What is the Autoimmune Protocol?
The Autoimmune Protocol, short AIP, is a science-based protocol with a diet and lifestyle component that focuses on repairing gut health, balancing hormones and regulating the immune system. The dietary part of the protocol consists of the elimination phase, where all possible inflammatory foods are removed, followed by the reintroduction phase in order to successfully reintroduce as many foods as possible. An often overlooked part of the Autoimmune Protocol is to not only remove foods that trigger inflammation but also focus on nutrient density, meaning foods that contain a lot of nutrients per calories. The lifestyle component focuses on sleep, stress, exercise, and supplementation if necessary
The autoimmune protocol is essentially a stricter version of the Paleo diet and is sometimes also referred to as the autoimmune paleo diet. It is believed to help people who suffer from autoimmune diseases to relieve their symptoms and can even put the disease in remission. These studies on the efficacy of the autoimmune protocol on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and on Hashimoto’s thyroiditis show promising results.
If you are suffering from an autoimmune disease I recommend to give the autoimmune protocol a try. Before you make any dietary or lifestyle adjustments make sure to talk to your doctor to get the green light. I also highly recommend seeing a functional medicine doctor in your area to help you address the root cause of your disease. Autoimmune diseases are complex and everyone is different. It is important that you get support from qualified health care professionals that can guide you through the process. Building a team of health care professionals that specialize in different areas can offer you the best of conventional medicine and alternative medicine to tackle these complex diseases. Getting an AIP coach that can help implement the autoimmune protocol and help you troubleshoot along the way is highly advised.
What to eat on the elimination phase of the autoimmune protocol:
- Organ meats
- Fish and seafood
- A wide variety of vegetables (for example leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, root vegetables, colorful vegetables, sulfur-rich ones such as onion, garlic, and mushrooms)
- Quality meats (for example grass-fed beef, lamb, bison, etc, pasture-raised poultry and pork
- Herbs and spices
- Quality fats (for example olive oil, avocado oil, pastured or grass-fed animal fat, coconut oil)
- Bone Broth
- Fermented foods (for example coconut yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha)
- Fruit in moderation
What to avoid on the elimination phase of the autoimmune protocol:
- Grains and pseudo-grains
- Dairy products
- Nuts (including nut butter, nut milk, nut oil, nut flour)
- Seeds (including seed-based oils and spices)
- Nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc.)
- Refined and processed sugars and oils
- Food additives (for example emulsifiers, thickeners)
- Non-nutritive sweeteners
- Spices that contain nightshades and seed-based spices.
It is important to note that the elimination phase is not a permanent diet. It is a therapeutic approach to give your body time to heal and to be able to identify certain food triggers. The goal is to reintroduce a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods back into your diet. After 30 – 90 days on the elimination phase (sometimes longer) and ideally once symptom-free, the reintroduction phase starts. Sometimes reintroductions can start even if you are not symptom-free. Again, this is highly individual and it is, therefore, crucial to work with a health care professional. He or she can help you determine when you can reintroduce foods or treat underlying issues that diet and lifestyle alone cannot help with. Once you can start reintroductions you try foods one by one and monitor your body for reactions for a couple of days. If the food you tested doesn’t trigger any symptoms you can incorporate it back into your diet. If it does you take it out and wait for your symptoms to disappear. The reintroduction phase is done in a very specific way as outlined in this article. Foods that tend to be less problematic are reintroduced first.
A word on medications:
Even though the autoimmune protocol is a powerful tool that has helped many people with symptoms and even remission of their autoimmune disease, it is important to note, that you should never stop taking your medications without the supervision of your doctor. Depending on your specific condition, it is possible that you will be medication-free, but it is NOT a failure if you have to continue taking medication, especially if organ damage has already occurred. The goal is for you to be able to have the best quality of life and medications can play an important part for many people with autoimmune diseases. You and your doctor will determine what the best course of action is for you.
If you need help with AIP compliant substitutions to make your life easier, make sure to download my substitution chart.
For more detailed information about the autoimmune protocol check out Dr. Sara Ballantyne’s post.
I also highly recommend the following books
The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook: A DIY Guide to Living Well with Chronic Illness by Mickey Trescott, NTP and Angie Alt, NTC, CHC
The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD