Can the autoimmune protocol diet really help heal both immune health and the gut, or is it just another restrictive diet?
Whether you were just diagnosed or have been dealing with an autoimmune condition for years, you have likely been reading or Googling about how nutrition can help your condition. You may have dabbled in some different diets, and are interested in managing your condition with nutrition because medication alone will not help you successfully manage an autoimmune condition.
After failed diets and medication tweaks which result in little or no symptomatic improvement, individuals with autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s, tend to turn to alternative treatments. After all, conventional medicine doesn’t address other lifestyle aspects of health, especially nutrition.
But first, let’s start by talking about autoimmune conditions.
These conditions happen as a result of the body’s immune system attacking its own tissues, organs, and cells. Because of the role of inflammation and its link to gut health in autoimmune diseases, supporting both immune and digestive systems are primary goals through medication, nutrition, and supplementation.
At some point, the Autoimmune Protocol was born as a possible diet solution.
Although it’s difficult to identify who first designed the Autoimmune Protocol, it appears to stem from the Paleo diet and is growing in popularity among the holistic autoimmune community. Designed as a restrictive elimination diet, the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) removes problematic foods due to its supposed inflammatory nature. Because it restricts numerous food groups, the AIP is not supposed to be followed as a long-term diet. It’s recommended that all food groups be removed for a length of time and reintroduced one at a time to monitor for any autoimmune related or digestive reactions. Any foods which cause a reaction may need to be removed long-term.
What foods are generally eliminated in the AIP diet?
The AIP prohibits grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, nightshade vegetables (including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers), sugar, dairy, caffeine, and alcohol. After eliminating all these foods, you are essentially left with vegetables (other than nightshades), meat, and small amounts of fruit.
AIP was developed as a potential way to heal leaky gut syndrome, which is often associated with autoimmune diseases. For those with gastrointestinal distress, repairing gut health is absolutely vital. Recent research links the “leaky gut” phenomenon, a condition that affects the protective barrier lining of the intestinal wall, to play a key role in the onset of many autoimmune conditions. For a number of possible reasons including stress and poor nutrition, the barrier is weakened, leading to gut distress such as abdominal bloating, excessive gas, and cramps. Further symptoms can manifest as fatigue, food sensitivities, joint pain, skin rashes, and autoimmunity. Supporters of the AIP believe removing certain foods is the key to repairing the digestive tract and thereby improving autoimmunity.
But does AIP really work?
While there is anecdotal evidence that suggests some individuals with autoimmune conditions may feel better on and after this protocol, there are no large-scale clinical studies or research evidence to support that AIP actually works or is necessary.
Furthermore, anyone who is interested in following a restrictive diet should be evaluated and done under the care of a qualified health professional. Restriction can lead to fear and obsession around food, so those with a history of chronic dieting, disordered eating, and eating disorders may not be best suited for a restrictive diet like AIP.
With that being said, can nutrition support and improve symptoms in those with autoimmune conditions?
The answer is yes!
There is no single “fix” for managing autoimmune conditions, so a holistic approach incorporating food and supplements that help mitigate inflammation, repairs digestion, and incorporates lifestyle modifications will be the most useful.
Consider starting with the following:
- Add supplements like vitamin D, probiotics, and Omega-3 fatty acids to correct common nutrient deficiencies, and support your gut and immune health.
- Incorporate anti-inflammatory foods like greens, beans, berries, mushrooms, and seeds.
- Reduce stress and improve sleep habits to decrease the body’s stress response in the gut.
Adapted from the original article.
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Jessica Patel, RDN, LDN is a Chicago-based private practice dietitian specializing in autoimmune conditions helping individuals connect with good food through simple, healthful cooking techniques. With a love for wholesome, natural food and as a Hashimoto’s survivor, Jessica uses a holistic-minded approach to nutrition to help her clients stay healthy through the healing power of nourishing foods. Visit her at Well Fed Nutrition.