Doctor Terry Wahls EntreFEST Preview

Terry WahlsTell us: why EntreFEST? I mean, it doesn’t seem like a typical event for a physician.

I have this moral compulsion to let the public know what I’m doing so they can decide, ‘You know what? I’m going to use that lifestyle to treat my chronic health challenges or reduce my risk of getting the bad things that I see run in my family.'”

“So that meant having to create website, write a book, do a newsletter, do tons of interviews. And I began to realize that what I’m doing is so innovative, I have to be the one to fund the collecting of pilot data, which also meant being much more entrepreneurial than most investigators here at the university.”

“While talking with Andy Stoll, he said, ‘I think it would be very interesting to hear your personal story of health transformation and how you’ve become an entrepreneur in your mission to spread the message and to do the research.'”

“In 2007, it was very clear I was headed toward being bedridden and demented.”

What is that story? What is your research?

“In 2007,  it was very clear I was [because of Multiple Sclerosis] headed toward becoming bedridden and demented. The VA [Veterans Administration Hospital] had gotten me this chair which allowed me to fully recline so that my knees were higher than my nose. That’s how I worked for about three years, because I was too weak to sit up in a regular chair.”

“Then in 2007 I was beginning to have a lot of problems with brain fog. And my boss told me he was going to assign me to a clinic, that I was going to have to do direct patient care without any residents. I think that was the VA’s way of saying, ‘Okay, we’re done redesigning your job. It’s going to be time for you to take medical disability.'”

“As it turns out, I discovered electro-stimulation of muscles. I discovered Functional Medicine. And by the time January of 2008 rolled around, I’m walking around with a cane between exam rooms, and it was apparent that, yeah, I’d actually be able to do this clinic.”

“And then, of course, I changed how I practiced. I started talking about vitamins, fish oil, eating more vegetables, getting rid of the gluten. My partners were puzzled, because they’d never seen a physician do anything like that. So, they talked to the chief of staff, and they were alarmed that I was doing this, talking about vitamins and vegetables. You know, very dangerous stuff.”

“So, the Chief of Staff has to call me in and say, ‘Okay, what’s going on?’ So I went down with a big armful of scientific papers which I’d printed out for him to explain that there was science behind what I was doing. And John would become a phenomenal fan. He was very supportive. If people complained, he’d say, ‘Okay. Has she hurt anyone? The vets love it, and she’s getting great results.'”

“You don’t have to be a scientist to realize, Holy shit! Something really wonderful happened here.”

What do those results look like?

“In my clinic I see obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, a lot of mental health stuff (bipolar, depression, anxiety, PTSD), a lot of autoimmune stuff (fibromyalgia, lupus, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis), and we have a lot of people with pain from a whole host of reasons, because now the pain clinic is sending their folks over. And time and time again as people adopt the protocol, blood sugars normalize, blood pressures begin to normalize, pain drops, pain meds are less. We’ve had people with inflammatory bowel disease have their G.I. symptoms resolve, and they’re able to taper and discontinue their disease-modifying drugs.”

“I’ve got thousands and thousands of followers on Facebook. They keep sharing their stories, people with Parkinson’s who were so disabled they couldn’t feed or dress themselves, putting up photos of themselves out hiking with their dog again. And saying that their Parkinson’s clinic had never seen anybody reverse their disease without drugs or without a deep brain stimulator.”

“I’ve been going around the university presenting our research, showing these stunning videos. You know, the charts and graphs are sort of fun, but you have to have a little science background to interpret that. But anybody can look at these videos before and after, and you don’t have to be a scientist to realize, Holy shit! Something really wonderful happened here.”

“And the goal is to get the videos then linked to a public site, which I think will help spread the word, making it easier for patients to go into their doc and say, ‘Wait a minute. I want to try this. I want to try to eat six-nine cups of vegetables a day. What are the risks to me?'”

What are the risks?

“You know, if you’re on Coumadin or have certain types of kidney stones there might be some tweaking that needs to happen. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure then you have to let your primary care doc know because you’ll need less medication for your diabetes, or for your blood pressure. If you have pain, typically we see people needing less and less pain medicine, and often finally none at all.”

“In our first study, people went from eating one and a half servings of vegetables to more than eight a day, which is a stunning change, really. And we got them to exercise, to meditate, to do e-stim. The biggest side effect was that if you’re overweight you lost weight without being hungry. And we had dramatic reduction in fatigue. Hugely, stunningly significant.”

“And because we has such exciting results with the first ten, the donor who had helped us get this little study going gave us money to do M.R.I.s. The very preliminary first look was quite favorable, that we’re able to actually grow more brain. Stunning. In that phase of disease you expect only atrophy, so to get more brain is quite, quite unexpected. So, we’re completing those analyses now, and our goal is to get that manuscript out within the year.”

Research begets funding begets research begets more funding. All of which leads to changed lives.

“The first time I sent my grants off to the M.S. Society, the critique came back and said, basically, “Wahls is full of shit. She clearly does not understand the pathophysiology of M.S.’ And that’s because my explanations are so radical, that we create an inflamed, disease-prone body by our diet and lifestyle, so we have to get to the diet and lifestyle if we’re going to get to the root cause.”

“So my first two applications I did not have preliminary data other than my [personal] case report. And like, one case report, so what? But now I have the preliminary data from my twenty that are really quite stunning. It’s the best reduction in fatigue ever reported, probably by a factor of maybe three, at least two. Now it becomes very hard for them to say I’m full of shit. Now it’s like, ‘Well, very impressive preliminary data. Please make these changes and resubmit.'”

“So, in five years I’ve gone from being completely not understood and invalidated. ‘You’re proposing mechanisms that make no sense to us,’ to now: ‘We do like what you’re doing. Make some of these changes and resubmit.’ So, I’ve gone from being an idiot to maybe being an idiot savant.”

“Same thing here. In 2008, the University and the VA really don’t know what to think of this transformation. They’re thrilled that I’m not so disabled. But they don’t know what to think about this sudden shift to diet and lifestyle I’m so passionate about. So, both the U and VA are a bit uneasy about it. Although I do get to do a grand rounds at the University where I talk about my case and the mechanisms behind my recovery.”

“The response to that grand rounds went two directions. They either loved it and said this was incredible, or they said I should be banned from the college and sent to Maharishi University in Fairfield where I’d truly fit in! But, through that grand rounds, I was able to get some clinical scientists to help me as I wrote up my protocol and wrote my grant, which to everyone’s surprise including mine, we got funded, and we were able to keep that little pilot study going. So, yeah. I think that grand rounds was extraordinarily successful.”

“And the University Foundation, they are very excited by my work, love talking to donors about that. They’ve never had a research scientist that has gotten this much outside funding cold calls. They didn’t have to develop the relationships. They just get people calling, saying, ‘We want to donate to the Wahls Research Fund.'”

Getting the word out: the Tedx Talk and entrepreneurship

“The sequence of events for me was this. I got terribly ill. I recovered. I called Teresa Charbury at the New Pi Coop, and I pitched the idea of doing a little talk about how food helped me recover. And she said, ‘Well, I don’t know. We’ve never really done that, but I guess we could try it.'”

“They had to keep relocating that talk because they had more and more people signing up. And then Theresa was worried about fire code issues. We were over at the Coralville Rec. Center, sort of standing room only. People were out in the hallway.”

“So then I started doing more talks for New Pi. And I did some talks for Kirkwood. Then I had the opportunity to do some regional meetings. And my little nonprofit’s going. I’ve got a website going. And in 2011 I do the Tedx talk. I put a huge amount of effort into making sure that was going to be very excellently written and delivered.”

“My son and I had a conversation, and he said, ‘This will be the most important talk of your career.’ And I think he was probably right. It was a huge turning point. That talk went viral. I had a hundred thousand views within three months, which meant I now had a lot of publishers who wanted to do a book with me.” [The talk has now had over two million views.]

I still didn’t have my web presence and social media fully refined, so now I had to get a handle on that so I could help promote the book. And then of course, I wanted to do the research, and I realized I had to raise more money. [Each step] drives another layer of entrepreneurial effort.”

“And you know, I’m still learning. I have a few friends who are small business operators that I consult with. I want to take my business to the next level. I want to develop a Wahls Protocol coaching program. And trying to find the right partners to help me do this. I’m mindful that from an entrepreneur side, I’m probably a toddler. I’m just in the crawling to walking stage. And I’m working on finding the right mentors.”

“On the other hand, in terms of getting the message out, my Ted Talk has had over two million views. I have no doubt that this has driven a lot of patients’ conversations with their physicians saying, ‘Well, what about that doctor in Iowa who recovered? Why can’t I try that diet?’ And I’m sure thousands if not hundreds of thousands of physicians have had to respond to that question.”

“So, it sort of depends on how one measures entrepreneurship. I’ve been either a toddler or extraordinarily successful.”