Dr Terry Wahls – Minding Your Mitochondria

This is a transcript of the talk Dr. Terry Wahls gave on November 11, 2011 at the TEDx conference regarding her recovery from Multiple Sclerosis by researching and designing her own diet, using food as her medicine.

Dr. Terry Wahls speaking at

TEDxIowaCity November 11, 2011

So, I love doing Tae Kwon Do

and was once a national champion.

but a lot has changed since then.

I went off to medical school,

became a physician,

I had a son, and then a daughter.

and I developed a chronic disease,

for which there is no cure.

In 2000 when I was diagnosed

with multiple sclerosis

I turned to the best MS

center I could find.

The Cleveland Clinic.

I saw the very best doctors.

Received the best care possible.

taking the latest, newest drugs.

Still by 2003

my disease had transitioned.

to secondary progressive MS.

I took the recommended chemotherapy.

I got the tilt-recline wheelchair.

I had one with a motor

I could drive around.

I took <i>pizavery</i>.

and then <i>selsept</i>

but continued to become

more severely disabled.

my disease had transitioned.

I was afraid that I was

going to become bedridden.

I turned to reading

the latest research.

using pubmed.gov

I knew that brains afflicted with MS

over time


I therefore went to

every night reading

the latest medical research

about diseases in which brains shrink.

These diseases were Huntingtons,

Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

I saw that in all three conditions

the mitochondria do not work well

leading to shrinking brains.

with more searching

I found studies in which mouse brains

and their mitochondria had been protected

using fish oil, creatine and co-enzyme Q10

I translated those mouse-sized doses

into human-sized ones.

and my first round of self-experimentation.

The rapidity of my decline slowed.

and I was very grateful

but I was still declining.

Next I discovered

the Institute for Functional

Medicine <i>www.functionalmedicine.org</i>

and through their continuing

medical education course


a functional medicine approach to common

and uncommon neurological syndromes.

I learned more brain cell biology

and what I could do to protect mine.

this is some of what I learned.

We have a billion cells in our brain.

with ten trillion connections

all of that connective

wiring must be insulated

with something called <i>Myelin</i>

and multiple sclerosis damages <i>Myelin</i>

in order to make healthy, robust <i>Myelin</i>

you brain needs a lot of B vitamins

In particular vitamin B1, Thiamine

B9 which is folate,

B12 which is cobalamin.

It also need Omega-3 Fatty acids,

and Iodine.

This is a synapse

those beautiful golden drops

are the neurotransmitters.

For your brain to make

neurotransmitters it needs a lot of

sulfur and vitamin B6,

which is pyridoxine

these are mitochondria

they’re so beautiful

and they’re so critical to your lives

because it is the tiny

mitochondria in each of our cells

that will manage the energy

supply for that cell

without your mitochondria

you would be no larger than bacteria

In medical school I had to

memorize countless reactions

involving my mitochondria

but I never learned which compounds

my cells could manufacture

and which I needed to consume in order

for those reactions to happen properly

I now know

that I need a lot of B Vitamins,

Sulfur and antioxidants

for my mitochondria to thrive

and so I added B Vitamins, Sulfur and

antioxidants to my daily regime.

and then it occurred to me

that I should get my long list

list of nutrients from food.

That if I did that I would

probably get hundreds,

maybe thousands of other compounds

that science had yet to name and identify

but would be helpful to

my brain and mitochondria

but, I didn’t know where

they were in the food supply

and neither did the medical techs

nor the food science techs

with whom I consulted.

but, the internet did

and so

its really very helpful

so using it

I was able to design a food plan

specifically for my brain

and my mitochondria and now

before I tell you what

that food plan is

we’re going to check in

to see what Americans are eating.

I want you to think back

for the past 24 hours

add up all the fruits and

vegetables that you’ve eaten

don’t include potatoes or corn

because those are starches.

Now, if you could cover a dinner

plate heap high, raise your hand.

Come on, don’t be shy. Raise your hand.

Now, if you can cover two dinner

plates, keep your hands up.

Anyone has eaten three dinner plates?

Look around.

See how few hands are up.

Now we’re going to check

with another family.

this is from Hungry Planet by Peter Wenzel

it shows that this American family

will eat in the coming week.

Look closely, and you’re

going to see a lot of

processed foods in boxes,

jars and other containers.

This is how most Americans eat.

And this how most societies

eat as they become

more affluent.

And it is likely why as

societies become more affluent

their health declines.

This slide is from work done by

Professor Loren Cordain.

He is showing the percentage of

Americans whose daily intake

is below the Recommended Daily Allowance.

for a variety of important nutrients.

One the bottom half the slide are the…

You’ll see that less than half of us

take in enough B vitamins,

vitamin C and vitamin A.

Now if you look at the

top half of the slide

you’ll see that two thirds of us

do not take in enough calcium

magnesium, zinc or iodine,

and 80 percent do not take

in enough omega-3 fats.

We, you, are all starving yourselves.

We are alive because of

complicated chemical reactions.

If you’re not providing

the building blocks,

that is the vitamins,

minerals, essential fats,

those reactions cannot happen properly.

Leading to the wrong structures being made

or structures simply not being made at all.

You set the stage for chronic disease.

This is why our children are

born with jaws that are too

small, leading to crooked

teeth and smaller brains.

This is why your blood pressure is. Your

blood vessels become stiff as you age.

This is why one in three American children,

or one in two if you’re

African American or Hispanic,

will become diabetic or obese

as children or young adults.

This is why, if you go to our schools,

every year we have more and more children

with severe learning problems

and severe behavior problems.

But it does not have to be this way.

For two and a half million years, humans

ate what we could gather and hunt.

They’re call foragers.

Also known as hunter gatherers.

That hunter-gatherer diet.

That paleo diet consists of leaves

roots, berries, meat and fish.

It’s locally obtained fresh in

season and of course organic.

The Inuits in the far north ate

very differently

than the Africans on the Savanna.

And yet when scientists have

analyzed these hunter-gatherer diets

They exceed the recommended daily allowance

2 to 10 fold depending

on the nutrient.

These ancient peoples

know more about eating for

optimal health and vitality,

than we physicians and we scientists.

The hunter-gatherer diet

has more nutrition than

than the American Health Association Diet,

more nutrition than the American

Diabetes Association Diet,

and more nutrition that the

USDA Food Pyramid Diet.

I therefore, started with

a hunter-gatherer diet.

I used those concepts

but I structured it

to be sure I was getting the nutrition

the vitamins, minerals

nutrients that I identified

as critical to my brain cells

and my mitochondria.

That diet is this.

Three cups of green leaves,

three cups of sulfur-rich vegetables,

three cups of bright color,

grass-fed meat,

organ meat,

and seaweed.

Three cups is a dinner plate, heaped high.

I start with greens because they are rich

in vitamins B, A, C, K and minerals.

and those are two types of kale.

Kale has the most nutrition per calorie of any plant.

(cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower)

The B vitamins will protect your

brain cells and your mitochondria.

Vitamins A and C support

your immune cells.

Vitamin K keeps your blood

vessels and bones healthy.

and minerals are co-factors

for hundreds of different

enzymes in your body.

Plus, having a plate full of daily greens

will dramatically lower your risk of

cataracts and macular degeneration

a leading cause of blindness in the US.

So, have more kale, more

parsley, more cooked greens

have more smoothies and greens,

have dehydrater kale chips,

which are so delicious my teenage

daughter and her friends love them.

I want you to have three cups – a plate

full of sulfur rich vegetables every day,

your brain and mitochondria need sulfur.

Your liver and kidney need sulfur so they

can remove toxins from your bloodstream.

The Cabbage family is rich in sulfur.

That includes cabbage,

broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts

turnips, rutabagas, radishes

collards and kale.

The onion family is also rich in sulfur.

Onions, garlic, leeks, chives, shallots,

and so are mushrooms and asparagus.

Also, I want you to have

a plate, three cups,

preferably three different

colors every single day.

Colors are flavonoids and polyphenols.

These are potent antioxidantes

that will support

your retina, your mitochondria,

your brain cells

and the removal of toxins.

You can get your colors from vegetables

like beets, carrots, peppers, red cabbage,

or you can get them from

berries, and brightly

colored fruits like

peaches and oranges.

I want you to have high quality protein

that’s rich in omega 3 fatty acids.

Omega 3 fatty acids are very important

to insulate that wiring in your brain.

Its also critical for the

development of your jaw

so you can have straight

teeth and a larger brain.

Therefore have wild fish — in

particular salmon and herring.

Also, have grass fed meat every day.

Our ancient societies

all valued organ meat.

Organ meats are concentrated sources

of vitamins, minerals and co-enzyme Q.

They are particularly potent at

supporting your mitochondria.

Therefore, have organ meats

like liver and onion,

heart, tongue, gizzards,

sweet breads, once a week.

The ancients would travel great distances,

or trade, to insure access to seaweed.

Seaweed is a rich source

of iodine and selenium.

Your brain needs iodine for to make myelin

– the insulation for the wiring.

It also needs iodine to remove toxins – in

particular, mercury, lead and heavy metals.

And adequate iodine lowers your risk

of breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Studies have shown that 80 percent of

Americans have a relatively low iodine.

Therefore, have seaweed

at least once a week

to ensure and maintain

adequate iodine levels.

Most Americans can’t imagine

eating nine cups, three

plate fulls, of vegetables

and berries every day.

But, if you will commit to having

nine cups of these incredibly healthy

wonderful for you vegetables

and berries every day,

Before you have grain, potatoes, dairy,

you will have dramatically increased the

vitamin and mineral content of your diet.

Plus, you will have dramatically

lowered the risk of food allergies.

Food allergies and food sensitivities are

far more common than we realize.

They’re difficult to diagnose

and in particular

sensitivity to gluten, the

protein in wheat, rye and barley

and to dairy

the protein. The casein protein in dairy

is associated with a wide

variety of health problems

including, but not limited to,

eczema, asthma, allergies, infertility

irritable bowel, fibromyalgia

chronic fatigue,

arthritis, chronic headache,

neurological problems

and behavior problems.

Yes, it will cost more to eat these

beautiful vegetables and berries,

but I assure you, you are

going to pay the price.

for food that restores

your health and vitality

or you pay the price for doctor’s visits,

prescription drugs, surgeries,

missed time from work,

early retirement

and nursing home care.

OK. Seven years. I get the best

care, the latest, newest drugs.

And I continue to get more disabled.

By November of 2007

I could not sit in a

chair like you are now.

I had to be reclined in a

zero gravity chair like this.

at home or at work or in bed.

I could walk short

distances using two canes.

I was losing my keys, my phones.

I was having nightmares

that my chief of staff had

pulled my clinical privileges.

That is when I designed a diet

specifically for my brain

cells and my mitochondria.

That’s when I began,

I became a modern day hunter gatherer.

Three months later, I could walk

between exam rooms using one cane.

The month after that, I could walk

throughout the hospital without a cane.

At five months I got on my bike

for the first time in a decade

and I pedaled around the block. (2008)

Nine months into my new way of eating

I pedaled 18 miles.

The following year, (2009), I did a

trail ride in the Canadian Rockies.

I am the Canary, (<i>small bird,</i>)

in the coal mine,

here as a warning to all of you.

We have a choice.

We can continue to eat that

delicious, convenient, tasty,

processed food,

and watch ourselves and our children

grow steadily more overweight,

depressed and diabetic.

We can continue to watch

health care costs balloon out of control

bankrupting us individually and

collectively as a country.

Or we can eat for our mitochondria,

eating vegetables and berries,

grass-fed meat, organ meat and seaweed

and have more vitality.

We all have a choice.

I chose to teach the public

about the healing power of food

and to conduct clinical trials.

We are testing my interventions and

others with secondary progressive MS.

We’ll present our research on Sunday at

the 2011 Neuroscience Conference.

The results are breathtaking.

We all have a choice.

I challenge you to become

modern day hunter gatherers

and eat for your mitochondria.

Become ambassadors for your mitochondria.

For if I can rise up from a

tilt-recline wheelchair doing this

imagine what eating for your

mitochondria can do for

you, your family, your country,

your community, your world.

We have a choice.

What will yours be?

Thank you.

Dr. Terry Wahls at TEDxIowaCity

There is also a subtitle file SRT for the same talk here.

TEDxIowaCity – Dr Terry Wahls – Minding Your Mitochondria subtitles SRT

TEDxIowaCity – Dr Terry Wahls – Minding Your Mitochondria Video AVI 29MB 17 minutes

The video has hardcoded English subtitles.