stopping MS in its tracks, restoring patients’ function, and ultimately ending the disease forever.

For the new study, investigators will be recruiting 100 people with relapsing-remitting MS who experience fatigue to enroll in a 36-week clinical trial. Participants will follow their usual diet for 12 weeks and then be randomly assigned to follow the Swank Diet or the Wahls Protocol for 24 weeks. Their health and activities will be extensively monitored during the study.

Swank created his diet after he observed a higher incidence of MS in geographic areas where people ate meat, milk, eggs, and cheese — foods that are high in saturated fat — and a lower incidence in regions that ate fish. He spent more than 50 years recommending this diet to his patients and monitoring their health.

Both diets have been shown to have a positive impact on patients with MS.