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Written by
Taylor Foster
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Danielle Desroche

Autoimmune conditions can be painful and sometimes severe in nature. With the inconsistent ebb and flow of remission and flares, you may be challenged to find an effective treatment that’s just right for you. Treating an autoimmune disease with diet alone may be difficult to manage, but combining medication and AIP can be effective and should be considered in your treatment journey. 

Most of us know or love someone who has an autoimmune condition, so we understand everyone’s journey is unique. What works for one person may not work for another, but effective symptom management is key for all. Finding that perfect balance between conventional and functional health care by utilizing a combination of treatment options increases the chance of more effective autoimmune symptom management.

Walking that line of “just getting by” while living with an autoimmune condition isn’t going to cut it when you have a full life to live. In this article, we’ll explain how autoimmune conditions can be managed most effectively using both medication and the AIP diet together to live the full life you deserve. 

Autoimmunity 101

Autoimmune diseases, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, can present quite differently from one person to another. There are nearly 100 types of autoimmune disease, and signs and symptoms can be overlapping and non-specific among disease variations, with varying effects on quality of life and day-to-day life. No matter what autoimmune disease is present, it’s common for disease flares to be triggered by excess stress, lack of sleep, and nutritional deficiencies that weaken the immune system. Seeking early treatment is important, as having one autoimmune disease makes you more susceptible to developing another. (Source)

The effects of an autoimmune disease are unique to you, and your treatment plan should be uniquely designed with this in mind. A holistic approach that utilizes the AIP diet alongside conventional medicine may be the best approach for improving how you feel on a day to day basis.  

Treating Autoimmunity With Conventional Medicine

Conventional medicine in general is the use of drugs, radiation, and surgery by medical professionals to treat symptoms and disease states. Conventional autoimmunity treatment may include medications such as:

  • immunosuppressants: The immune system is complex, and different kinds of immunosuppressant drugs target different components of both the innate (inborn) and the adaptive (developed over time) systems. These drugs help stop your immune system from overreacting and damaging healthy cells and tissue, but inhibiting your immune response may leave you vulnerable to some kinds of infections. (Source)
  • corticosteroids: These synthetic drugs are based on the cortisol your body makes naturally. Reducing inflammation is just one of the actions cortisol, the “stress hormone,” has on the body, and corticosteroids can have many effects as well. Medications such as prednisone are potent anti-inflammatories, but long term use can damage bones and muscles and make it hard to control blood sugar. (Source)
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These drugs, which include aspirin, ibuprofen and many others, block enzymes and signaling molecules that contribute to pain and inflammation. They are generally safe with few side effects, but can be hard on the gastrointestinal tract. (Source)
  • hormone replacement: Hormone replacement may be necessary in diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in which the thyroid gland is damaged by inflammation and autoantibodies so it can no longer produce sufficient amounts of its hormones. Destruction of hormone-producing tissue is irreversible, and hormone replacement may be necessary to improve quality of life. (Source
bowls with spices and fruits

Treating Autoimmunity With Functional Medicine

Recurrent infection and chronic inflammation from autoimmune conditions can wreak havoc on your overall well being, but a holistic intervention may help reduce symptoms and even put autoimmune disease into remission. Holistic health care, or functional medicine, is a whole body, patient-centered approach to finding and treating the root cause of an ailment by taking into consideration lifestyle, genetics, and environment. This personalized root-cause approach is designed to use low risk interventions to prevent symptoms as well as treat them. (Source, Source)

Functional medicine has gained popularity for treating and managing autoimmune diseases as well as other chronic conditions such as digestive disorders, diabetes, asthma, and premenstrual syndrome, to name a few. Treating your autoimmune disease with functional medicine gives you the ability to truly engage in your treatment plan as you dig into nutrition, hydration, supplementation, movement, sleep, and stress management to reduce systemic inflammation. When chronic inflammation results in disease, a functional medicine provider will look at your history and symptoms to map out a holistic, personalized approach to treating and managing your autoimmune condition. 

The Autoimmune Protocol

The autoimmune protocol (AIP), an anti-inflammatory diet designed to decrease inflammation while addressing nutrient deficiencies, is popular in the functional medicine world. The protocol eliminates an established group of basic trigger foods from the diet for a period of time and has been shown to effectively manage varied degrees of autoimmune symptoms in many patients. (Source)

The identified trigger foods can provoke an inflammatory response, leading to autoimmune symptoms in susceptible individuals. After being eliminated from the diet in the first phase of the protocol, the trigger foods are then slowly reintroduced, one at a time. Changes in digestion and elimination, skin, and mood with each re-introduction are tracked. In this way, foods that trigger disease flares can be identified, and those that cause no problems can be added back into the diet. 

Medication vs. AIP

When it comes to medication or AIP, it doesn’t have to be an either/or approach. Because autoimmunity presents differently for each person depending on lifestyle, genetics, and environment, a personalized approach to treatment is necessary. Many people experience immense relief from their symptoms with the AIP diet alone, but this may not be true for everyone. 

Introducing medication to manage autoimmune symptoms can be effective, but medication doesn’t address the effects of lifestyle and environment on autoimmune conditions. Conventional medicine methods have proven to be effective and relatively safe, while holistic or alternative methods are low risk but sometimes lack the solid research to back up their effectiveness. Even so, an integrative medication and AIP treatment plan can support and provide relief and remission of autoimmune symptoms. (Source

Benefits of Combining Medication and AIP 

When combining AIP and medication, you are your own best advocate. Working with a practitioner is a must, but don’t settle for just any practitioner. Take your time interviewing one you can entrust with your health and who sees the benefits of utilizing the AIP diet and medicine to manage autoimmune symptoms. 

There are risks to consider when starting a medication, but when it offers the potential for a higher quality of life, you may feel the benefits outweigh the risks. Immunosuppressing medications may provide enough relief of symptoms to allow you to focus on AIP and other lifestyle changes to further improve your health. Using medications to reduce inflammation may be just what your body needs to get to that next level of healing that can be achieved only by combining AIP and medicine. Of course, you’ll want to talk to your health care provider(s) before making the choice to add or remove medications. 

five pills next to a glass of water in the sun

How to Combine AIP and Medication

How can you begin combining AIP and medication to create a synergistic plan that is just right for you? 

First, find a supportive provider who is willing to work alongside you to find the best treatment combination for your autoimmune condition. You may actually end up working with a comprehensive wellness team made up of several different health professionals. As your own best advocate, you will lead your wellness team while accepting guidance along the way to get where you want to be. 

Then, establish goals along with your wellness team that are within your reach and limitations and will strengthen you as an individual living with autoimmunity. Start with the basics that are under your control, such as sleep, diet, and stress management. Pencil in more frequent visits with your wellness team to check in and monitor your progress, so diet and medication changes can be made when necessary.

How to Combine Medication With Diet and Lifestyle Changes

Diet and lifestyle changes can make a big impact on how well you live with autoimmune disease. Removing anti-inflammatory foods while increasing hydration and using supportive supplementation are great first steps to changing your diet. If you aren’t ready to fully commit to AIP, making these kinds of changes to your diet a little at a time can still make a big impact on your health. Lifestyle adjustments such as getting quality sleep, managing your stress in healthy ways, and engaging in daily movement that suits your needs, are beneficial as well. Medication, in addition to diet and lifestyle changes, can also provide tremendous relief in relieving symptoms. 

woman stretching

If You Have Doubts About Conventional Medicine

If conventional medicine has failed you in the past, making you doubt how it could help you in your diagnosis, know you are not alone. There is often a time and place for conventional medicine in the healing process, though. Just be sure to choose health care professionals who will walk with you on your journey, to support and guide you in making affirming choices about your autoimmune health. 

If you are struggling to face and complete daily activities while following the AIP diet, medication just may be the puzzle piece you are missing. While reducing inflammatory foods and choosing positive lifestyle choices may seem less stressful on your body, medication could be the missing element in your wellness plan. Do your research and talk it over with your wellness team to see if medication in addition to the AIP diet is right for you. 

The Bottom line on Medication and the Autoimmune Protocol

Treating autoimmune conditions can be tricky, but relief and even reversal of symptoms is possible. While medication and AIP can be used separately to treat and manage symptoms, you may find greater relief with an integrative treatment plan that includes both methods. 

You can discover the benefits of the autoimmune protocol with our experienced team of practitioners at WellTheory and manage your symptoms with confidence. If you have already made dietary changes and haven’t seen any improvements, it’s best to consult with a health care practitioner to help you manage your symptoms in addition to the AIP diet. Learn more about how WellTheory can support you.

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