Weekend Review: Minding My Mitochondria by Terry L. Wahls, M.D.
I first heard Dr. Wahls' story on the radio a couple of years ago and I have been anxiously awaiting the publication of this book ever since. In Minding My Mitochondria: How I overcame secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) and got out of my wheelchair (2010), Wahls does two things. First, she briefly tells us the story of how she was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis and how her body failed her until she found herself in a wheelchair. Then she details how she helped her body heal itself to the point that now she can not only walk again, she bikes eight miles a day. After her original diagnosis in 2000, she was reclassified as having secondary progressive MS in 2003, which responds very poorly to treatment. As a doctor, she was able to easily consult with the best minds in the field and she was told that her only hope was to slow the progression of the disease as much as possible because once she lost functions, she would never be able to regain them. She took incredibly strong immune suppression drugs, to no avail. By the end of that year she was wheelchair bound and quickly losing more and more functionality. At this point, she decided to take matters into her own hands. No one really knows what causes MS, but it does seem to have something to do with antibodies that destroy myelin, the protective covering surrounding nerves. She used this as a jumping off point and studied the literature about all studies done involving a variety of degenerative diseases to try to figure out why brain cells died and to try to come up with a theory about how to repair them.
She concluded that the standard American diet is so poor in micronutrients, that our brain cells are literally starving and when one is stricken with a disease such as MS, the body just doesn't have the raw materials with which to heal itself. Since there has been no research done in this area, she decided that her only hope of salvation would be to experiment on herself. She devised a diet that is composed mostly of fruits, vegetables and essential fatty acids (fish oil, flax/hemp oil, etc.), has moderate amounts of meat, and excludes grains with gluten and dairy. She paired this with a regimen of electrostimulation and physical therapy to help regain her muscular strength and in only 18 months had regained her ability to walk.
Dr. Wahls poignantly points out that even though all doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, they very often ignore (or are unaware) of the ancient Greek physician's charge to "let good, wholesome food be thy medicine." I think that, in general, our society is incredibly impatient. We want all our ills to be cured by popping a magic pill. What we really need is to treat our bodies with respect and to eat a diet that is focused on nutrition so that our bodies have the tools needed to take care of themselves.
This book is absolutely jam packed with information. It reads like a science journal article, but don't let that scare you away. You may have to call upon some long forgotten high school biology lessons, but she does a wonderful job of explaining her point and then summarizing in language that those without a science background can understand, as well as including illustrations of the concepts. If you are so inclined, she provides an extensive reference list (over 300 sources) that one could consult should you want to read the science yourself. She also includes a number of helpful appendices: examples of the foods that she emphasized in her diet, over 100 recipes using those foods, sample menus, a nutrient and function chart, etc. This book is targeted to those with MS or other degenerative diseases, but there is much in here that we can all learn and apply to our lives.