Michal Ofer

Food Freedom Friday Edition 90 - AIP Deconstructed

Michal Ofer
Food Freedom Friday Edition 90 - AIP Deconstructed

The Autoimmune Protocol is a Paleo-based, elimination-type dietary plan that supports the healing of the immune system and gut mucosa. It is applicable to any inflammatory disease but has been specifically designed to help those suffering from autoimmunity determine their food allergies and sensitivities, reverse nutrient deficiencies, balance gut flora, and heal their bodies over the long-term. 

Many believe this to be the best and most specific elimination protocol for those with autoimmune disease, and following it gives you the best chance to come up with your personalized healing diet. 

The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) calls for removing foods that are most likely to be problematic for people with autoimmune disease. These include grains, beans, legumes, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, nightshades, as well as food chemicals and additives. Many of these foods are considered problematic by the Paleo community in general and have been removed if you are already following a Paleo diet.  In addition to removing potentially problematic foods, nutrient-dense foods are added to restore nutrient status. These include many Paleo staples such as bone broth, high-quality meat and wild-caught fish, as well as organ meats, fermented foods and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Over the course of the elimination phase (which can last from a month to a year), changes are noted in health and general well-being. When it comes time to slowly and systematically reintroduce foods, it becomes possible to determine exactly which foods are holding you back, and able to use this information to construct a diet that will best support your personal healing needs. 

AIP is thus a guide that helps you develop a highly personalized healing diet.  

The AIP is an ideal starting point for increased wellness, on its own or as a compliment and support to the many approaches to dealing with autoimmune issues due to the fact that 

  • It removes foods that may trigger an immune response, are harmful to the gut, and lead to hormone dysregulation. Autoimmune disease is all about an immune system that has gone awry. The Autoimmune Protocol provides the foundation to create a clean digestive slate. 

  • It restores nutrients and flora that promote a healthy gut and well-regulated immune function. Micronutrient deficiencies are common in autoimmune disease. The Autoimmune Protocol works on restoring and repairing damage. 

  • It provides a framework for building a life-long diet exactly suited to you. There is no one-size-fits-all diet. The Autoimmune Protocol empowers you as an individual with what works for your specific condition. 

 An autoimmune disease is a condition where the body cannot tell the difference between healthy tissue and foreign invaders and a hypersensitive reaction occurs. The body then begins to attack its own tissue. For months or perhaps years, this self-tissue attack can occur asymptomatically until full blown autoimmune disease develops. There are more than 80 types of 'official' autoimmune disorders with many more being discovered but all autoimmune disease have this same principle in common, whether the tissue attacked is the thyroid gland, brain tissue or salivary glands, to name a few. In the western world there are issues concerning nourishment, health and the treatment of illness. AIP addresses inflammation in the gut that may be one of the causes of an autoimmune disease. 

The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet works to reduce inflammation in the intestines. Many elimination diets do not remove all the immune triggers that promote inflammation in the gut. AIP works to calm inflammation in the gut and in turn, dampen inflammation in the body, with the goal of putting the disease into remission and support in recovery from flare ups.  

Diet is only one aspect of healing, all be it one of the most important components. In the short-term, there are other components that require the help of a skilled practitioner. There are many pillars of wellness that are involved in an AIP lifestyle beyond the manifestation of clinical symptoms. These could include adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalances, co-infections, parasites, SIBO, liver congestion, insulin resistance and blood sugar dysregulation.  Each person who decides to try the AIP diet should work with their practitioner to determine if they are candidates for a low histamine, low latex and/or low FODMAP protocols in addition to following AIP. Further adjunct protocols may include: functional blood chemistry, saliva hormone testing, saliva adrenal testing, stool testing, genetic testing and evaluation and antibody testing. 

One of the most frustrating factors surrounding autoimmune conditions is that they have no curative treatment. Current therapies are often aimed at managing the symptoms alone. By using food as medicine, AIP followers are able to reduce troublesome symptoms and heal underlying imbalances by decreasing inflammation and healing gut dysfunction. The diet focuses on a nutrient-dense intake and eliminates inflammatory and allergenic foods to support the body in cooling down the immune system. 

If you struggle with an autoimmune issue, you most likely have a poorly functioning digestive tract. The  byproducts of the matter passing through your intestines are leaking through your gut barrier into your blood stream, causing your immune system to respond. This concept is fundamental to understanding why the AIP works in decreasing inflammation and lowering immune system stimulation. 

There are very specific rules to the Autoimmune protocol. The list of foods that need to be eliminated can feel overwhelming. It helps to begin with your basic paleo principles 

Avoid gluten, grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, and alcohol.  

If you are already following a Paleo diet, you have already done this step. Gluten is inflammatory to the digestive tract and should be removed from any food plan. Grains and legumes are eliminated to avoid anti-nutrients like phytic acid and inflammatory lectins. Sugar and alcohol are removed because they are highly inflammatory and do not bring any nutritional value or healing properties to the table. 

Avoid nightshade vegetables 

Vegetables such as peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes have been found to be particularly inflammatory, causing joint pain, skin irritation, and gut discomfort.   

Avoid eggs 

Eggs are eliminated because the proteins and enzymes in eggs, the albumin in the white in particular, are able to work their way through the gut lining during the digestion process. Although this may occur in anyone, for those struggling with autoimmune conditions, the egg particulate matter gets through the barrier of the gut lining easily and infiltrates the blood stream, causing immune system stimulation and reactivity.   

Avoid nuts and seeds 

Nuts and seeds are high in anti-nutrients such as lectins and phytates. They are one of the most allergenic types of foods and can cause sensitivities in people struggling with autoimmunity. Additionally, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is suboptimal in most nuts and seeds. In fact, nuts contain a high amount of omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory. 

Moderate fruit 

Try to keep fruit to one to two servings per day. This keeps blood sugar levels stable and also helps you avoid taking in too much fructose, which can be irritating to the gut. 

Avoid food additives like guar gum and carrageenan 

These additives bring no health benefits and contribute to leaky gut. Other additive like nitrites are inflammatory for the body and can also be allergenic. 

Avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications 

NSAIDs are detrimental and inflammatory to the gut lining, whose integrity is critical in managing autoimmune disorders. This can be challenging because many pharmaceutical strategies for autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain syndromes, and acute bouts of thyroiditis use NSAIDs. Please consult with your health care professional before removing these medications from your regimen. 

A few extra cautions 

Specific carbohydrates high in FODMAPS may disagree with some on the AIP diet. For example; nectarines, coconut or onions may bother some people. If you are following the program and find yourself reacting to certain starches in foods, it may be a sign that these FODMAP carbohydrates need to be eliminated from your diet. Remove these foods for a period of for 10-14 days and then slowly reintroduce to determine your personal tolerance level. 

Eliminating these foods is important to reduce inflammation. All of the foods listed can be gut irritants, exacerbate dysbiosis and contribute to SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth).  

One key to AIP success is to focus on following the diet for a set period of time and tracking symptoms during this period and through a slow, documented reintroduction process. The length of time one follows the elimination protocol is an individual choice but at least thirty to sixty days is recommended. Many people choose to remain on the protocol for months until they start seeing the resolution of their autoimmune symptoms. 

By setting a timeline for your elimination diet, you can focus on the healing aspect of the program and keep motivated with an endpoint in sight. While the AIP may help you to find out which foods you react to, the strict autoimmune protocol is not necessarily meant to be followed for life. Once you have completed the diet, have a focused reintroduction period to identify your food triggers and sensitivities.