Minding Your Mitochondria by Dr. Terry Wahls (Full Transcript)

Dr. Terry Wahls speaks on Minding Your Mitochondria at TEDxIowaCity conference

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Dr. Terry Wahls

So, I love doing Taekwondo 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 TYSABRI. And then CellCept 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 podmed.gov. I knew that brains afflicted with MS, overtime, shrank. I therefore went to, every night, reading the latest medical research about the diseases in which brains shrank. These diseases were Huntington’s, 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 Q. I translated those mouse sized doses into human sized ones and began 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. And through their continuing medical education course, Neuroprotection, 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 brains, with ten trillion connections. All of that connective wiring must be insulated with something called myelin. And multiple sclerosis damages myelin. In order to make healthy robust myelin, your brain needs a lot of B vitamins. In particular vitamin B1, which is thiamine, B9 which is folate, B12 which is cobalamin. It also needs omega-3 fatty acids and iodine.

This is a sinapse. 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 are so beautiful. And they are 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’d be no larger than bacteria.

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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 regimen.

And then it occurred to me that I should get my long list of nutrients from food, that if I did that, I’d probably get hundreds, maybe thousands of other compounds that science had yet to name and identify but would be helpful to my brain and my mitochondria. But, I didn’t know where they were in the food supply and neither did the medical text, nor the food science text with whom I consulted.

But the internet did.

And so… [laughter] That’s 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 are going to check in to see what Americans are eating. I’m going to start with you guys.

So, I want you to think back to the last twenty four 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 heaped high, raise your hand. Come on, don’t be shy, raise your hands.

Okay, now if you could cover two dinner plates, keep your hands up. Anyone can have eaten three dinner plates? Look around, see how few hands are up. Okay?

Now, we are going to check with another family. This is from Hungry Planet by Peter Wenzel. It shows what this American family will eat in the coming week. Look closely and you are going to see a lot of processed foods in boxes, jars, and other containers. This is how most Americans eat, and this is how most societies eat as they become more affluent. And it’s likely why as societies become more affluent, their health declines.

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This slide is from work done by Professor Loren Cordain. He is showing the percent of Americans whose daily intake is below the recommended daily allowance for a variety of important nutrients. On the bottom half of the slide are the…you will 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 will see that two-thirds of us do not take in enough calcium, magnesium, zinc or iodine. And that 80% do not take in enough omega-3 fats.

We, you, are all starving your cells. We are alive because of complicated chemical reactions. If you are 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 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 pressures, your blood vessels become stiff as you age. This is why one in three American children or one in two, if African American or Hispanic will become diabetic and 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 were called 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 savannah. And yet, when scientists have analyzed these hunter-gatherer diets, they exceed the recommended daily allowance two to ten-fold, depending on the nutrient. These ancient people know more about eating for optimal health and vitality than we physicians and we scientists. The hunter-gatherer diet has more nutrition than the American Heart Association diet, more nutrition than the American Diabetes Association diet and more nutrition than the USDA food pyramid diet.