When I started using a wheelchair, I asked myself, “Am I really doing all that I can to help myself?”
When I was younger, I ran and skied marathons. When I had kids, I transitioned to biking and skiing with my family. When she was little, I pulled Zebby in a sled behind me. When she was a bit older, she held a little wooden bar connected to a harness that I wore, like she was water skiing behind me. We all loved to ski, bike, and hike in the woods.
The first year after I was diagnosed with MS, we still skied, biked, and hiked. The second year I could not do as much. By the third year, I was in a tilt/recline wheelchair.
We kept camping, until it was too difficult to sit up, at which point I stopped. Jackie, bless her soul, still took me and my wheelchair outside to parks. I sat in my wheelchair and watched her bike. Then we’d roll around the woods for a bit. It was a huge commitment for Jackie to bring me and my wheelchair to the woods.
When I started using a wheelchair, I asked myself, “Am I really doing all that I can to help myself?” That was when I began reading the science, looking for what else I could do to slow my decline. I started by looking for studies using FDA-approved drugs for off-label uses. That was in 2003 and early 2004. Then I had an aha moment–I should look for things that I could access. I began looking for supplement studies that were focused on neuroprotection. I read about the animal models of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS, as well as multiple sclerosis. I focused on mitochondrial strain and premature damage to neurons and axons (the wiring between brain cells).
I was already taking a B complex multivitamin at the recommendation of my neurologist. I decided my illness was mostly a slow, relentless decline, much more like neurodegeneration–like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or progressive MS. I’d only had two acute relapses. Otherwise, I was experiencing slow, inexorable worsening of my fatigue and weakening of my back muscles.
I started reading review articles about supplements in the setting of neurodegeneration. My first discovery was co-enzyme Q10 and acetyl-L-carnitine, which are neuroprotective in the animal model of Parkison’s.1 I added them to my supplement cocktail. Then I discovered that N acetylcysteine (NAC) protects against oxidative stress and boosts intracellular glutathione, which is the master antioxidant for cells and has been neuroprotective in animal models of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders.2 I discovered alpha lipoic acid and phosphatidylserine were also neuroprotective in the animal models of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis, improving mitochondrial function and reducing neuronal death.3 Later I would discover that sulforaphane, or broccoli sprout extract, suppressed the development of clinical symptoms or speeds recovery in the animal model of multiple sclerosis.4,5
Taking these supplements did not get me out of my wheelchair. But I decided to try an experiment, to stop taking them and see what happened. The first day I didn’t take them, I felt OK. On the second day, I could not get out of bed or function at all. After the third day, Jackie suggested I resume the supplements. The next morning I felt back to normal, at least for me. I was able to go back to work. I thought that was really interesting. Was that an accident? Or was the supplement cocktail doing something for me?
I wanted to know, so two weeks later, I stopped my supplements again. And again, on the second day of not taking them, I could not get out of bed. On the third day I resumed them, and the same improvement occurred: I was able to get out of bed and go to work. My supplements were clearly doing something.
For the first time in a long time, I was hopeful. I was figuring out stuff that my medical team didn’t know. There were actually things that I could do, actions that were under my control that made a noticeable difference. I could read the science and use it to devise theories. And I could test those theories on myself. I read more studies and continued to tinker with my supplements.
As you know, supplements were not enough to get me out of my wheelchair. The magic happened when I redesigned my Paleolithic diet to increase the intake of the nutrients I was taking in supplement form by getting them directly from food. This allowed me to get additional synergistic compounds in addition to the active ingredients in those supplements.
The Wahls™ diet stresses foods to provide the nutrients your body and brain need, including cruciferous vegetables for organic sulfur and organ meats for lipoic acid, co-enzyme Q, phosphatidylserine, and carnitine. It is not really possible to supplement your way back to health if you are still consuming the standard American diet.
In addition to diet changes, I added meditation, exercise, and intensive rehabilitation with electrical stimulation of muscle. I saw my physical therapist three times a week. And one year after I adopted these changes, I biked 18.5 miles.
It was more than supplements. It was more than diet. It was and still is a whole program.
Nutrition, however, is a key part of recovery. It takes more nutrition to repair damaged tissues than it does to maintain healthy tissues. We don’t have extra calories to waste. All our calories should be supporting the repair of the damage we have from whatever diseases we have. Supplements can be useful in the beginning to provide more intensive support to our mitochondria and our brain as they heal.
Even if you don’t have a chronic disease, you probably want to have a healthy vibrant brain till you’re 100 years old—or older. Great nutrition and targeted supplements give you a much better chance at healthy aging.
I still take my neuroprotection cocktail because I feel better when I do. And I also continue to read the research, develop hypotheses, and test them on myself. What are you experimenting with to improve your health?
The Wahls Protocol® Supplement Collection offers a formulation called Brain Protect. It’s a comprehensive brain support formula combining N-Acetyl-Cysteine, Phosphatidylserine, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Coenzyme Q10, and Glucoraphanin.
In 2007, I had a very grim future. I could not sit up. But now I am hiking and biking. I jog around the neighborhood. It is diet, lifestyle, and targeted supplements that made and still make this possible. It is my goal to live and thrive to 120. I plan to still be doing research, still teaching medical students, still planting my garden and picking berries with my family. What do you want your life to look like as you age?
What are your goals? And what are you doing to achieve them?
Beal MF. Bioenergetic approaches for neuroprotection in Parkinson’s disease. Ann Neurol. 2003;53 Suppl 3:S39-47; discussion S47-38.
Arakawa M, Ito Y. N-acetylcysteine and neurodegenerative diseases: basic and clinical pharmacology. Cerebellum. 2007;6(4):308-314.
Kidd PM. Neurodegeneration from mitochondrial insufficiency: nutrients, stem cells, growth factors, and prospects for brain rebuilding using integrative management. Altern Med Rev. 2005;10(4):268-293.
Li B, Cui W, Liu J, et al. Sulforaphane ameliorates the development of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis by antagonizing oxidative stress and Th17-related inflammation in mice. Exp Neurol. 2013;250:239-249.
Schepici G, Bramanti P, Mazzon E. Efficacy of Sulforaphane in Neurodegenerative Diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(22).