Most autoimmune diseases have no cure, but a patient has various ways to mitigate symptoms and control the condition. Apart from medication that reduces pain and inflammation, patients also make sweeping changes to their lifestyle — their diet included.
One of the most popular diet recommendations for autoimmune conditions is the autoimmune protocol diet (AIP). While research literature is still thin, there are pieces of anecdotal evidence that AIP may help manage certain symptoms.
Before we look at how the AIP may work, we must understand the mechanism of autoimmune disorders.
An autoimmune disorder is a condition where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy tissues.
A healthy person’s body fights harmful substances, including bacteria, toxins, viruses, and other pathogens. These dangerous substances contain antigens, which are molecules that trigger an immune response. This response involves the production of antibodies, which destroy the harmful substances.
This process doesn’t happen properly in the body of a person with autoimmune conditions. Their immune system can‘t distinguish healthy tissues from harmful substances. As a result, the immune system creates a reaction that destroys healthy tissues.
Currently, there are over 80 types of autoimmune disorders, including:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Celiac disease
- Graves diseases
- Pernicious anemia
- Reactive arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Addison disease
Leaky Gut Theory
The exact cause of autoimmune disorders is unknown, but medical experts offer several explanations. One theory is that some individuals have a “leaky gut,” or a digestive tract with increased permeability. It means that, as the digestive tract extracts nutrients from the food, it also allows toxins and other harmful substances into the body.
This, according to the theory, may lead to the development of certain autoimmune diseases or exacerbate their symptoms.
Some types of food have the potential to increase the gut’s permeability, which in turn makes the gut “leakier.” The AIP diet focuses on eliminating this food.
How to Do the Autoimmune Diet
The AIP diet resembles the Paleo diet, although it’s more restrictive. The goal of AIP is to eliminate food types that may trigger symptoms and encourages the person to eat healthy, nutrient-dense food.
The AIP diet is very popular. Several meal guides are available online. Restaurants dedicated to the AIP diet are also gaining traction, not only because of PR agency services, but also due to an increased consciousness about clean eating.
The AIP diet consists of two phases: elimination and reintroduction.
Phase 1: Elimination
In the first phase of the AIP diet, you eliminate food and medication that may trigger an immune response, gut inflammation, and an imbalance in the gut microbiome.
Remove these food items from your diet:
- Nightshades (white potato, tomato, capsicum, eggplant, paprika, and tobacco)
- Nuts and seeds
- Seed herbs (coriander seeds, fennel, fenugreek, mustard seeds, etc.)
- Legumes and beans
- Dried fruit
- Artificial sweeteners
- All kinds of processed food
- Vegetable oils
Meanwhile, your meals should consist of:
- Fruits and vegetables (except nightshades)
- Herbs (turmeric, basil, thyme, sage, rosemary, and more)
- Organic grass-fed meat, organ meat, and poultry
- Herbal tea
- Fermented food (sauerkraut, kombucha, coconut yoghurt, kimchi, and more)
- Oils and fats
A person may stay on the elimination phase between 30 and 90 days, or until they have noticed their symptoms improved.
Phase 2: Reintroduction
After the elimination phase, the person reintroduces the avoid food items, one by one. This way, the person can identify which types of food trigger their symptoms and which ones can be safely eaten.
Food items, however, should be introduced gradually:
- Choose one food item to restore to your diet. Only one type of food should be tested at a time.
- Consume only a small amount, such as 1 teaspoon of food. Then, wait for 15 minutes to see if you experience a reaction.
- If a reaction has been triggered by the food, end the test immediately. This food item should no longer be part of your diet.
If you don’t experience reactions, eat a larger portion of the food (for instance, 2 tablespoons) and monitor any reactions for two to three hours.
- If a reaction has been triggered, end the test and avoid the food. If there were no reactions, eat a normal portion of the food and then avoid it for 6 days.
- If a reaction has been triggered anytime across the 6-day period, remove the food from your diet.
If there’s no reaction, you may reincorporate the food into your diet.
Use the same step for every food you want to reintroduce.
Although the AIP diet is extremely popular among people who experience autoimmune disorders, it’s may not be ideal for your condition.
Moreover, current studies are not enough to prove a strong relationship between nutrition and certain autoimmune conditions — more research is needed. As such, before trying the AIP diet, consult your doctor first.