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The Autoimmune Protocol Diet

Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on July 07, 2021

The research is clear: No diet can cure arthritis; but can a diet ease arthritis symptoms? Research gives the popular Mediterranean diet high marks for its anti-inflammatory benefits and varied food choices. While vegetarian and vegan diets are more restrictive, studies also show anti-inflammatory benefits.

One more restrictive diet plan you may hear about is the AIP, or autoimmune protocol diet. It’s based on the idea that certain foods inflame your gut, and that eliminating them may ease autoimmune symptoms.

It’s important to understand that following the AIP long term can result in nutrient deficiencies that can lead to other complications. Plus, there’s no formal structured plan, so it’s tough to determine if a modified version would be best for your unique needs.

The AIP diet has you focus on eating nutritious whole foods. But it asks you to gradually cut out:

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, spices made from peppers)
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Refined or processed sugars and oils
  • Food additives

That makes it even more restrictive than the Paleo diet, which forbids foods like grains, dairy, and legumes.

Once you’ve stopped eating and drinking all of these things, you wait to see if your autoimmune symptoms improve. If they do, you slowly start to eat the nixed foods again, one at a time, to find out if any of them trigger your symptoms. The idea is that you’ll learn which foods to stay away from.

This type of eating plan is called an elimination diet. People usually stay on an elimination diet for only about 4 to 8 weeks.

Following the AIP diet could be risky for your health, so you need to get your doctor’s OK before you try it. If they give you the green light, they have to structure the diet for you and supervise you while you’re on it. It’s also important to let them know if you’re taking any medications or supplements before you start.

What’s the Idea Behind AIP?

Autoimmune diseases -- like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or inflammatory bowel disease -- are long-term conditions where your immune system goes haywire and attacks healthy tissues by mistake. This causes ongoing inflammation in the affected body parts.

Experts don’t know the exact cause of autoimmune diseases. One theory argues that they stem from substances that make their way through your gut lining, get into your bloodstream, and trigger inflammation. It’s called the “leaky gut” theory, and some researchers link it to higher odds of getting certain autoimmune conditions. That doesn’t prove cause and effect though.

The AIP diet aims to support the gut lining and ease autoimmune symptoms by having you avoid foods tied to inflammation. A small study suggested that the diet might improve quality of life in people with inflammatory bowel disease, but the researchers cautioned that larger and more rigorous studies are needed.

Which Conditions May Be Helped?

More than 100 autoimmune conditions may benefit from the AIP diet. Some of the more common ones include:

What Are the Risks?

Because you have to cut out so many foods, you could fall short on important nutrients and wind up with other health problems.

Don’t try the AIP diet if you’re:

Otherwise, if you want to find out whether changing your eating habits might ease your autoimmune condition symptoms, you ask your doctor to recommend a less restrictive plan than the AIP diet.

If you go on a diet that drastically limits what you eat, consider working with a registered dietitian. They can help you plan meals and make sure that you get the nutrition you need by recommending healthy substitutions for the foods you’re avoiding. Don’t start taking any new dietary supplements without talking to your doctor or a dietitian first.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Crohn’s & Colitis 360: “An Autoimmune Protocol Diet Improves Patient-Reported Quality of Life in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”

Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: “Efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet for Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”

Harvard: “Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you?”

Arthritis Foundation: “Diet Therapy for Arthritis Symptoms.”

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “What is an Elimination Diet.”

Medscape: “Attacking Autoimmunity Through the Gut: Folly or Science?”

Johns Hopkins: “What Are Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease?”

Mount Sinai: “Autoimmune Disorders.”

Frontiers in Immunology: “Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases.”

Cleveland Clinic: “What’s the Deal With Nightshade Vegetables?”

Mindd: “The Autoimmune Paleo Diet.”

American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association: “Autoimmune Disease List.”

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