More than 80 known autoimmune diseases affect 24 million people in the US alone.
An autoimmune disease is the result of your body's immune system attacking your body rather than protecting it. A normal functioning immune system acts as a defense against invaders like bacteria or viruses.
When someone experiences an autoimmune condition, the immune system can’t tell the difference between what's healthy and what's not. As a result, your body attacks healthy cells.
Common autoimmune conditions include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and more.
Is there a cure?
While there’s no known cure for autoimmune conditions, medications can help people manage their disease. Some people also seek alternative therapies like acupuncture or herbs to treat their condition or manage their symptoms.
Can diet help reduce symptoms of autoimmune disease?
The AIP (autoimmune protocol) diet is a food plan that aims to improve autoimmune symptoms.
In this post, we’ll break down the AIP diet, including:
- What it is
- Risks and benefits
- How to consider if the AIP diet is the right choice for you
What is the AIP diet?
The AIP (autoimmune protocol) diet aims to cut foods, additives, or medication that can trigger dysbiosis (the imbalance of gut bacteria), intestinal inflammation, and even symptomatic food intolerance. It’s also used to help reduce symptoms caused by autoimmune conditions.
The AIP diet is an extension of the Paleolithic diet and shares similarities in the foods that are allowed and avoided. However, the AIP diet is a little more restrictive and eliminates nuts, seeds, nightshades, eggs, and seed herbs.
While it’s unclear what causes autoimmune disorders (certain genes and environments may increase the risk of developing a condition), some research suggests a leaky gut may play a role as well.
When a “leaky gut” occurs, bacteria and toxins can pass through the intestines and into the bloodstream. The AIP diet aims to avoid foods that make your gut permeable and incorporate foods that help support gut health and reduce inflammation.
By avoiding certain foods that can cause inflammation and worsen symptoms of autoimmune conditions, the AIP diet works to support the gut lining and avoid inflammation altogether.
This includes avoiding food groups such as:
- Seed herbs
What can you eat on the AIP diet?
Foods recommended while following the diet include:
- Fermented probiotic-rich foods
- Natural sweeteners in moderation
- Non-seed-derived herbs and spices
- Minimally processed oils like avocado oil, olive oil, or coconut oil
- Minimally processed meats, as well as lean cuts, wild-caught, and grass-fed meats whenever possible
What are the risks?
For starters, the AIP diet is restrictive. Beginning the diet includes three phases:
- Phase 1: the elimination of foods that aren’t AIP compliant (at least 30 days)
- Phase 2: continued maintenance and/or elimination (minimum of 30 days)
- Phase 3: reintroduction of foods. Slowly reintroduce one food per week and assess symptoms
Phase 1 (the elimination phase) can be difficult as it entirely restricts some foods many people are used to eating. Social situations can be challenging when there’s a limited choice of foods to enjoy. This is normal for the start of any diet, but because the AIP diet is so restrictive, it can be harder.
Remaining in Phase 1 or Phase 2 for too long can also make it difficult to reach your daily nutritional needs, leading to certain nutrient deficiencies if you don't follow the diet correctly.
This is why it’s critical to move into Phase 3 (the reintroduction phase) after 60 days. During this phase, you have the chance to re-introduce foods that will help you reach your daily nutrition easier.
What are the benefits?
The AIP diet may contribute to a reduction in common autoimmune disorder symptoms.
In a study following a group of people using the AIP diet with IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), participants reported fewer IBD-related symptoms. They found an improvement in stress, bowel frequency, and their ability to perform leisure and sports activities.
In another study, women with HT (Hashimoto's thyroiditis) who followed the AIP diet for 10 weeks experienced a 29% decrease in inflammation and a 68% reduction in disease-related symptoms by the end of the study.
While the research is promising, it’s also limited. As more AIP diet research and data comes to the forefront, we may learn more about the impact of this diet.
Is the AIP diet a good choice for you?
Determining if the AIP diet is the right choice for you depends on several factors.
Firstly, it’s important to know if it’s sustainable for you and your lifestyle. If enjoying food socially is a big part of your life, it might be more difficult to adopt the diet.
And although some studies support claims of the diet’s positive effects, there’s no way to determine in advance if it will work for you. It’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional before you make a sudden and significant change to your diet.
The AIP diet may help reduce symptoms of autoimmune disorders. While there’s some evidence to support its effectiveness, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional before beginning a new diet—especially one with so many restrictions.
If you're ready for the lifestyle shift and can adhere to the diet while getting the nutrients needed to live a healthy life, it could be a great option.
If autoimmune symptoms are reducing your quality of life, there may be options available to help improve them—the AIP diet may be one option.
If someone you know might benefit from this information, consider sharing it. You never know, you could help someone change their life!