Autoimmune disease (AD), defined by an overactive immune system wrongly attacking the body’s own tissues, encompasses more than 80 disease diagnoses. Although how or why this family of diseases develop is not completely understood, we do know that genes, along with environmental factors such as diet and lifestyle, play a role. A food first approach is one of the most affordable and attainable means to help manage your autoimmune disease. If you have a chronic illness, changing your diet can change your life. Read on to find out what AIP paleo is and 7 ways it can be life-changing.
What Is AIP Paleo?
The autoimmune protocol (AIP) starts with an elimination phase that removes inflammatory foods from the diet. It then moves into a reintroduction phase, in which some foods are brought back in with the use of a food journal to track your body's response. Once your symptoms have improved and you’ve identified foods that are problematic for you, you move into the maintenance phase, with a personalized eating plan that works with your body.
The autoimmune protocol stems from the paleo style of eating, which also removes inflammatory foods but to a lesser extent. These two styles of eating may be blended into an AIP paleo diet that can be more tailored to your specific needs. This blended diet focuses on consuming nutrient-dense foods to promote healing, while identifying food intolerances and sensitivities and removing possible trigger foods that could increase your risk of developing or aggravating chronic illness. The majority of your immune system lies within your gut, so poor gut health and dysbiosis can contribute to an overactive immune system response. (Source)
AIP Paleo Guidelines
If you have ever thought about following this diet, you may have wondered what foods you can actually consume, as there are quite a few to avoid. When following this blended diet, you will most likely start out solely following the AIP guidelines to eliminate all possible foods that may trigger and aggravate your symptoms.
Though AIP and paleo are quite similar, AIP is stricter in that it eliminates more foods to accommodate those with more severe symptoms. Your symptoms must be in remission for at least 3 months before adding potentially triggering foods back in, helping to avoid an inflammatory response as you move into the reintroduction phase.
As you transition through the elimination phase into reintroduction, you may begin adding eggs, nightshade vegetables, nuts and seeds, and possibly some additional foods, back into your diet to see how your immune system responds.
Robust gut health is important for improving quality of life if you suffer from chronic disease, and avoiding inflammatory foods will better help your body absorb nutrients that are necessary to manage your symptoms more effectively. (Source, Source)
Foods to Avoid
The autoimmune protocol begins with an elimination phase that removes:
Reintroduction begins with foods such as eggs, nuts, seeds, and nightshades that are considered AIP paleo compliant. You may be able to reintroduce limited amounts of others, such as dairy and caffeine, later on if you find you are able to tolerate them. (Source, Source)
Foods to Consume
In addition to the AIP diet’s long list of foods to avoid, there are quite a few nutrient-dense foods to enjoy once you have made it through 3 months without bothersome symptoms and start reintroducing the foods you eliminated.
This process may be a slow one, but recognizing which foods sit well with your body and which trigger autoimmune reactions is a huge step in your AIP journey. As long as you have no reactions to the following after reintroduction, you can enjoy them in your diet regularly:
In the case of Hashimoto's thyroiditis, research suggests dietary changes might affect thyroid antibodies in a positive way while improving thyroid function. As for inflammatory bowel disease, following an AIP paleo diet can soothe digestion by promoting a healing environment for the gut lining. (Source, Source)
Following are ways AIP paleo might change your life, regardless of your autoimmune disease.
Inflammation is a necessary and healthy process for your body when it comes to fighting off infection and foreign invaders, but when it plagues you day in and day out it can become a burden to your system. Chronic inflammation can damage your body, but can be tamed by the foods you consume regularly.
Specific foods, such as refined and processed sugar, may release inflammatory chemicals into your system that increase your chance of developing disease, and may contribute to the chronic inflammatory load you are already experiencing. (Source)
Overall, choosing fresh and whole foods consistently and habitually will reduce your inflammation levels and improve gut health. An anti-inflammatory grocery list contains a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, high quality sources of protein, and fresh spices and herbs, while reducing or eliminating refined carbs, fried foods, sugary drinks, processed meats, and poor choices of dietary fat. (Source, Source)
Autoimmune symptoms can vary depending on the severity of illness you are dealing with. All autoimmune diseases promote inflammation, yet some may only affect one part of the body while others may affect several parts. Symptoms may vary from rashes and fatigue to pain, stiffness, fevers, and anything in between.
Your genes may be behind your AD development and diagnosis, but most likely environmental triggers set the immune system off and running. These environmental triggers may include poor stress management, inadequate sleep, lack of movement, and poor diet. Fortunately, all of these factors are in your control, and you can reduce your risk of developing chronic disease and enhance your well-being by changing your diet and lifestyle. (Source)
When taking these factors into consideration, diet is one of the quickest ways to take control of your health. By following an AIP paleo diet you will eliminate foods that may trigger inflammation that manifests as AD symptoms. (Source)
The process of digestion may seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. When your digestion is running smoothly, your body thrives by absorbing the nutrients in your food. If you have an AD, your nutrient status may be poor and your digestion could most likely use a tune up. The gut microbiome is a key piece to keeping your digestion running well. Removing foods that may inflame the intestinal lining and create dysbiosis will aid a better digestive process, but it doesn’t end there. (Source, Source)
Your digestive system begins at your mouth and ends at your anus, and the digestive process involves everything in between. That leaves a lot of room for problems to arise if you aren’t being proactive. Yes, your genes play a role, but how and what you eat is also important.
Do you have a lot of stress? Your gut feels that and it may show up as diarrhea or constipation. Are you eating inflammatory foods that don’t agree with you? That creates a stressful internal environment that interferes with your ability to break down foods and take in nutrients. An anti-inflammatory diet such as AIP paleo can calm your GI tract, giving your body the opportunity to absorb the nutrients it needs. When your digestion is running like a well-oiled machine, you’ll feel it in your energy level, mentally and physically. (Source)
Over 70% of your immune system lies within your gut, so good gut health is a plus for your immune health, too. The AIP paleo diet is high in anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods full of vitamins and minerals that your body will be able to absorb and use for energy. Lowering your immune response by removing foods that may trigger inflammation will improve your immunity.
A poor diet may bring a constant influx of inflammatory triggers, bogging your immune system down as your digestive and gut health suffer. Dysbiosis and impaired immune function go hand in hand — if your gut flora isn’t thriving, your immune system won’t be either. A standard Western diet is high in fats and unbalanced in other nutrients, which may lead to increased inflammation within the gut and result in poor immune response. Following an AIP paleo diet removes those possible food triggers that may be harming your immune system. (Source)
Your brain, just like your body, needs nutrients to not only survive but also to thrive. You may notice you feel anxious after eating processed foods, which are most likely high in refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, additives, preservatives, and dyes. If you eat packaged and processed foods day after day you may notice you don’t have a lot of energy. You may feel down and unmotivated, or like you don’t want to get out of bed and do much. These depressed moods may be a direct result of your diet and nutritional deficiencies. (Source)
The AIP paleo diet is packed with fresh, nutrient-dense foods to nourish your cells with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids needed for mood-promoting neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. An anti-inflammatory diet has the power to transform your days and nights as your mind becomes more balanced with better nutrition. (Source)
If you have a chronic illness, debilitating fatigue can accompany you day in and day out. You may feel that you can’t get through the morning — or even get out of bed — even after sleeping a full 8 hours or more. You may suffer brain fog that just won’t clear up. No matter how you experience fatigue, it needs to be dealt with so you can function optimally.
An anti-inflammatory diet can be useful if you suffer from fatigue and have a chronic illness such as rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, or lupus. By reducing your inflammatory load, an anti-inflammatory diet can help your body focus more on energy production. Targeting fatigue through diet is a sustainable way to correct deficiencies in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, antioxidants, polyphenols, and amino acids, all of which are important for supporting focus and stamina. (Source)
Fighting inflammation with food is beneficial for preventing the onset and development of disease. Whole foods contain medicinal properties through components such as phytonutrients, polyphenols, and antioxidants that fight off inflammation naturally without any side effects. It’s no surprise that foods that increase your risk of developing diseases such as diabetes and heart disease also promote inflammation and excess weight gain. Modifying your diet can tip the scales in your favor, helping prevent chronic illness and benefiting your quality of life overall. (Source)
The Bottom Line
The AIP paleo diet may help improve your quality of life with a chronic illness by managing your autoimmune responses, lowering inflammatory markers, and reducing symptoms. Altering your diet to address nutrient deficiencies with nutrient-rich foods can affect the way your body responds to stressors that can trigger disease. Removing foods that trigger inflammation and gut dysbiosis are important to living your best life. If you’re interested in finding out whether the AIP paleo diet might be right for you and want to explore working with one of WellTheory’s Nutritional Therapy Practitioners, find out more about our high-touch care pathways.
Give yourself the time and space to find out what your ideal routine looks like to support your autoimmunity. Over 75 days, you’ll incorporate new routines focused on diet, sleep, movement, stress management, and lifestyle to make steady, sustainable progress towards reducing your symptoms.”