LIVING WITH A DISABILITY BY JERRY LEVINSON
Over the 47 years that I’ve lived with MS, there have been any number of claimed “cures” and “treatments” for the disease, promising everything from a complete recovery to partial alleviation of some or all of the condition’s symptoms. While I’ve ignored many of these purported treatments as being too outlandish or dangerous (for instance, being stung by bees multiple times), I’ve embraced and tried others that appeared credible to me.
An example of one such “credible” treatment (or so I thought at the time) was the removal from my teeth of dental amalgam fillings, a substance containing mercury, an established neurological toxin. I concluded that the constant leaching of the mercury into my mouth could either be causing or aggravating my MS symptoms. So I had all the amalgam fillings removed and replaced with porcelain. This process didn’t do anything for me, other than giving me a mouth full of pearly white teeth. But I later learned that the removal of the fillings may have made things worse by releasing toxic vapors into my mouth.
I am now trying another “credible” treatment process developed by a physician who suffers from MS herself. Called the Wahls Protocol, this treatment is primarily based on a nutrient-dense diet and promises “a radical new way to treat all chronic autoimmune conditions using Paleo principles.”
Dr. Wahls is a 61-year-old physician and professor of medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.
She was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS in 2000 and, by 2003, had transitioned to secondary progressive MS.
She at first underwent chemotherapy to try slowing the progression of her MS, and started using a tilt-recline wheelchair due to weakness in her back and trunk muscles. However, the chemo did little to alleviate Wahls’ MS symptoms and, as she wrote on her Facebook page, “it was clear eventually I would become bedridden by my disease.”
Faced with this bitter scenario, Dr. Wahls searched all the available articles on multiple sclerosis research and, to enhance her understanding of what she read, began relearning biochemistry, cellular physiology, and neuroimmunology.
But to her chagrin, Wahls found that the studies she read dealt with drugs that were years removed from FDA approval. She then changed her search to target vitamins and supplements for any kind of progressive brain disorder and also compiled a list of nutrients vital to brain health. When she started taking those nutrients as supplements, the decline in her health did not stop, but it did slow down.
Encouraged by the small amount of success she had achieved, Wahls then developed a longer list of brain-healthy vitamins and supplements and had what she called “an important epiphany”—what if she redesigned her diet so that she would receive the important brain nutrients from the foods she ate rather than from supplements. This proved to be the missing part of the puzzle.
Wahls redesigned her diet to create a new food plan using what she had learned from the medical literature, Functional Medicine (an organization devoted to helping clinicians care for those with complex chronic diseases), and her knowledge of the Hunter-Gatherer (Paleo) diet.
Dr. Wahls began the Wahls protocol in December 2007. She says the results were stunning; within a year she was able to walk without a cane and even completed an 18-mile bicycle tour. Once on the verge of being bedridden, she now pedals her bike five miles to work every day.
I’ve been on the Wahls Protocol for eight weeks. Before I began the program I discussed it with my neurologist. He said he didn’t know of anyone who could stick with it more than a couple of months. I can understand why; it’s not a diet you would go on for the taste, and some of the things you’re required to eat I find quite distasteful. But I’m going to stick with it. If there is any chance I can get rid of the MS for even a short time, how could I do otherwise?•
LIVING WITH A DISABILITY
This column has a simple purpose, but a difficult goal: discuss issues that affect the lives, well being and state of mind of those who must live and cope with a disability and do so in a humorous way whenever possible. This isn’t an easy thing to do, since there’s certainly nothing funny or humorous about being disabled, or in the difficulties and obstacles that those with chronic disabilities encounter daily. However, I’ve personally found that humor has to a great extent helped me cope with my disability (I’ve had Multiple Sclerosis for 45 years and use a wheelchair), and I hope this column helps others in the disability community do so as well.