Autoimmune disease is quickly becoming one of the top concerns of our modern population. Experts estimate that up to 50 million Americans may be suffering from autoimmunity. That’s more than twice the number of people with heart disease, and over five times the number of those with cancer.
Autoimmune Disease Defined
The immune system is our body’s defence against infection-causing invaders like bacteria, parasites and fungi. When our immune systems are functioning properly, they look out for our best health.
But our immune systems don't always function properly.
In autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakenly interprets the body’s own tissues, cells, and proteins as the invaders. The immune system launches an attack against these important tissues, cells, and proteins, ultimately causing disease.
There are over 100 diseases that are universally recognized as being autoimmune in nature. These include Type 1 Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Celiac Disease and Graves Disease, just to name a few.
But there are even more diseases that experts suspect have origins in autoimmunity. As the research continues to develop, we will likely see this list grow.
What can we do to help?
Each autoimmune disease is very different due to different tissues, cells, and proteins being affected. They vary widely in severity, with some progressing faster than others. Treatment options also vary greatly.
Things can get serious quickly without proper intervention. Medical treatment should never be postponed in the case of autoimmune disease. Always ensure your client is under the care of a medical professional, receiving proper treatment for their condition.
Luckily, only about 30% of autoimmune disease risk is genetic. Environmental factors like diet and lifestyle play a significant role and may improve outcomes. More research than ever is looking at the link between diet and autoimmune disease with compelling findings.
Enter the Autoimmune Protocol
Developed by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D, the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) is a variation of a standard paleo diet with the potential to assist the body in healing autoimmunity.
Like a standard paleo diet, AIP excludes:
- All processed refined foods (sugar, refined oils, and preservatives)
- Grains (even those that are gluten-free)
Beyond that, AIP also removes: nuts, seeds, nightshades, and eggs. Those following AIP are also encouraged to strictly avoid food additives.
By placing emphasis on extremely nutrient-dense foods and avoiding potentially inflammatory foods that irritate the gut, the goal of AIP is to:
- Reduce inflammation
- Introduce huge amounts of nutrients
- Allow the body to heal
How to Use AIP
Again, the first and most important step is to always ensure that a licensed physician is treating your client.
Next, educate your client about the Autoimmune Protocol's allowed and not-allowed foods list.
Following the AIP Protocol can be a big change for many people, so try easing them in over the course of a few weeks. Depending on their current lifestyle, maybe going gluten-free is step one, followed by a standard paleo diet, and eventually full AIP. Stress is a huge trigger for many autoimmune diseases, which makes it so important that changes are small and manageable.
Once your client is able to follow AIP successfully, have them monitor their health/symptoms and check in regularly with their doctor. The goal is that their negative symptoms will start to subside and their disease markers will improve over time.
Autoimmune Paleo Meal Planning
Removing so many foods from the diet can feel extreme, but this is where we as health professionals can really help. A good approach is to focus on adding foods in, rather than taking them out.
The AIP diet should be absolutely jam-packed with veggies. So jam-packed that these nutrient-dense foods will provide all the carbs and fiber that grains once did. Include plenty of warm, gut-healing foods like bone broth, soups, and cooked vegetables. By nourishing and healing the gut, we prevent undigested food particles from ending up in the bloodstream and causing inflammation.
Also focus on balancing blood sugar and spacing meals out for optimal hormone balance. A good strategy is to eat approximately every 4 hours, and sip on something warm and healing in between. With that being said, every body is unique. Help your client discover what feels best for their body.
Our Autoimmune Paleo Diet includes:
- A done-for-you 7-day meal plan
- An itemized grocery list
- Simple recipes
- A prep guide to keep your client on track and organized
Our plan takes into account the principles of Dr. Ballantyne’s work and provides easy, delicious meals that fit perfectly into an AIP diet.
Living With Autoimmune Disease
The Autoimmune Protocol isn’t necessarily a “forever” diet. In fact, once autoimmunity heals significantly, many people are able to start reintroducing foods without negative side effects.
Depending on the severity of the illness and reaction to foods, some items may need to stay out of the diet for good. For example, those with Celiac must adhere to a strict gluten-free diet for the rest of their lives to prevent disease symptoms.
And last but certainly not least, don’t forget to help your client integrate non-dietary lifestyle factors that influence health like adequate sleep, meditation, physical activity, and meaningful social connection.