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The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) is a diet that aims to reduce inflammation, pain, and other symptoms caused by autoimmune diseases. Examples of autoimmune diseases are Sjogren’s, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Many people who have followed the AIP diet report improvements in how they feel and reductions in typical symptoms of autoimmune disorders, such as fatigue and gut or joint pain. Yet, while research on this diet is promising, it’s also limited.

What is the AIP (AutoImmune Protocol Diet)?

Antibodies will attack foreign or harmful cells in your body.

However, in people with autoimmune disorders, the immune system tends to produce antibodies that, rather than fight infections, attack healthy cells and tissues.

Autoimmune diseases have a range of symptoms, including joint pain, fatigue, abdominal pain, diarrhea, brain fog, and tissue and nerve damage.

Examples of autoimmune disorders include Sjogren’s Syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, IBD, type 1 diabetes, and psoriasis.

The causes of autoimmune diseases include genetic propensity, infection, stress, inflammation, and medications.

Leaky Gut Syndrome

The damage to the gut barrier can lead to increased intestinal permeability, also known as “leaky gut syndrome,” which triggers the development of autoimmune diseases. 

Certain foods increase the gut’s permeability, thereby increasing your likelihood of a leaky gut.

The AIP diet focuses on eliminating these foods and replacing them with health-promoting. These nutrient-dense foods help heal the gut and ultimately reduce inflammation and symptoms of autoimmune diseases.

It also removes certain ingredients like gluten, which may cause abnormal immune responses in susceptible individuals. 

The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet reduces inflammation, pain, and other symptoms experienced by people with autoimmune disorders by healing their leaky gut and removing potentially problematic ingredients from their diet.

How does the AIP diet work?

The AIP diet resembles the paleo diet, both in the types of foods allowed and avoided and the phases that comprise it. Due to their similarities, the AIP diet may extend the paleo diet —a stricter version.

The AIP diet consists of two main phases.

The elimination phase

The first phase is an elimination phase that involves the removal of foods and medications believed to cause gut inflammation, imbalances between levels of good and bad bacteria in the gut, or an immune 

Avoid grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, nightshade vegetables, eggs, and dairy during this phase.

Avoid tobacco, alcohol, coffee, oils, food additives, refined and processed sugars, and certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Examples of NSAIDs include common pain killers.  

On the other hand, this phase encourages consuming fresh, nutrient-dense foods, minimally processed meat, fermented foods, and bone broth. It also emphasizes the improvement of lifestyle factors, such as stress, sleep, and physical activity. 

The length of the elimination phase of the diet varies, as it’s typically maintained until a person feels a noticeable reduction in symptoms. On average, most people maintain this phase for 30–90 days, but some may notice improvements as early as within the first three weeks. 

The reintroduction phase

Once a measurable improvement in symptoms and overall well-being occurs, the reintroduction phase can begin. During this phase, introduce the avoided foods into the diet, one at a time, based on the person’s tolerance.

This phase aims to identify which foods contribute to a person’s symptoms and reintroduce all foods that don’t cause any symptoms while avoiding those that do. To find the widest dietary variety a person can tolerate.

During this phase, foods should be reintroduced one at a time, allowing for 5–7 days before reintroducing a different food. A person establishes enough time to notice if any of their symptoms reappear before continuing the reintroduction process. 

Well-tolerated foods can add to the diet. Avoid those that trigger symptoms. Keep in mind that your food tolerance may change over time.

You may want to repeat the reintroduction test for foods that initially failed the test. 

Step-by-step reintroduction protocol

Here’s a step-by-step approach:

  • Step 1. Choose one food to reintroduce. Plan to consume this food a few times on the testing day, then avoid it altogether for 5–6 days.
  • Step 2. Eat a small amount, such as one teaspoon of the food, and wait 15 minutes to see if you react.
  • Step 3. If you have no symptoms, eat a slightly bigger portion of the same food, such as 1 1/2 tablespoons, and monitor how you feel for 2–3 hours. If you experience any symptoms, end the test and avoid this food.
  • Step 4. If you experience any symptoms over this period, end the test and avoid this food. If no symptoms occur, eat a regular portion of the same food and avoid it for 5–6 days without reintroducing any other foods.
  • Step 5. Suppose you experience no symptoms for 5–6 days. You can reincorporate new food and repeat this 5-step reintroduction process. 

It’s best to avoid reintroducing foods under circumstances that increase inflammation and make it difficult to interpret results. These include following a poor night’s sleep during an infection when feeling stressed or following a strenuous workout.

The AIP diet first eliminates any foods that may trigger symptoms for a few weeks. Only those that don’t trigger symptoms can ultimately be on a diet.

What Foods to eat and avoid 

The AIP diet has strict recommendations regarding which foods to eat or avoid during its elimination phase. 

Foods to avoid

  • Grains: rice, wheat, oats, barley, rye, etc., as well as foods derived from them, such as pasta, bread, and breakfast cereals
  • Legumes: lentils, beans, peas, peanuts, etc., as well as foods derived from them, such as tofu, tempeh, mock meats, or peanut butter
  • Nightshade vegetables: eggplants, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, etc., as well as spices derived from nightshade vegetables, such as paprika
  • Eggs: whole eggs, egg whites, or foods containing these ingredients
  • Dairy: Avoid cow’s, goat’s, or sheep’s milk, as well as foods derived from milk, such as cream, cheese, butter, or ghee; dairy-based protein powders, or other supplements. 
  • Nuts and seeds: all nuts and seeds and foods derived from them, such as flours, butter, or oils; also includes cocoa and seed-based spices, such as coriander, cumin, anise, fennel, fenugreek, mustard, and nutmeg.
  • Certain beverages: alcohol and coffee
  • Processed vegetable oils: canola, rapeseed, corn, cottonseed, palm kernel, safflower, soybean, or sunflower oils
  • Refined or processed sugars: cane or beet sugar, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, and barley malt syrup; also includes sweets, soda, candy, frozen desserts, and chocolate, which may contain these ingredients
  • Food additives and artificial sweeteners: trans fats, food colorings, emulsifiers, and thickeners, as well as artificial sweeteners, such as stevia, mannitol, and xylitol

Some AIP protocols further recommend avoiding all fruit — both fresh or dried — during the elimination phase. Others allow the inclusion of 10–40 grams of fructose per day, which amounts to around 1–2 portions of fruit per day.

Foods to eat

  • Vegetables:   A variety of vegetables except for nightshade vegetables and algae.
  • Fresh fruit: a variety of fresh fruit, in moderation
  • Tubers: sweet potatoes, taro, yams, as well as Jerusalem or Chinese artichokes
  • Minimally processed meat: wild game, fish, seafood, organ meat, and poultry; meats should be wild, grass-fed, or pasture-raised, whenever possible
  • Fermented, probiotic-rich foods: Eat nondairy-based fermented food, such as kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and coconut kefir; probiotic supplements. 
  • Minimally processed vegetable oils: olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil
  • Herbs and spices: as long as not from a seed
  • Vinegar: balsamic, apple cider, and red wine vinegar, as long as they’re free of added sugars
  • Natural sweeteners: maple syrup and honey, in moderation
  • Certain teas: green and black tea at average intakes of up to 3–4 cups per day
  • Bone broth

Despite being allowed, some protocols further recommend that you moderate your intake of salt, saturated and omega-6 fats, natural sugars, such as honey or maple syrup, as well as coconut-based foods.

Depending on the AIP protocol at hand, small amounts of fruit may also be allowed – equivalent to a maximum intake of 10–40 grams of fructose per day, or 1–2 portions of fresh fruit.

Some protocols further suggest moderating your intake of high glycemic fruits and vegetables, including dried fruit, sweet potatoes, and plantain.

The glycemic index (GI) is a system used to rank foods on a 0 to 100, based on how much they will increase blood sugar levels compared with white bread. High glycemic fruits and vegetables are those ranked 70 or above on the GI scale. 

The AIP diet typically consists of minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods. The lists above specify which foods to eat or avoid during the elimination phase of the AIP diet.

Does the AIP diet work?

Though research on the AIP diet is limited, some evidence suggests reducing inflammation and symptoms of certain autoimmune diseases.

Heal a leaky gut

People with autoimmune diseases often have a leaky gut, and experts believe there may be a link between the inflammation they experience and the permeability of their gut.

A healthy gut typically has a low permeability – allows it to act as a good barrier and prevent food and waste remains from leaking into the bloodstream.

However, a highly permeable or leaky gut allows foreign particles to crossover into the bloodstream, in turn, possibly causing inflammation.

In parallel, there’s growing evidence that the foods you eat can influence your gut’s immunity and function, and in some cases, possibly even reduce the degree of inflammation you experience 

One hypothesis entertained by researchers is that by helping heal leaky gut, the AIP diet may help reduce the degree of inflammation a person experiences.

Reduce inflammation and symptoms for Sjogren’s

Research participants reported significant improvements in their quality of life. 

Although promising, studies remain small and few. Also, to date, they have only been performed on a small subset of people with autoimmune disorders. Therefore, more research is needed to make solid conclusions.

The AIP diet may help reduce gut permeability and inflammation in people with autoimmune diseases. Small studies report beneficial effects in people with IBD and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Still, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.

AIP downsides 

The elimination phase of this diet can also make it difficult for people to eat in social situations, such as at a restaurant or friend’s house, increasing the risk of social isolation.

The AIP diet may not work for everyone, and its elimination phase is very restrictive – making this diet isolating and hard to follow. It may also lead to a high risk of nutrient deficiencies. 

Why do AIP Diet?

The AIP diet reduces inflammation, pain, or other symptoms caused by autoimmune diseases. As such, it may work best for people with autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, IBD, celiac disease, or rheumatoid arthritis.

There is no cure for autoimmune diseases, but proper care can manage their symptoms. The AIP diet aims to help you do so by helping you identify which foods may be triggering your specific symptoms.

The AIP diet may reduce the severity of symptoms associated with various autoimmune diseases. However, it may be challenging to implement independently. Consult a dietitian or medical professional. 

Due to its limited downsides, people with autoimmune disorders generally have little to lose by giving it a try. However, it’s likely best to seek guidance from a qualified health professional to ensure you continue to meet your nutrient needs throughout all phases of this diet.

How Theralife can help

Theralife has a formula specifically developed for Autoimmune diseases, especially Sjogren’s who have severe dry eyes, dry mouth, and joint pain.  

To learn more – click here.


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