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The Autoimmune Paleo Diet – How and Why it Works

The Autoimmune Paleo Diet – How and Why it Works

There has been a lot of talk in the last few years in the autoimmune community in regards to the autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet/protocol.  One of the most common questions I get from patients is “Does the AIP diet really work in helping to reduce my autoimmune symptoms?”  The answer to this question complex, but let’s try to break down the AIP diet and some of the effects it can have in autoimmunity.

The AIP diet, in essence, is a combination of what is popularly known as the Paleo diet and the elimination diet.  The Paleo diet has been around for many years, and was created as a means to mimic the foods that were thought to be eaten primarily by Paleolithic humans.  In doing so, it greatly reduces the intake of processed foods, mainly through reducing the ingestion of carbohydrates, which has become a mainstay of the Western diet for the past 50+ years.  The elimination diet on the other hand, is comprised of a very strict diet that eliminates all the major known food allergens for a limited period of time (usually 3-8 weeks) and then reintroduces them back into the diet one by one as a means of identifying foods that may be triggering particular symptoms, or inflammation in the GI tract or elsewhere.

Now in going back to the AIP diet.  With all autoimmune diseases, the goal of treatment is to help identify triggers that are stimulating the immune system and to reduce inflammation.  In looking at the Paleo diet – we know that a reduction in carbohydrate intake over time helps to lower blood glucose (blood sugar), helps people to lose weight, and can help to promote the intake of healthy vitamins and nutrients through vegetables and whole foods.  But in particular to autoimmune diseases, it’s the effect on blood sugar that we look at the most.  When blood sugar is low or normal, our body increases its production of a hormone called cortisol, which is responsible for a number of things, one of which is to help increase blood sugar levels.  Cortisol also has a very strong effect on the immune system, and when it is high in the blood, it has a suppressing effect on the immune system, reducing inflammation.  It was the study of cortisol that lead us to the use of anti-inflammatory steroids like oral prednisone and cortisone injections.

The elimination diet on the other hand, also has a direct effect on the immune system.  By identifying and reducing foods that may potentially cause immune system activation in the GI tract, we can thereby directly reduce inflammation by reducing dietary triggers. When we combine the elimination diet with the Paleo diet, what we get is a seemingly perfect combination of not only increasing hormones like cortisol that decrease inflammation, but we are also removing potential food triggers that may be causing the inflammation in the first place.

So this leads us back to the question: “Does the AIP diet really work?”  Well the answer to that in essence is, yes, for a majority of people with autoimmune diseases, it can be helpful in reducing inflammation in the long run.  But there is a caveat to this as well.  For some people, just implementing the AIP diet is not enough.  It is a very restrictive diet and can be difficult for a majority of people to take on.  It required time to be able to prepare foods, a knowledge of how to choose healthy foods over harmful foods, and an understanding that it can sometimes take time for inflammation to die down, even with the most restricted diets.  Another problem I see a lot of people make when they go on the AIP diet is that they are so restrictive with their diets that they are actually minimizing healthy nutrients that their body needs on a daily basis, which can lead to some nutrient deficiencies, which cause other problems later on down the road.

With all autoimmune diseases though, successful treatment relies on a comprehensive approach, with diet as only a piece of a larger picture.  There are other factors that can lead to inflammation in the body despite how well your diet is controlled.  Anyone with an autoimmune disease should be under the care of a provider that is skilled in working with the various complex factors that play a role on autoimmune diseases.  At Aria Integrative Medicine, we work with all of our patients to help find the right diet for them, and do thorough assessments of each person to ensure that all components of health are taken into consideration.  For more information about the services we offer, call our office at 206-588-1227.  For more information about the AIP diet in particular, you can visit some of the following websites: AIP Lifestyle; Autoimmune Paleo

Living With Autoimmunity Event!  May 9th!

Living With Autoimmunity Event! May 9th!

Living with Autoimmunity Saturday, May 9, 10:00 AM-3:30 PM at Bastyr University in Kenmore Join the Autoimmune Advocacy Alliance (A3) for “Living with Autoimmunity,” an education program for families living with one of the 80+ autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. In the morning sessions, experts will share information onContinue Reading

Weight Loss: One Patient’s Story

Weight Loss: One Patient’s Story

I’ve tried everything, and the weight still won’t come off! Does this sound familiar?  This is something that I hear from patients constantly.  One of my patients tearfully described her situation during her first visit. Rebecca, age 37, had struggled with her weight ever since she was a teenager.  She described both of her parentsContinue Reading

Irregular periods?  Get to the root cause!

Irregular periods? Get to the root cause!

Wouldn’t it be great to have your period less often, or at least consistently?  Every woman likely asks herself this at some point.  Starting your period (also called menses) more or less frequently than every 21 to 35 days can actually indicate an underlying problem. Infrequent and heavy menses are typically triggered by hormonal irregularities. Continue Reading

Thyroid Disease is Connected to Diabetes

Thyroid Disease is Connected to Diabetes

We diagnose many patients with thyroid disease and many patients with diabetes, but did you know that having one of these conditions markedly increases your risk of developing the other?  In type 1 and type 2 diabetes, there is an increased risk of both low thyroid hormone and high thyroid hormone, but that risk isContinue Reading

Gum Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Gum Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Poor dental hygiene and gum disease may trigger symptom flares in patients with autoimmune conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis.  Fortunately, prevention for oral bacteria overgrowth is simple: 1)     Brush and floss your teeth daily. 2)     Reduce sugar in your diet. 3)     Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. 4)     Take anti-inflammatory supplements, such as fish oilContinue Reading

Understanding Adrenal Fatigue – When Being Tired is More Than Being Tired

Understanding Adrenal Fatigue – When Being Tired is More Than Being Tired

Fatigue – it is by far the most common complaint heard by physicians from their patients.  But it is also one of the most common symptoms that is easily dismissed by physicians.  Sure, everyone feels tired now and again, but how do you know when fatigue is actually a serious symptom that should be lookedContinue Reading

Acupuncture for Autoimmune Disease

Acupuncture for Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune diseases are complicated conditions to treat.  What may provide relief for some patients doesn’t always work for others.  Fortunately, acupuncture has been shown to help relieve symptoms in many patients suffering from a multitude of chronic conditions. Acupuncture is a specific treatment derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that uses small, thin needles toContinue Reading

Intestinal Candida – What it Looks Like and What You Can Do About It

Intestinal Candida – What it Looks Like and What You Can Do About It

Intestinal candida has been a hot topic in the past couple of years.  There have been many claims about intestinal candida including suggestions that everyone should be on an anti-candida diet.  Candida overgrowth can be responsible for many of the symptoms that are lingering after other treatments have failed.  It’s important to understand the possibleContinue Reading