The term diet has a negative connotation, but the autoimmune protocol diet, also known as AIP, isn’t necessarily about weight loss. Instead, the goal is to help reduce inflammation and symptoms of autoimmune disorders.
An autoimmune disease causes your body to attack your organs and healthy tissues by mistake. Examples of these diseases include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis.
Autoimmune symptoms include swelling, fatigue, and pain.
The AIP diet is an elimination diet, so the goal is to avoid eating many types of food for a few weeks or months at a time to see how reintroducing them affects your health and how you feel.
Luckily, you can still indulge in dairy-free deserts on the AIP diet, as long as they follow the guidelines, and you don’t have to deprive yourself. You instead just have to focus on getting nutrient-dense, non-inflammatory foods.
Some other things to know about the AIP diet are below.
With the AIP diet, you follow it very strictly for a few weeks. Then, there are guidelines for very slowly reintroducing the foods you initially eliminated. As you reintroduce foods, one at a time, you should note how you feel. Most introductions should last at least a week.
You’re instructed to carefully watch for a reaction or any reoccurring symptoms that could indicate that particular food triggers your inflammation or autoimmune disease.
The first phase is aptly called the elimination phase. During the elimination phase, you shouldn’t eat any foods or medications that could trigger inflammation. You should avoid eggs, nightshades like tomatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, grains, and eggs. You should also avoid alcohol, tobacco, oils, food additives, and both processed and refined sugars as well as NSAID medicines like ibuprofen.
What you should eat during the elimination phase includes minimally processed meats, bone broth, and fermented foods.
You’re encouraged to reduce stress and increase sleep and exercise.
On average, this phase is maintained for anywhere from 30 to 90 days, but a lot of people start to see an improvement in their symptoms within the first three weeks.
The next phase of AIP is reintroduction. You shouldn’t start reintroduction until you have a noticeable improvement in your symptoms and how you feel. Then, you start working to identify the foods that cause symptoms for you and the ones that don’t.
When you reintroduce a food, you wait at least five to seven days before introducing another.
The idea behind the AIP diet is that there are certain foods that irritate the gut and promote irritation.
One theory that underlies the commonality of autoimmune diseases is leaky gut. Under the leaky gut theory, if the bacterial balance in the gut is off in any way, then the things that you eat can trigger inflammation, as can other triggers like viruses and toxins. They can go through the gut wall and get to other parts of the body.
There have been a few studies that have looked at the effectiveness of the AIP diet. For example, researchers in 2017 found that eliminating certain foods as outlined by the AIP diet helped with symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
In a separate 2019 study, participants with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis followed the AIP diet over 10 weeks. There weren’t changes in their labs, but the participants did say that they felt improvements in their symptoms of quality of life.
There is also compelling evidence that there’s a link between the health of the gut and inflammatory disease. For example, studies indicate that gut bacteria composition can trigger inflammatory and immune reactions throughout the body.
Are There Downsides?
While some people do find success with the AIP diet, there are downsides.
The first and perhaps the biggest is that it’s very restrictive, so it can be hard for a lot of people to follow. It can also make eating in restaurants or in social situations challenging.
You do also have to make sure that you’re getting all the vitamins and nutrients you need since at least at first, you’re cutting so many things out of your diet.
If someone can do the diet with you, it can be helpful because often, people find it isolating.
If you’re interested in trying the AIP diet, you might first want to talk to your doctor or a nutritionist and see what they think. It may not be right for everyone, but if autoimmune disease significantly affects your life, it could be worth a try.
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