Therapeutic lifestyle without drug treatment vs. disease-modifying drug treatment

 In Blog

I am often asked: Is a therapeutic lifestyle intervention such as the Wahls Protocol® just as effective as drug-based, disease-modifying treatment for multiple sclerosis and other systemic autoimmune conditions?

Every day people reach out to me, pleading for guidance on this question. They are trying to decide whether following the Wahls Protocol or some other variation of a therapeutic lifestyle without taking expensive biologic drugs is just as effective at getting control of their symptoms and preventing additional damage to their brain, joints, gut, skin, or lungs. They don’t want the risks that drugs present, but they also don’t want a systemic autoimmune disease to ravage their brain or body. I wish I could give them definitive answers, but there is no study that directly compares therapeutic lifestyle without drug treatment to usual lifestyle with drug treatment.

Not taking drugs would be considered not following the standard of care. That is taking potent disease-modifying drug treatment is the standard of care for systemic autoimmune diseases of all types. Changing the standard of clinical care requires published peer-reviewed research. Even though we may have many patients reporting great success with finally getting control of their multiple sclerosis (or other autoimmune or chronic health condition) by adopting the Wahls Protocol®, clinical practice won’t change until there is research pointing the way.

I am ready to do that research. My team has proposed a pilot study whose aim is to assess whether a therapeutic lifestyle (Wahls Protocol®) would be just as effective as taking disease-modifying drug therapy for a person who is newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I want to assess if the Wahls Protocol® is effective as disease-modifying drug therapy in terms of improving quality of life and reducing the number of relapses and protecting the brain. It is a big goal. Drug companies won’t fund such a study, because drug therapy is the standard of care. It is unlikely that the National Institutes of Health or the National MS Society will either—first they need to see pilot data.

Yes, we do have a handful of small pilot studies that have demonstrated therapeutic diets reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and multiple sclerosis. But no one has studied the newly diagnosed person and followed biologic markers or quality of life measures for two groups: one receiving the usual drug treatment and the other receiving a therapeutic lifestyle intervention. To make sure that people have been offered drug therapy (thus following the standard of care), one of the eligibility criteria will be that the individual has been offered but has declined disease-modifying drug therapy.  

This data would make a huge difference to the future of scientific studies of autoimmune diseases. But I need your help to get this study going. To gather this data, we’ll need to hire a clinical coordinator and a health coach. The faculty overseeing the study will donate their time, but we must pay the staff who will do the work. Can you help us out? The University of Iowa has created a crowdfunding campaign that will be open for the next month to raise funds for this study. This is the opportunity for all of those who have been helped by a therapeutic lifestyle for their health condition to give back and contribute to creating research data that will lead to larger studies and eventually change the way autoimmune diseases are treated around the world.

You can learn more about the proposed research and make your contribution here.

Until we have conducted a study, there is no published data that can answer the question of whether a therapeutic lifestyle alone is equivalent to treatment with disease-modifying drugs. But you can help us answer that question. Please spread the word about our pilot study and help us find answers to the questions I get every day.

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