The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP): What Does it Involve?

10 October, 2020
The autoimmune protocol (AIP) is a type of diet aimed at mitigating inflammation, pain, and a variety of other clinical manifestations of autoimmune diseases. What does it involve? We'll tell you everything you need to know in today's article.

The AIP diet, also known as the autoimmune protocol diet, is a dietary model that has gained considerable popularity in recent years. It consists of avoiding the consumption of certain foods for several weeks to observe changes in health.

As stated in an article published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, its objective is to contribute to the control of inflammation, pain, and other symptoms of autoimmune conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease, among others.

What should you know about it? We’ll tell you in this article!

What is the AIP Diet?

The autoimmune protocol (AIP) is an elimination diet that involves not eating certain varieties of food for several weeks to observe the effects it causes on health. It’s especially relevant in the presence of autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease, among others.

These diseases have symptoms ranging from joint pain to fatigue, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nerve damage, and mental confusion. Their origin is multifactorial and includes genetic and environmental factors. However, one of the hypotheses associates them with damage to the intestinal barrier. This, in turn, is linked to the consumption of some foods.

Essentially, the AIP diet proposes eliminating and replacing these foods with nutrient-rich choices that help “repair” the intestine and promote the balance of its microbiota. Also, it suggests eliminating products such as those containing gluten or lactose, as these often cause abnormal immune responses in sensitive people.

Psoriasis on the scalp.
Autoimmune skin diseases are often linked to “triggers” in food.

The phases of the AIP diet

The autoimmune protocol (AIP) bears some resemblance to the popular paleo-diet. In fact, some experts call it an extension. In any case, the AIP variant is a little more strict and consists of two main phases.

The elimination phase

The first phase of the AIP diet involves the elimination of food and medication that may be linked to intestinal inflammation or microbiota imbalances. This takes into account products that often cause allergies and unwanted reactions.

For example:

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Solanaceous vegetables (nightshades)
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Vegetable oils
  • Food additives
  • Refined sugars
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Processed products
  • Non steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, and high-dose aspirin.

Of course, in their place, experts recommend the consumption of fresh, nutrient-rich products. What’s more, individuals shouldn’t neglect fermented foods or those with some probiotic content. Also, it’s important to make an effort to improve lifestyle through relaxation techniques, physical activity, and better sleep quality.

The duration of this phase can extend until the person feels an improvement in their symptoms. Often, this can take between 30 and 90 days. However, some people feel the effects after week three.

Discover: 5 Things You Should Know About Autoimmune Diseases

The reintroduction phase

As soon as individuals notice an improvement in the symptoms of the autoimmune disease, the reintroduction phase begins. This consists of gradually incorporating the avoided foods one at a time. Of course, this will depend on the person’s level of tolerance.

This stage intends to recognize the foods that can trigger the symptoms of the disorder. Also, it seeks to reintroduce those that do not cause any symptoms, to ensure a more varied and complete diet.

The introduction of each food is little by little, with a lapse of 5 to 7 days between one and the other. This period is enough to determine if any of the symptoms reappear after consumption. Those that are well tolerated can continue to be incorporated into the diet. The rest should be left out.

Steps for the reintroduction of food

To reintroduce food into the AIP diet, there are a few steps to follow. It’s important to do this with the guidance of a health professional and know how to choose the right moment in circumstances that don’t cause inflammation. Therefore, after a bad night’s sleep or in moments of stress, it’s better to postpone reintroduction.

If possible, it’s ideal to introduce foods that have lower concentrations of the substance that can trigger discomfort. For example, in the case of dairy products, it’s best, to begin with fermented options like yogurt.

The steps are the following:

  1. Choose the food you want to reintroduce. Then, consume it several times a day on the day chosen for the test. Then, avoid it completely for the next 5 or 6 days.
  2. Eat a small amount of the product and wait about 15 minutes to check for reactions.
  3. If there are any symptoms, the test should end and the individual should continue avoiding the food. However, if symptoms do not appear, then the individual should try a larger portion while observing the effects for 2 or 3 more hours.
  4. If there are no symptoms, then the person can eat a normal portion of the same food. Then, they should avoid it again for 5 or 6 days before reintroducing another food.
  5. Repeat the procedure.

Permitted and prohibited foods in the AIP diet

For the AIP diet to be successful, it’s necessary to respect the recommendations it has on permitted and prohibited foods. In this regard, you should keep in mind that there are many restrictions. Therefore, it’s best to seek advice from a nutrition professional to avoid deficiencies.

Permitted foods

  • Various plants and algae
  • High-quality fish and seafood with abundant omega 3 content
  • Fresh fruits, in moderate portions
  • Fermented and probiotic foods (kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and coconut kefir)
  • Lean meats and beef liver
  • Olive, coconut, and avocado oil
  • Herbs and spices that do not come from seeds
  • Natural sweeteners, such as honey, in moderate amounts
  • Bone broth
  • Green and black tea

Forbidden foods

  • Solanaceae family vegetables, such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants
  • Grains (rice, wheat, oats, barley, rye, and derivatives)
  • Legumes
  • Dairy products
  • Vegetable oils (except those mentioned above)
  • Coffee
  • Eggs
  • Dry fruits and seeds
  • Alcohol
  • Food additives, such as refined sugars and trans fats

Does the AIP diet work?

To date, the scientific evidence on the AIP diet remains limited. However, some studies suggest that it may decrease inflammation and clinical manifestations of some autoimmune diseases.

Let’s look at it in detail.

Autoimmune protocol diet and permeable bowel

Those who suffer from autoimmune diseases usually have a permeable intestine (leaky gut). According to research, there is a link between inflammation and the permeability of the intestine. Thus, a person can suffer from an inflammatory disorder.

In this regard, the findings have determined that the AIP diet, by contributing to the relief of the leaky bowel syndrome, decreases the degree of inflammation and its associated symptoms. However, more research is necessary.

Treating the symptoms of autoimmune disorders

In addition to the above, it’s important to note that this dietary protocol has given positive results against the symptoms of autoimmune disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. In fact, some cases have involved a reduction of inflammation of between 29% and 68%.

Medical control of the thyroid gland.
The AIP diet was shown to be effective in thyroid disorders, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Be sure to visit: The Celiac Diet: What You Should Know

What are the disadvantages of the AIP autoimmune protocol diet?

The main disadvantage of the AIP diet is that it’s a very restrictive eating pattern, especially in its elimination phase. This situation not only makes it difficult to follow but also, it may not be suitable for everyone.

On the other hand, the person may go through episodes of anxiety or social isolation because of the food restrictions themselves. Without proper planning, it can also lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Among other things, there is no guarantee that this protocol will reduce inflammation and symptomatology of autoimmune diseases. Still, many come to experience its positive effects.

Consulting a nutritionist is the best option

At first glance, it seems that adopting the AIP diet is simple if you consider its rules. However, it’s a protocol that must be adopted very carefully, as it involves significant dietary restrictions.

It’s therefore essential to consult a nutritionist or a doctor to receive all the necessary information on this diet. The professional will help you determine if this diet is convenient for you and how to plan it adequately to avoid effects on your health.

  • Konijeti GG, Kim N, Lewis JD, et al. Efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2017;23(11):2054-2060. doi:10.1097/MIB.0000000000001221
  • Mu Q, Kirby J, Reilly CM, Luo XM. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Front Immunol. 2017;8:598. Published 2017 May 23. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598
  • Vojdani A. Molecular mimicry as a mechanism for food immune reactivities and autoimmunity. Altern Ther Health Med. 2015;21 Suppl 1:34-45.
  • Chandrasekaran A, Groven S, Lewis JD, et al. An Autoimmune Protocol Diet Improves Patient-Reported Quality of Life in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Crohns Colitis 360. 2019;1(3):otz019. doi:10.1093/crocol/otz019
  • Abbott RD, Sadowski A, Alt AG. Efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet as Part of a Multi-disciplinary, Supported Lifestyle Intervention for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Cureus. 2019;11(4):e4556. Published 2019 Apr 27. doi:10.7759/cureus.4556
  • Chandrasekaran A, Groven S, Lewis JD, et al. An Autoimmune Protocol Diet Improves Patient-Reported Quality of Life in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Crohns Colitis 360. 2019;1(3):otz019. doi:10.1093/crocol/otz019
  • Campbell AW. Autoimmunity and the gut. Autoimmune Dis. 2014;2014:152428. doi:10.1155/2014/152428