We at Paleo in the UK need to be very up front and clear about our approach to the steps required when using the Autoimmune Protocol.
Removal of inflammatory foods
Replacing inflammatory and immune aggravating foods with nutrient-dense whole foods such as bone broth, organ meats, bone-in and oily fish/seafood and piles of vegetables
REINTRODUCING AS MANY FOODS AS POSSIBLE – to personal tolerance levels
It is here where we see so many mistakes on AIP Protocols. People are great at removal… they can be slightly worse at introducing the nourishing, healthful foods.
But mostly, people suck at reintroduction.
We get it. We know where it comes from.
- Lack of symptom improvement
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Before we address these two major concerns, let’s talk about timing. 30-day challenges are all the rage, but realistically with autoimmunity you have to be looking at a longer haul. Anecdotally, the length of time taken to both see effects and to also be confident with understanding the impact of reintroductions (see below) seems to be directly correlated to the level of damage done by the autoimmune condition with which you are dealing.
It also has to do with which organs/tissues are involved in your individual autoimmunity. If you have coeliac disease, any form of inflammatory bowel disease or an autoimmune condition affecting your gastrointestinal tract then your job is a bigger one because the gut is the means of delivering nutrition to your body. You have to heal this before the benefit of the truly nourishing foods can really be completely felt. When autoimmune gut conditions are present this complicates the process. It is still eminently possible, it just may take more patience.
Those with multiple autoimmune conditions tend to fall into two camps: either experiencing rapid resolution OR lengthy resolutions where, symptoms drop away one at a time.
Those with autoimmune skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis tend to find their symptoms take a while to resolve. This is because the outer skin is one of the body’s lower priorities when it comes to healing and can regularly be the last thing to resolve once all other internal healing has been achieved.
All of this said, regardless of what can be seen on the surface or felt internally, throughout the process, the focus on nutrient density, low inflammatory foods and overall systemic healing, will mean that the body is repairing.
You should notice some improvements (even minor ones like better temperature control or easier digestion) within a month or two… and yet the process to feeling confident with reintroductions and more complete symptom remission may take a year, or possibly even more.
NO IMPROVEMENTS? EVEN AFTER A LONG TIME?
If you are struggling with (1) above then you may have underlying health issues which cannot be resolved using dietary manipulation alone. You may have either damage or comorbidities which prevent nutritional approaches from ‘healing’ you. This can include gut problems, specific nutritional deficiencies not easily resolved by food intake, genetic SNPs which affect nutritional usage or metabolic processes, toxins and infections of which you are unaware and/or other components in the mental, emotional, psychological and social realms which must be dealt with.
Our recommendation is always to view your progress through AIP as an investment – of time, of effort, of energy and of awareness. If you are uncertain about your approach or choices and are not seeing results then now is the time to consult a practitioner to guide you – even if only for a one-off consultation to ascertain where improvements or iterations can be made. Choosing to do this will genuinely save you money in the long run, it is bound to save you time – but most importantly, it will help you remove any guilt that naturally comes if you are not feeling better after following AIP for a while.
If Fear is an issue… understanding Elimination Diet Science will help…
Elimination Diets, particularly in the case of the AIP Diet, change the intestinal environment and the immunological function. The AIP Diet will heal issues which have taken hold within the GI tract, such as intestinal permeability. The AIP Diet will often, especially if fermented foods have been included in your diet, shift the bacterial balance within the GI tract.
By default, this means that you are, digestively speaking, healthier after following AIP than previously A healthier digestion means your body breaks down foods into smaller and smaller pieces before moving it through into your small intestine. It means that the intestinal tight junctions and cellular barrier function is once again working well. And a healthy digestion removes countless ‘stressors’ from reaching and aggravating the immune system.
As such, being on the AIP Diet can feel safe, secure, hopefully symptom-free. It is associated with healing, with feeling better, with ‘curing’ your illness and resolving your conditions.
And yet, you are living without whole food groups and major sources of nutrition. Eggs alone are a powerhouse of nutrients which you are wilfully avoiding. It would be nice to know if you could actually eat them, wouldn’t it? It would be lovely to understand your true tolerance for all of the foods that you avoid.
It is likely that your reactivity to certain foodstuffs prior to AIP was based on poor intestinal health and overall high inflammatory loads, rather than genuine intolerances. It is also likely that a good proportion of the foods you eliminated during AIP were either not actually issues for your immune systems or true triggers for your autoimmunity.
The ONLY way to know what foods are suited to your body on an ongoing basis is to reintroduce them. This is actually the effective part of Elimination Diets like AIP… Not the elimination, but the process of reintroduction. Here is where actual information is gleaned.
And no, not everything is going to go well. But… that’s how and why it works. If your fear is preventing you from taking reintroduction steps, read the below to understand why you must…
The Science of Elimination – How the Autoimmune Paleo Diet Works
The AIP Elimination Diet removes common, known and suspected antigens or inflammatory compounds from the body.
Whilst consuming these foods, the immune system has a networked response of checks and balances to all foods eaten. This works on a see-saw of processes: the first being ‘react’ and the second being ‘calm the reaction’.
The initial inflammatory, immune response at the presence of an antigen comes from one branch of the immune system. This initial response is then brought down by a complementary branch of the immune system. (In fact, one theory of autoimmunity is that it is this complementary, ‘calm the reaction’ branch which is ineffective and cannot shut off immune reactivity once threats have dissipated.)
This bringing down of the reaction is simply done to avoid the body being reactive and hyper-inflammatory all of the time – but all of this means that the body is locked in a state of react/quell the reaction/react/quell the reaction – and while the immune system is on overdrive, you feel generally awful.
The AIP Diet removes reactionary foods, and hence removes the need for the immune system to ‘react’ in the first place. You therefore also remove the need for the ‘calm the reaction’ response. All of the immune cells involved in these paired processes start to diminish in the body on AIP, as the body no longer has the need for the specially made, targeted reactive T cells which fought the antigenic foods. It therefore no longer needs or makes the cells that match those T cells to bring the reaction down.
The magic of Elimination Diets is that the cells which suppress the ‘reaction’ T cells disappear far quicker than the memory T cells which create the reaction in the first place. i.e. the ‘react’ branch retains memory of antigens for a good while, just in case. But the ‘calm the reaction’ branch very quickly stops making its calming cells which seem clearly to be no longer needed.
This means that when eliminated foods are brought back into the diet after a period of time, if you have any reaction it will be more reflective of the things that truly aggravate your immune system. The ‘react’ cells are still there, waiting just in case – but you no longer have a ready supply of the ‘calm the reaction’ cells. You will get symptoms if you really cannot tolerate that food – and the symptoms are the clue to whether you personally are reactive to that foodstuff.
Here is a good place to reiterate… the AIP Diet is NOT a personalised regimen excluding all the foods you are intolerant or reactive to. It is a broad brush which eliminates all the foods known to trigger immune activity, generally.
This means that you are highly, highly unlikely to be truly reactive to every food eliminated on the AIP Diet. The reintroduction of certain foods may have no impact at all. Other foods may have a larger impact than they ever did when you consumed them prior to AIP.
THIS is how you know what foods are truly problematic for you personally, and how you personalise your diet going forward.
This is why Elimination Diets work. In the symptomatic fog of a highly inflamed state, whilst consuming a diet filled with foods that your immune system doesn’t like, living with the perpetual checks/balances, flare/suppression dance of reactivity it is very difficult to observe reactions for what they truly are.
Removal means that reintroduction will cause you to react more overtly to certain things that are real triggers for you personally. But it also empowers you to know the foods that you are absolutely, perfectly fine to eat going forwards.
Coping with the flares and reintroduction phases of the AIP Diet requires a mindful awareness of the following:
If you do have a symptom flare on reintroduction, your foundations after several months of low-inflammation, AIP living will be far stronger than they were when you began this process. You will quieten the reaction and you will be able to move forward
This is truly an information-gathering exercise in which you are the driver and the experimenter. You are learning everything you need to know about the reality of what affects – and doesn’t affect – your body. Whilst flares and reactivity during reintroductions might feel like failures, they are not completely backwards steps. They are knowledge-gaining, information-gleaning experiences which will continue to empower your journey going forward.
Life doesn’t start at reintroduction, nor does AIP disappear once you have your “crib-sheet” of foods. At Paleo in the UK we are firm believers that everything on both the AIP and Paleo sections of this website are tools. These tools clear the reactivity in the body and foster the relationships of awareness between us and our food, our environment and our lifestyle practices. We can learn ourselves, and in so doing create an understanding of how we stay healthy in our lives.
If you have had any autoimmune condition take root in your life then the real way to get through it is to find any tools you need to modify the levels of threat your body feels it is experiencing on a moment-by-moment basis. A part of this is the dietary piece – but there are so many other fragments of life which affect and will help to decrease immune reactivity.
READ ON BELOW FOR THE HOW TO GUIDE TO COMPLETE AIP REINTRODUCTIONS… And do continue to explore the rest of this site to discover more. And if you’re still scared and fear the AIP Reintroduction phases – reach out to us for help today.