Terry Wahls Headshot

Could a change in diet make a difference for people with multiple sclerosis (MS)? Could it reduce MS-related fatigue? Could it improve quality of life or reduce the number of enhancing lesions on MRI? Should prescribing a diet for people with MS be part of overall care?

These are questions that Dr. Terry Wahls and her team are trying to answer. Dr. Wahls has been studying the effects of diet on MS for more than a decade. She is an Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa, where she conducts clinical trials. In 2018, she was awarded the Institute for Functional Medicine’s Linus Pauling Award for her contributions to research, clinical care, and patient advocacy.

Here is her story:

“I was diagnosed with MS in 2000, and by 2003 the disease had progressed so much that I was confined to a wheelchair. In 2004, I began reading basic science articles about progressive MS and other neurodegenerative diseases. My reading indicated to me that it is mitochondria that are not working well in MS patients, which contributes to the gradual worsening. Mitochondria are small structures inside of cells that produce the energy to run the cell’s work. I began experimenting on myself, first with supplements and then diet changes to provide better support for my mitochondria and my brain cells. In 2007 those interventions resolved my fatigue. My physical therapist noted that I was getting stronger and advanced my exercise program. For the first time in six years, I was able to bike again. And now, I pedal to work every day. I worked with other University of Iowa researchers to write up a paper describing my treatment and the course of my disease, which was published in 2009.

I became really passionate about teaching the public as well as health care providers that diet matters to brain health. However, to change the standard of care for MS patients, I also realized that we need research which shows clearly that changing diet improves MS-related symptoms, and ideally, also findings on brain imaging, like the MRI.

Our work has progressed from my initial case study describing my own use of diet, exercise, and electrical stimulation for my secondary progressive MS, to a small study using the same protocol in others with progressive MS, which was published in 2014. In 2021, we completed our largest study, the Dietary Approaches to Treating Multiple Sclerosis Related Fatigue study, which had 72 participants.”

Research Opportunity

Dr. Wahl’s team “recently received a $2.5 million gift from the Chapman-Shreve Foundation to compare the effects of two popular diets—the modified Paleolithic elimination diet and the ketogenic diet to a control diet (a person’s usual diet)—in improving quality of life and reducing fatigue. The two-year Efficacy of Diet on Quality of Life in Multiple Sclerosis (EDQ-MS) study will enroll 156 people who have MS. This will be one of the largest and longest duration MS diet studies ever done.

Study assessments will include several questionnaires, walking, hand, vision and thinking functions, as well as a non-contrast MRI of the brain. Each participant will be randomly (like the flip of a coin) assigned to follow a time-restricted olive oil-based ketogenic diet, the modified Paleolithic elimination diet, or their usual diet. The control group is the group that will follow their usual diet and receives educational information about ways that they can improve their diet quality. The two intervention groups are those using either the ketogenic diet or the modified Paleolithic diet. We anticipate all three groups will likely experience some level of improvement in their symptoms”.

Check Your Eligibility

If you or someone you know is interested in this study, Dr. Wahls invites you to complete the screening questionnaire. For questions about the study, please email MSDietStudy@healthcare.uiowa.edu. Her team also conducts other MS studies, and information about these can be found here