How to Talk to Your Doctor About The Wahls Protocol Part 1.
Next month I will be speaking at the annual Wahls Seminar about how to talk with your doctor. If you have multiple sclerosis or other autoimmune diseases you may, and, frankly, you SHOULD, be interested in how personalized lifestyle medicine can affect the course of your life and move you away from a disease trajectory toward a health and vitality trajectory. In the best possible scenario this will allow you to get off the medications that you depend upon to control your disease. If you are currently seeing a neurologist, or another medical doctor, chances are your doctor is not familiar with functional medicine or the Wahls Protocol. This is the first of a three-part series that covers much of the material in my talk. If you want to hear all of it, along with my visual presentation, Q&A, other excellent presenters along with Dr. Wahls herself, consider attending the Wahls Seminar from August 4-6, 2016, in Cedar Rapids, IA.
What does Dr. Wahls say?
“You may get very excited about the Wahls Protocol, and in your excitement you may get impatient about the medications you are currently taking.”
“You may begin to feel better almost immediately on the Wahls Protocol, but if you are on prescription medication do not interpret this as a sign that your condition is cured and stop taking your current therapy.”
“It takes several months for the Wahls Protocol to reset your biology and begin the rebuilding process. Your body must heal from the damage that has been done.”
“Over the next three years a new you will be built, molecule by correctly made molecule. Your energy and mood will improve. Your blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and blood sugar (or fasting insulin) will also improve.”
“When you can see and feel the evidence of improved health because you can walk father, do more, and have more energy, it’s time to discuss reducing or tapering off your medication gradually, with your physician’s supervision.”
Terry Wahls, M.D., with Eve Adamson. The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way To Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles, Avery Publishers, December 30, 2014 (reprint edition).
Let’s expand upon these core principles.
It starts with your relationship with your neurologist. (I say this because, for the most part, only neurologists prescribe medication for the management of multiple sclerosis.)
How long have you known your neurologist? What is that doctor’s style of communication with you as a patient? What is your doctor’s philosophy when it comes to health and disease?
If you told your doctor that you believe lifestyle, at the very least, can have a major impact on disease severity and progression, how would your doctor respond?
If you told your doctor you planned to undertake a lifestyle medicine program and wanted to looking into the things that may have contributed to your illness, how would your doctor respond?
If you told your doctor that this self-evaluation meant that you planned to take an honest look at how you were sleeping, moving, eating, managing your stress, and your relationships to others, would your doctor accept your intentions?
At this point it is important to appreciate what you doctor should know and what your doctor may not know, and honor both.
Your doctor worked hard in college to get into medical school, worked very hard in medical school in order to graduate, went through a post-graduate training that involved a lot of sacrifice, and may have been in practice for several years by the time you two met. Your doctor reads journals to keep up to date, and goes to conferences for the same purpose. Your doctor had to take a board examination to be certified as a neurologist, and your doctor – most likely – needs to recertify every 10 years. To maintain certification your doctor must complete a certain number of hours of continuing medical education credit every year. Your doctor may be employed by a hospital system, a private group practice, or in solo practice. In addition to understanding what it takes to manage a given illness your doctor may need to be a good business manager, as well. There is a lot to juggle.
Remember, even if you feel uneasy about your medications your doctor is your ally when it comes to management of your illness.
What does your doctor not know? Your doctor may not know the Wahls Protocol.
Your doctor may not know much about functional nutrition or movement. When you explain that it is your intention to improve how you manage stress your doctor might offer you an antidepressant, a drug for anxiety, or a referral to a psychologist, because that is what your doctor knows; it is how your doctor has trained and it has been part of your doctor’s practice for many years. Your doctor’s knowledge about food may be the food pyramid or perhaps the Mediterranean diet. Your doctor might offer to refer you to a registered dietician. Thank your doctor! (even if you say ‘no’)
You may not be able to rely on your doctor to guide you through your personalized lifestyle medicine program, and that is okay.
Your choices are to:
Work with your doctor and pursue your program independently, then re-visit the topic with your doctor at a point when you feel significant changes have been accomplished.
Work with your doctor, but find a functional medicine provider to work in parallel with your conventional medical plan so that someone with education and experience in functional medicine can mentor you in your journey and help you know when it is time to discuss changes with your doctor.
Find a new doctor, one who is trained in conventional medical management and functional medicine. To be honest this may be difficult, particularly in neurology.
Taking it to the next level.
Owner of Sharlin Health and Neurology, Dr. Ken Sharlin is the Ozarks is the only independent neurologist in southwest Missouri and one of the few Institute for Functional Medicine-trained neurologists around the world.