Chronic pain is the most common problem I see in my clinical practice, and is probably one of the most prevalent causes of visits to the doctor's office. Most often, the chronic pain is accompanied by a long list of other annoying problems, including mental health issues, gut issues, and sometimes skin issues.
Chronic pain is a complaint that most physicians dread. People who are chronically ill, with many symptoms and many diseases on their medical chart, often take 20 or more medications to control their symptoms, including pain.
But rarely do those medications — even the ones costing thousands of dollars each month — make the person well. That is because most of those medications focus on symptoms, not on the roots causes of pain.
The root cause of pain is often poor functioning of cells, the basic building blocks of our bodies. The root cause of poor functioning of our cells is increased inflammation, strained mitochondria, and hormonal disruption caused by the plastics, solvents, and other man-made chemicals in the body. But the biggest factor contributing to chronic pain is poor diet quality.
Most people with chronic pain are addicted to sugar, eating 150 pounds of sugar and 100 pounds of flour or more each year. All that sugar and white flour crowds out the vegetables and berries that are critical building blocks cells need to do the chemistry of life properly.
The first thing I ask my patients to do is eliminate sugar and flour-based products of all types from their diets, and ramp up consumption of non-starchy vegetables and berries. Then we address the potential for unrecognized gluten sensitivity. Replacing sugar and grain-based products with vegetables and berries and removing gluten from the diet have often resulted in our patients' reporting a steady reduction in pain, which often fades away entirely.
I've seen firsthand the healing power changes in diet can have on chronic pain. For decades, I suffered severe pain due to progressive multiple sclerosis and was confined to a tilt-recline wheelchair, despite seeing the best physicians at the Cleveland Clinic and taking the newest drugs. I declined steadily for seven years, but once I created a diet and lifestyle program based specifically on what science says brain cells need to thrive, my symptoms steadily reduced. The fatigue and pain completely resolved. I could walk easily without a cane and even bike 18 miles with my family.
I've changed the focus of my research, now studying the use of diet and lifestyle to treat disease. And most importantly, I have changed my clinical practice. I now have a therapeutic lifestyle clinic where we teach these concepts to others with complex chronic diseases. We observe people getting healthier and healthier and having less and less pain as they adopt the diet and lifestyle changes.
Being able to treat a handful of patients in person is rewarding, but everyone should become aware of the food fundamentals required to create a healthy, pain-free life. That's why I developed my Food Fundamentals online video course to share what I've learned in my decades of experience as a physician and researcher about how food and lifestyle — not medications — are the most powerful weapons in the fight against pain.
If you have chronic pain, there's little to lose and much to gain. Drop the sugar and flour-based products. Eat more vegetables. Move your body. Diet and lifestyle changes can restore health and vitality to your life.
Check out the video below for a free preview of my course.
Dr. Terry Wahls is an Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa where she conducts clinical trials. In 2018 she was awarded the Institute for Functional Medicine’s Linus Pauling Award for her contributions in research, clinical care and patient advocacy. In addition, Dr. Wahls has secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, which confined her to a tilt-recline wheelchair for four years. Dr. Wahls restored her health using a diet and lifestyle program she designed specifically for her brain and now pedals her bike to work each day.
She is the author of The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles (paperback), and the cookbook The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life: The Revolutionary Modern Paleo Plan to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions. Learn more about the current study Efficacy of Diet on Quality of Life in Multiple Sclerosis. Pick up a one-page handout for the Wahls™ Diet. Follow her on Instagram @drterrywahls, and on Facebook/Twitter at @TerryWahls. Sign up to receive her weekly research updates.