AIP Diet Review

What is the AIP Diet? The autoimmune protocol is a diet that focuses on healing the immune system and the gut first and foremost. It is very similar to the paleo diet as many of the approved foods are the same, however, the diets do have their differences. This specific eating plan works to reduce inflammation in the intestines, and it teaches one to become healthier overall with your everyday food choices. Typically, when you think about diet foods, you think low fat and light, but this is not the case with the AIP diet list. The AIP diet plan eliminates certain food groups that could be potential hazards to your overall gut health, and the only way to really know who the culprit is, simply happens with elimination. I will give you more insight to the foods later on in this review.  

What is an autoimmune disease for starters? There are many different autoimmune diseases out there today, but the main definition behind it is simply when the body attacks both good and bad cells and sees the good cells as foreigners also. When the healthy cells are attacked, it can cause symptoms and ailments that are not pleasant, like change in organ function, arthritis, thyroid, and digestive issues. [1] Many times, this attack on healthy cells will happen for years without it being noticed until autoimmune disease symptoms take over causing question and concern. Food can be used as a start to figuring out if you do have an autoimmune disease, as well as getting your body checked overall by many other different tests mentioned below.  

The AIP Diet is one that is geared to be an autoimmune diet, and its main goal is healing, not curing. Because autoimmune diseases cannot be cured, the only way to put it into remission is through a mixture of medication, supplementation, or the proper diet that cuts back on gut inflammation. There are basic principles to follow when it comes to this AIP paleo diet. The basic rules when following a paleo diet are: No gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no alcohol, no grains, and no legumes. [2] This protocol diet has said to be a spin off of the paleo diet, but it does go a little more in depth, and is a way of life more than anything else. According to an AIP nutritionist Jessica Flanigan, 

“I always recommend working with an experienced practitioner when starting AIP and getting blood work and other functional tests like adrenal/cortisol and hormone saliva tests. If you have dysglycemia, insulin resistance, anemia (not all anemia’s are from low iron!), intestinal, or other infections like h. pylori, SIBO, h-p axis issues, adrenal dysfunction, you may not get better on the AIP diet alone.” [3] 

The Details 

This diet can last anywhere from 6-8 weeks, and it is really used to pinpoint triggers and regain a healthy immune function even if you suffer from the diseases that come with an autoimmune disorder. As explained by AIP expert Flanigan, there are certain foods that are completely eliminated and other foods that are considered autoimmune foods. There are an abundance of foods that are allowed, and then an abundance of foods which are not allowed, so take a look at this list below.   

Allowed:  

Vegetables (except nightshades), fruits (limited to 15 grams per day), coconut products, like coconut oil, manna, creamed coconut, sugarless canned coconut milk, and shredded coconut (no coconut sugar or agave). Fats, like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, lard, bacon fat, and ghee. Fermented foods, bone broth, grass fed meats, poultry, and seafood. Other approved foods are: Non-seed herbal tea, green tea, vinegars: apple cider vinegar, coconut vinegar, red wine vinegar, and no sugar added balsamic. Honey and maple syrup (1 tsp. per day) many different herbs, and binders.  

Not Recommended: 

Nuts (including nut oils), seeds (flax, pumpkin, chia, sunflower, sesame, and culinary herb seeds, like cumin and coriander), beans/legumes, eggs, chocolate, alcohol, dairy, processed foods, dried fruits, artificial sweeteners, grains (corn, wheat, millet, buckwheat, rice, sorghum, amaranth, rye, spelt, oats, teff, and kamut), gum, nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, paprika, mustard seeds, all chili's, including spices), vegetable oils, tapioca, and culinary herbs. [3] 

By eating the right foods, you are empowering your body to heal itself, and it is a good way to get down to the root of any autoimmune disorder. Please be mindful that this will not impact your ability to become totally healed, but it is an avenue to taming the beast. Supplements may also be needed, as well as a doctor’s check up with blood work, etc. So do not rule those things out just because you have cleaned up your diet. Supplementation is almost always needed on top of a clean diet to have you feeling your best. So once you start the elimination process with certain foods, what is the best way to reintroduce those foods back into your diet?  

First and foremost, if you are working through an elimination diet, it will take time and patience to truly have it all make sense. Get a notebook that you can physically write in, make notes with, and jot down your food intake so there is no second-guessing during this process. It can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks. When you are eliminating a food, that is the easy part. The hard part comes when you are re-introducing it back in because you want to make sure you get the timing right. Always go by the 72-hour rule, and stick with that. When you reintroduce a food back in, it typically takes 72 hours to create an immune response of any type. These responses might come in the form of brain fog, lethargy, rashes, stomach pain, feeling sick or hung-over, gas, constipation, or fatigue.  When you are ready to reintroduce the foods back into your diet, take it slow and only introduce one food every five days. You do not want to shock your system with too many new foods, as it will only be harder for you to pinpoint exactly which one set your system awry.  

Have You Heard About Leaky Gut Syndrome?  

Because the AIP diet is essentially an elimination diet that focuses on foods that can heal your body, I wanted to highlight Leaky Gut Syndrome. There are some culprits that can greatly attribute to your autoimmune disorder, one of those being Leaky Gut Syndrome. If you have heard the term “Leaky Gut Syndrome” and are not familiar with what it actually is, I will explain. It has to do with your small intestine, and this part of the body is where your vitamins and minerals are absorbed, which makes it a big deal.

According to US News,  

“In order for the vitamins and minerals to be absorbed, the small intestine contains microscopic pores so the nutrients can be transferred into the bloodstream. Once transferred, the nutrients are then shuttled and deposited all around the body by the blood.” [4 

These pores are picky and only allow certain objects in, such as different nutrients and molecules. Toxins and large undigested food particles are banished from this area of the intestine if it is working properly. If you have Leaky Gut Syndrome, those rejected toxins and food items are allowed in, as the pores will naturally widen. When the foreign objects are allowed in, they then cause the immune system to go in and attack, which can ultimately cause allergies. This is just an example of how it gets started, and the symptoms will generally creep up over time. It can be helped by taking a simple probiotic, as well as participating in the AIP diet because one of the main causes of LGS is inflammation throughout the body. 

The Paleo Approach 

The autoimmune protocol diet was based off of the foundation of the book “The Paleo Approach” and it was written by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne. In this book, Dr. Ballantyne speaks about the AIP diet, and why it could greatly help someone who is battling through an autoimmune disorder. It helps to guide the reader to create their own personalized healing diet to better sort out what is causing inflammation and irritation in the small intestine. It greatly breaks down this style of diet in the book if you are looking for a physical copy of instructions and general information.

She claims this diet can:

  1. Remove foods that trigger a harmful immune response,
  2. Restore nutrients to the body and encourages gut health,
  3. Provide you with a healthy foundation to get your autoimmune disease under control. [5]

Do be aware that it contains a ton of scientific studies and backing, but no recipes.  

How Do You Know If You Have An Autoimmune Disease?  

As mentioned above, there are several factors that can cause an autoimmune disorder in the body. In the United States alone, there are over 50 million people who have both undiagnosed and diagnosed conditions that severely impact their everyday lives. What are the actual facts behind understanding if you have truly fallen victim to this common disease? This topic hits close to home for several reasons as my sister was finally properly diagnosed with the unfortunate yet ever so common Hashimoto’s disease and hypothyroidism a few years ago. These are both characterized as autoimmune disorders, and can affect each person rather differently. In her case, she was losing hair at alarming rates as well as gaining insurmountable amounts of weight even on a healthy diet and exercise routine. She could not get on top of it, and she was falling asleep at 2:00pm even after a good night’s rest, which started to impact her career. 

Knowing herself and understanding these symptoms were far from her everyday normal, she decided to do a little research. Every doctor she went to told her she was just imagining things and that her blood work and scans looked completely normal, but she knew better. After six months of getting told nothing was wrong, a doctor finally decided to check her thyroid. The problem quickly presented itself as hypothyroidism mixed with Hashimoto's. For those of you who are not familiar with what hypothyroidism is: It is simply when the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the thyroid hormone for the body to function optimally. [6]

Hashimoto’s Disease,  

“It is an autoimmune disorder in which antibodies directed against the thyroid gland lead to chronic inflammation.” [7] 

So how can you tell if you are falling victim to any autoimmune disorder, despite what some doctors are telling you? Do be mindful that getting properly diagnosed can be a very long and stressful process. My sister was in tears every time she would get a sideways look from a doctor unable to tell her what was going on, but do be patient as the results will come. Because there are so many different autoimmune disorders that are tied to different health problems, it is hard for the doctors to just jump to conclusions and diagnose right away. Figure out what your main symptoms are, whether it is gastrointestinal, adrenal, or even fatigue, and find a specialist who can help you with that set symptom. [8] 

There are some telltale signs to look out for which may point you to learning if you actually have an autoimmune disease or not. As described by Amy Myers they are,  

  • “Joint pain, muscle pain or weakness, or a tremor. 
  • Weight loss, insomnia, heat intolerance, or rapid heartbeat. 
  • Recurrent rashes or hives, sun sensitivity, a butterfly-shaped rash across your nose and cheeks. 
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing. 
  • Feeling tired or fatigued, weight gain, or cold intolerance. 
  • Hair loss or white patches on your skin or inside your mouth. 
  • Abdominal pain, blood or mucus in your stool, diarrhea, or mouth ulcers. 
  • Dry eyes, mouth, or skin. 
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet. 
  • Multiple miscarriages or blood clots.” [9] 

Keeping your eye out for some of your largest symptoms will give you better insight to what your body might really need. There are long lists of different autoimmune disorders, but I will highlight some of the most common and what their symptoms are below: 

Graves' disease

“Graves’ disease is a type of autoimmunity in which the thyroid gland becomes overly active. People who have Graves' disease may have trouble sleeping, irritability, unexplained weight loss, eyes that bulge, sensitivity to heat, muscle weakness, brittle hair, light menstrual periods, and hand shakiness. On the other hand, some people with Graves' disease experience no symptoms at all.” [10] 

Hashimoto's thyroiditis

“An inflammation of the thyroid gland that results in hypothyroidism (that is, an underactive thyroid gland), Hashimoto's thyroiditis occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Although there are sometimes no symptoms, Hashimoto's thyroiditis often results in a goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland, which may be visible as a bulge in the neck), fatigue, weight gain, depression, muscle weakness, cold sensitivity, dry hair and skin, and constipation.” [10] 

Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) 

“In lupus, antibodies made by the immune system attack the body, resulting in swelling and damaged joints and organs, joint pain, rashes, and sun sensitivity. Lupus treatments vary depending on how severe your disease is, but can include pain relievers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), immunosuppressants, corticosteroids, and lifestyle changes — like reducing stress, avoiding sun exposure, using sunscreen, and making changes to your diet.” [10] 

Type 1 diabetes

“In type 1 diabetes, which is usually diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood (by age 30), the immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. When your insulin levels are insufficient, your body cannot control your glucose level, which can lead to a number of problems including kidney failure, vision loss, circulation problems, stroke, and heart disease. Treatment for type 1 diabetes includes taking insulin as directed by a doctor, monitoring blood sugar, eating a healthy diet, and staying active.” [10] 

Multiple sclerosis (MS)

“People who have MS may experience weakness, trouble with balance and coordination, problems speaking and walking, paralysis, tremors, and numbness in the extremities. There are a variety of medications that can help patients manage symptoms, treat flare-ups, modify the course of the MS, and improve function.” [10] 

Rheumatoid arthritis

“Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of arthritis in which autoimmunity causes the immune system to attack tissues in the joints, leading to muscle pain, joint deformities, fatigue, weakness, appetite loss, weight loss, and sometimes confinement to bed. As with most autoimmune diseases, women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis.” [10] 

Word On The Street About The Paleo Approach and the AIP Diet  

Even though we are not directly looking and reviewing this book in depth, I wanted to get a feel on how the customers felt it helped them in their quest of starting the AIP diet. There are so many references to the Paleo diet in a variety of places, but not all of them are directly linked to the AIP diet like this specific book. There is an abundance of customer reviews with some people saying they felt like there was too much science in the book, and they wished there was more emphasis on how to act and start the diet. Others said it tremendously helped improve their quality of life.  

Ellie RN (March 2015, 4 star),  

“I would have preferred less science and more details on how to actually use the diet. I would have liked examples of several meal plans, I would have liked more specific information on how much to eat of each food group. I use Myfitnesspal to keep track of my daily intake of all foods and their nutritional values. I still am sometimes eating more carbs than fat or protein, sometimes the protein is more than fat. Because I am guessing as to quantity/ serving size. My understanding is fat should be the highest percentage of calories, than protein and then carbs, but I am not sure how to get there. I need that type of detail. There are NO recipes in the book.” [11] 

Robin (September 2017, 5 star),  

“More in depth than most of us want to go, but this book is a great source of information if you want to understand autoimmunity and its possible causes. If you have autoimmune issues, I would definitely recommend this book!” [12] 

Meagan (April 2015, 5 star),  

“When I first received my copy in the mail, I was beyond excited. Upon first glance, this book is a little intimidating since it's huge and looks like a textbook. However, Sarah Ballantyne does a great job simplifying the science. I started the protocol to manage psoriasis and joint pain after having a baby. Just finishing the book, I am 30 days in. If I hadn't read the book, I may have tried reintroduction now. However, I have all of the information I need to conclude my body is not ready. I have definitely seen lessening of my symptoms, but I feel like I've just started my healing. This really is a must have if you intend to try AIP. This purchase paired with one of the AIP cookbooks will ensure your AIP journey is a success.” [13] 

The Science (or Lack Thereof) Behind The AIP Diet 

One could argue that the science is not as tapped into as it could be when it comes to the AIP diet. However, there are studies done on its effectiveness in regards to different health conditions, such as celiac disease, and how cutting out gluten can really help your symptoms improve. I wanted to take a look at gluten, because it is one of the main foods to cut out when you think your immune system is under attack and not functioning properly. In one study done by NCBI, they evaluated children who were diagnosed with this condition versus people who did not have a gluten allergy to see if the symptoms went away for the kids with the autoimmune disorders. The conclusion?  

“Gluten-free diet does not modify the natural history of autoimmunity in patients with coeliac disease. However, gluten-free diet seems to produce a favourable effect on the previously present clinical autoimmune disease and to prevent the development of new clinical autoimmune disease, but does not affect the onset of potential autoimmunity, which tends to increase with time.” [14] 

There are other studies out there that have proven that when you are diagnosed with a celiac condition you are more at risk for an autoimmune disease to crop up in your lifetime. Having a gluten free diet has been proven as effective for keeping those pesky symptoms at bay, especially if it is caught early enough in life. The book, “The Paleo Approach”, will highlight over 1,200 different studies which point to a plethora of reasons why diet has everything to do with healing your gut and/or making it more inflamed, which can cause problems from autoimmune disorders. Reading into 1,200 different studies might make your head spin, but Paleo Mom says,  

“Each of these studies provided guidance for one tiny piece of the puzzle.  For example, one study would show that vitamin D deficiency is correlated with autoimmune disease.  Another study would show that fish oil supplementation reduces symptoms of autoimmune disease.  Yet another study shows that wheat germ agglutinin stimulates the immune system.” [16] 

The Bottom Line: Is The AIP Diet Worth A Try?  

Yes. This particular diet is very hard to follow, and the folks who are taking it head on typically are battling with an autoimmune disease where they are in need of relief. This is not a diet that you casually go on to lose ten pounds before bikini season (although you are more than welcome too). Everything you once thought about food will change, and you will start to think about food as autoimmune foods that are either going to hurt or help you. There is an abundance of AIP diet recipes out there to look at and get guidance from if you are in need of some ideas too, but the strict nature of the program might just be too much for some people. This style of diet will teach you about how to properly eliminate foods that just might be making you more sick, as well as how to reintroduce them back into your diet safely and effectively.  

While some would argue there is “not enough” science to back up this style of eating to combat an autoimmune disorder, there still is plenty of evidence to convince one otherwise. If you are in a situation where you might think you have an autoimmune disease and want to get on top of it, this diet might be the place to start. Always talk to your doctor about your concerns and your main questions before jumping to conclusions, however! They will be able to run the proper tests if you ask them, and get you onto a path of feeling better faster.  

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