Most people diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Hashimotos, or psoriasis, are familiar with flare-ups – episodes where symptoms of their condition suddenly become more severe and/or resurface after a period of remission.
These flare-ups are often frustrating and uncomfortable for those living with these conditions.
Many autoimmune diseases have been linked to leaky gut syndrome – a compromised environment in the small intestine due to increased intestinal permeability and/or an imbalance in gut bacteria.
“Holes” in the gut are thought to let food particles pass through into the rest of your body, where they trigger inflammation and activate an immune response.
Autoimmune Diseases: rooted in inflammation
The basis of autoimmune diseases is inflammation – in the gut and throughout the body. One of the most common ways to manage symptoms, flare-ups, and inflammation related to autoimmune disease is through DIET.
Following an anti-inflammatory diet can help decrease fatigue, pain, and brain fog associated with inflammation, promote longer periods of remission, and help decrease inflammation and “leaks” in the gut.
Decreasing inflammation and repairing a leaky gut are thought to help calm the immune system and decrease flare-ups in the long run.
An anti-inflammatory type diet (like the Autoimmune Protocol) is key to managing Autoimmune Diseases
The Autoimmune Protocol – or AIP – is similar to the meat & veggie-focused Paleo Diet, but it’s more strict in the foods that are allowed vs. avoided.
The following foods are thought to be anti-inflammatory and make up the bulk of the AIP diet:
- Vegetables – minus nightshade varieties
- Healthy fats – avocado, coconut, olive oil
- Gelatin/collagen – bone broth or supplements
- Non-dairy fermented foods – sauerkraut and kombucha
- Some herbs, spices, and vinegar
- Herbal teas.
FYI – The difference between AIP and Paleo is the latter allows eggs, nuts, seeds, and nightshade veggies. Both focus on increasing intake of Omega-3 fats and nutrient-dense vegetables.
Sugar tolerance is individual on the AIP diet. Some people find they have to completely eliminate fruit and natural sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup, while small quantities may be tolerated by some.
The following foods tend to increase inflammation in the body and should be avoided on the AIP diet:
- Legumes & beans
- Refined sugars
- Processed foods
- Nuts & seeds
- Nightshade vegetables – capsicum, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes
- Vegetable oils
- Coffee & alcohol
- Artificial sweeteners.
How long do you need to be on the Autoimmune Protocol?
The AIP diet can be used short-term to promote gut healing as well as to learn which foods you may be reactive to. The diet can also be followed long-term as part of an overall anti- inflammatory lifestyle.
Some people are able to have a little wiggle room with the AIP diet as their body heals. Some eliminated foods may be reintroduced and better tolerated once the gut heals.
Let’s preface all of that with this…the AIP diet is not for everyone.
My recommendation is to start with a food sensitivity test – to find out exactly which foods trigger their particular autoimmune condition, rather than unnecessarily removing entire foods groups and being safely able to enjoy a wider range of food.
Other lifestyle factors can also help reduce inflammation such as getting adequate quality sleep, stress relief, and avoiding alcohol & NSAIDs (i.e. ibuprofen), can be enough to manage their autoimmune condition without eliminating foods – but I think it’s certainly worth a try!