If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!
Folks, I have been grateful for every story that has come my way over the years. It’s an incredible privilege being on the receiving end of your reflections and evolutions, and they are why I’ve kept at it all these years—knowing the message and information have made a difference in people’s lives. I appreciate every single one. This success story comes from Dr. Terry Wahls, pioneer of the Wahls Protocol®, a way to address quality of life issues experienced by sufferers of autoimmune and other disorders through diet and lifestyle changes. Enjoy! —Mark
I eat liver once a week and tell my patients to do the same. Liver and organ meat are a critical part of the treatment protocols I use in my clinic and my clinical research. And they were crucial to my own recovery.
For decades, I suffered from relentlessly worsening pain and disability, including wheelchair dependence. I was able to reverse all this decline and end my pain using principles of ancestral health, evolutionary biology, and functional medicine.
When I first got sick, I gave up the low fat vegetarian diet I’d followed for years and adopted the paleo diet. But my health continued to decline. So I read the basic science models for my disease (multiple sclerosis) and decided that mitochondria are a key driver in neurodegeneration and worsening disability. I devised a supplement program to support my mitochondria. This reduced my fatigue and the speed of my decline slightly. I learned more biochemistry from functional medicine and made my list of supplements longer. This slowed my decline a little bit more.
At that point, I was too weak to sit up in a regular chair, confined to a zero gravity chair with my knees higher than my nose. My brain fog was worsening. The electrical face pains due to trigeminal neuralgia were more severe, more frequent, and more difficult to turn off. The future looked incredibly grim. That is when I decided to redesign my paleo diet to get the nutrients I was taking in supplement form from food. Cell chemistry is far more complex than physicians and scientists understand, and I thought maybe food would have more of an impact than nutrients in pill form.
How I Changed My Paleo Diet to Start Healing
I had already removed grain, legumes, dairy, processed foods, and sugar from my diet. I used the papers by Beal and Bourre, my readings in Ancestral Health and Functional Medicine, and the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University to create a list of superfoods to stress in my diet (See Key Nutrients for Brain Health and Table 2, Liver Is a Superfood).
I began this new version of my paleo diet, and the results were stunning. Within three months, my face pain was gone. So was the brain fog and the severe fatigue. I began walking again. In less than a year I was biking, completing an 18.5 mile bike ride with my family. A key part of my dietary change was adding liver once a week. Liver is a superfood, but too many of us are not consuming liver or any organ meat. Everybody with an autoimmune disorder should have liver as a regular part of their diets.
Retinol, or vitamin A, is essential to the development of immune cells, including T helper cells (Th cells), T regulatory cells (Tregs), and antibody-producing cells (B cells), as well as healthy barrier function in the gut. Inadequate vitamin A levels may lead to abnormal immune function, decreasing tolerance and increasing the risk of autoimmunity. Carotenoids in plants, such as beta-carotene, can be converted by gut enzymes into retinol, which is the active form of vitamin A. However, there is considerable variability in the efficiency of the enzymes that do this conversion. Depending on your enzymes, you may have a 70% reduction in your ability to convert plant-based carotenoids into retinol. Those with an autoimmune diagnosis are more likely to have a less efficient conversion of beta carotene into retinol and would benefit from consuming liver, which is an excellent source of retinol.
In addition to retinol, organ meat is an excellent source of B vitamins, including vitamin B12 and folate. Many individuals with multiple sclerosis have an elevated homocysteine, which is a measure of the efficiency and effectiveness of our brains’ use of B vitamins. If homocysteine is elevated, we likely have inadequate levels of B vitamins (especially vitamins B6, B9, and B12), which leads to a higher rate of neurodegeneration, cognitive decline, and heart disease. Liver is an especially good source of easily digested and absorbed B vitamins, which are critical for those with multiple sclerosis.
As you can see from Table 2, liver is an excellent source of the key brain nutrients identified in Table 1. It is not a good source of vitamin C, which you will get from greens. If you have multiple sclerosis or other autoimmune issues, adding organ meats to your diet is an important step in your healing journey, providing several important vitamins and minerals that can soothe immune dysfunction and promote repair in the body.
Why I Prefer Food to Supplements
Most studies using supplements have disappointing results. There are multiple large epidemiologic studies of dietary intake and clinical outcomes that demonstrate that dietary patterns rich in vegetables and meat and low in added sugars (such as the plans we use in our clinical trials study dietary trials for multiple sclerosis patients) are strongly associated with better clinical outcomes for a specific disease. But a large, supplement-based clinical trial often fails to show much benefit using targeted nutritional supplement(s). That does not surprise me at all.
Food is complex. There is synergy between the elements of each foodstuff you consume and the overall dietary pattern, meaning what else you eat. Organ meats are more than vitamin A, B6, B9, and B12. They are a rich mixture of vitamins in multiple forms that interact with other vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and compounds. This complex interaction determines how we do the chemistry of life. We get these compounds in the biologic ratios that our cells expect, which is why dietary pattern studies that stress consumption of vegetables, berries, and meat, decreased sugars, and increased intake of these key nutrients have outcomes that are consistently more favorable than those that rely on supplements only.
I tell my patients to eat liver once a week, heart once a week, and mussels and oysters regularly. These foods offer powerful, healing nutrition for anyone with multiple sclerosis or a serious autoimmune problem. Limit liver intake to 6 to 8 ounces a week because retinol does have a relatively narrow range of dietary intake. Too little and we increase the risk of autoimmune disease, cancer, and infection. Too much, however, increases the risk of fibrosis and scarring of the liver and lungs, which are irreversible. For that reason, I recommend eating no more than 6 to 8 ounces of liver per week, plus an additional 6 to 8 ounces of mussels, clams, oysters, heart, or other organ meats each week.
Food is what nature intended. Food is how I got out of the wheelchair and began walking, hiking, and biking again. Food is what I stress in my clinics and in my clinical trials.
You can get your life back on track, one meal at a time. If you use supplements, use whole food–based supplements, such as organ meat capsules, to ensure you are getting the benefits of food with all the wonderful synergy that whole foods supply. Immune dysfunction, leaky gut, and altered microbiome are all present in the setting of multiple sclerosis and autoimmune processes. Adding organ meats to your diet, particularly from grass-fed and grass-finished animals, can help address these issues.
I taught the concepts of the Wahls Protocol® to patients in primary care and traumatic brain injury clinics. Time and time again, we saw that adopting the protocol led to stabilizing and regression of symptoms. Patients with high blood pressure, severe morbid obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, fibromyalgia, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, and depression all improved when they followed the Wahls Protocol®.
I also use these concepts in my clinical trials, testing the Wahls Protocol® in the setting of multiple sclerosis to improve quality of life and reduce fatigue.
Each summer I host an in-person event to teach the public and health professionals how to use these concepts in their lives and their clinics. We are seeing more and more people embrace using food, including liver, to get their lives and health back on track.
The revised edition includes updated science and recommendations based on all that we’ve learned in the last five years. I explain how diet changes gene expression and can turn off disease-promoting genes and turn on health-promoting ones. I review the latest information on how gut bacteria increase or decrease inflammation in the brain and body. I explore how daily diet choices determine what bacteria grow in our bowels. I have greatly expanded guidance on how to personalize the dietary recommendations based on your current symptoms and health issues.
Even if you have the original edition of The Wahls Protocol, you will want to pick up the revised and expanded edition to get all the new information on diet personalization, microbiome, gene expression, health behavior change, metabolic resilience, emotional resilience, and neurorehabilitation. If you want to see something extraordinary, check out the research papers and videos on my website that demonstrate the remarkable improvement in walking that patients in our clinical trials have been able to achieve.
Beal MF, Bioenergetic approaches for neuroprotection in Parkinson’s disease. Ann Neurol. 2003; 53:Suppl 3:S39-47; discussion S47-8
Bourre JM. Effects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for brain. Part 1: micronutrients. J Nutr Health Aging. 2006 Sep-Oct;10(5):377-85. PubMed PMID: 17066209.
Bourre JM. Effects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for brain. Part 2 : macronutrients. J Nutr Health Aging. 2006 Sep-Oct;10(5):386-99. PubMed PMID: 17066210.
Pinod-Lagos K, Benson MJ, Noelle RJ, Retinoic acid in the immune system, Ann NY Acad Sci 2008 Nov; 1143:170-87.doi10.1196/annals.1443.017.
AbdelhamidL, Luo XM, Reinoic Acid, Leaky Gut, and Autoimmune Diseases. Nutrients. 2018 Aug 3; 10(8).pii: E1016. doi:10.3390/n710081016.
Fahmey EM Relation of serum levels of homocysteine, vitamin B12 and folate to cognitive functions in multiple sclerosis patients. Int J Neurosci. 2018 Sep;128(9):855-841.doi1080/00207454.2018.1435538. Epub 2018 Feb 21
A multimodal intervention for patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis: feasibility and effect on fatigue. Bisht B, Darling WG, Grossmann RE, Shivapour ET, Lutgendorf SK, Snetselaar LG, Hall MJ, Zimmerman MB, Wahls TL. J Altern Complement Med. 2014 May;20(5):347-55. doi: 10.1089/acm.2013.0188. Epub 2014 Jan 29.
Multimodal intervention improves fatigue and quality of life in subjects with progressive multiple sclerosis: a pilot study. Bisht B, Darling WG, Shivapour ET, Lutgendorf SK, Snetselaar LG, Chenard CA, Wahls TL. Degener Neurol Neuromuscul Dis. 2015;5:19-35. doi: 10.2147/DNND.S76523. Epub 2015 Feb 27.
Nutrient Composition Comparison between a Modified Paleolithic Diet for Multiple Sclerosis and the Recommended Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern. Chenard CA, Rubenstein LM, Snetselaar LG, Wahls TL. Nutrients. 2019 Mar 1;11(3). pii: E537. doi: 10.3390/nu11030537.