What Is The Autoimmune Protocol? An Overview Of AIP

The Autoimmune Protocol (or Autoimmune Paleo Diet) is commonly recommended for people with chronic, inflammatory and autoimmune disease.

But what is this protocol, and who is it suitable for? Let’s take a closer look at AIP, its benefits and drawbacks.

What is AIP?

The AIP diet is a protocol that involves eliminating and then reintroducing a number of potentially problematic foods.

The major purpose of AIP is to identify foods that may be causing issues and reduce inflammation in the gut. However, other benefits such as fat loss, improved energy, relief of brain fog and reduction of pain may also highly likely.

When you follow AIP, you will eliminate grains, dairy and processed foods. Some healthy options such as nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and nightshades are also removed as they can be inflammatory for some people.

Instead, you’ll focus on wholefoods such as fruits, vegetables, organic meat, eggs and wild-caught fish. You can continue to use healthy oils and fats and flavour your meals with herbs.

Who is likely to benefit from using AIP?

Although AIP is primarily designed for addressing autoimmune conditions, it could potentially benefit any health concern that has inflammation. Examples of conditions that may improve using an autoimmune protocol include:

  • Hashimoto’s disease
  • Coeliac disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Sjogren’s
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Lupus
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Graves disease
  • Psoriasis

Everyone is unique, so just because you have an autoimmune condition doesn’t mean you have to follow AIP. But if you find that your autoimmune symptoms and flares are causing issues, it is worth considering.

Remember that AIP is not a long-term diet

The right amount of time to follow AIP can vary from person to person. Some will only need the elimination phase of the diet for 30 days, whereas others may up to 3 months.

It is a therapeutic diet used to reduce inflammation and reset the body. It is not a ‘diet’ that you should be following long-term as it restricts many foods that offer health benefits.

That’s why it’s important to proceed with the reintroduction phase and continue to eat as much variety as possible without triggering your symptoms.

My tips for following AIP

As a practitioner who has personal experience with AIP, I know that it’s not the easiest protocol to follow! But there are some ways that you can make it easier on yourself.

Focus on the foods you can eat, not what you eliminate. Get creative with meats, fish, fruit and veggies. You can still make plenty of delicious meals using the ingredients included on AIP. Think of it as an opportunity to reset your taste buds and your gut.

Choose what works for you. People ask me whether they should go into AIP cold turkey, or go step by step with eliminating foods. It depends on the situation – where you’re at physically and mentally and what your overall knowledge and experience with wholefoods is like.

Eliminating foods overnight can be a massive stress, which is a problem when you’re working on a condition where stress is a trigger. So if you prefer to take it slow, go for it.

Reintroduce slowly. Start with one food group that doesn’t contain any other groups – for example, don’t reintroduce dairy using ice cream, as it contains sugar and potentially additives.

Work with an experienced AIP practitioner. Any elimination diet should be done under the supervision of a qualified nutritionist who has worked with AIP clients. They can guide you through what to eat, what to look for in terms of symptoms, and how to proceed with reintroduction.

Have you been considering the AIP diet for your autoimmune or chronic health concerns? Get in touch for a free 20 minute consultation to see if it is a good protocol for you.

Why are we doing GAPS as a family?

My health

Although now I eat very well and have a very healthy lifestyle, my gut health has been compromised many times over my life.  My diet as a child was great, a very wholesome and traditional diet.  It was largely meat and three vegetables, and no takeaways.  All treats were homemade, so no preservatives and additives, but still lots of sugar and white flour.  I never missed a day of school, never had to take medicine, and was generally very robust.

The first major assault on my gut health was when I was a teenager.  I developed acne and was put on antibiotics by my local GP.  These were broad spectrum antibiotics and I was on them for years.  Not only did they not fix the acne, but they wiped out my gut flora, leaving me even more susceptible to bacteria which cause acne.  I often wonder why my doctor kept me on them, when they were clearly not working.

The next catastrophe for my gut health is actually a pretty extreme event, not the typical scenario.  While I was at university, I was did a Master’s Degree in Food Microbiology.  I was investigating the effect of high pressure processing on E. Coli bacteria.  As with all bacteria, there are good E. Coli and very, very bad E. Coli.  My project was intended to look as a non-pathogenic strain of E. Coli, one that can’t make you sick.  So I was happily working away in the microbiology lab, taking minimal precautions.  Unfortunately, I had accidently been given a pathogenic strain of E. Coli, called E. Coli O157.  That’s the one that kills people.  So began the stomach cramps and diarrhoea, which then progresses to bloody diarrhoea.  E. Coli O157 is called “enterohaemorrhagic”.  That means it haemorrhages you from the inside out.  So over the course of the next week or so, in isolation in hospital, my entire gut lining went down the toilet.  The hospital bacteriologist came to see me to discuss antibiotics.  As I had been studying the bacteria, I knew that antibiotics would actually make me sicker, as they would split open the bacteria and release toxins into my bloodstream.  So I advocated for my own health and declined the antibiotics.  He later came back to see me, to tell me he had done his research and I was right!

Knowing what I know now, I should have started an intense period of gut healing, with fermented foods, broth and probiotics.  But the 21 year old me went to meet her boyfriend in Tenerife for a week of holidays instead J.

About a year later, I developed an auto-immune condition in my eye, called uvetitis.  I researched and realised that this was probably as a result of my illness.

A few years after that, I took Roaccutane, for my skin that still had acne.  No surprises that acne was still an issue, as acne is so related to gut health.  This is a really strong medication that would have continued me on a downward health spiral.

Through all this, my health was actually really great, other than having regular severe migraines.

About 10 years ago, I developed a bit of a rash on my scalp, which the doctor said was psoriasis.  It was only when I was studying health myself that I found out the sunlight is very helpful for psoriasis.  My scalp got significantly worse in the sun.  So I went for a biopsy which indicated I actually had something called Discoid Lupus, also an autoimmune disease.  I now have a crater and a bald spot on my scalp for ever.  This really shocked me and forced me to get even more serious about my health, and I haven’t had gluten since.

Since doing GAPS, I don’t get migraines any more.  Healing and sealing my gut has stopped my body being so sensitive to hormones and foods.  Sometimes being gluten-free isn’t enough.  You need to remove all grains, as GAPS does.

My daughter’s health

My middle child has congenital heart disease.  When she was born, she was greeted by a roomful of medical staff, who whisked her off to intensive care.  By the time I got to see her she had lots of tubes poking out everywhere.  Over the course of the next few weeks, she had 9 general anaesthetics, diuretics, antibiotics, morphine, paralysis drugs and probably more.  For the first week she was fed via a central line into her neck with total parenteral nutrition.  All this had a very negative impact on her gut health.  Luckily, I breastfed her from about day 16 onwards which would have helped, but a lot of damage was already done.  On the plus side, she was alive, and without all that medical intervention, she wouldn’t have survived.

I recently did a poo test on her which showed the diversity of bacteria species in her gut was poor. She was also lacking some of the bacteria which are really important for regulating emotions and controlling anxiety.  Her gut was crying out for healing.  When we started on the GAPS introduction diet, she was doing a wee every 20 minutes or so as her kidneys desperately tried to flush out the toxins that were being released into her bloodstream.

Nearly dying by inhaling a pathogenic E. Coli and having congenital heart disease are quite dramatic examples of why you might need gut healing.  For most people, the stories are much more subtle.  Caesarean births and recurrent ear infections are the scenarios that crop up more regularly.  The consequences on gut health can still be devastating, and the need for gut healing just as strong.


The GAPS diet

What is the GAPS diet good for?

GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology syndrome or Gut and Physiology syndrome.

GAPS is a healing diet

The diet was developed by a Neurologist called Dr Natasha Campbell McBride.

When her son developed severe autism, she delved into the research to try to understand why he was autistic and how she could help.  From this experience, she developed the GAPS diet.

GAPS is based on another diet called the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) which has been used successfully to treat conditions such as Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis for many years.

The GAPS diet revolves around the fact that poor gut health leads to many chronic health conditions.  In children, this can be issues such as autism, ADHD / ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning difficulties, epilepsy, digestive disorders, autoimmune disorders, food allergies and eczema.

There are 2 phases in the diet.  There is the Introduction phase of the diet, and the “Full” GAPS diet.

The introduction phase moves through 6 stages, designed to rebuild the integrity of the gut wall, and repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria.

The focus is on fermented foods, bone stocks and broths, lots of fat, non-starch vegetables and gelatinous meat.

As you would expect on any diet, there are no processed foods or fast foods.

How long it takes to get through the 6 stages depends on how severe your symptoms are to start off with.  It could be anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months.

Once you move through the 6 stages of the introduction diet, you move on to the full GAPS diet.  This will be your eating protocol for about 1.5 to 2 years.  It is more flexible, but the focus is still on whole foods.

Meals are generally eggs, meat, fish and vegetable with lots of broth!

GAPS also has a big focus on detoxing your entire life.  This includes juicing, safe sun exposure, Epsom salt baths, cutting out perfumed and fragranced personal care product, and generally following a healthy lifestyle.

Sounds pretty restrictive?

Yes, there’s no doubt that GAPS is a big departure from the standard Australian diet.  But let’s not forget that the standard Australian diet is making us sick.  Levels of food allergies, autism and auto-immunity have skyrocketed in the last decade.

Why would I do the GAPS diet?

You might look at doing the GAPs diet if you child has a behavioural diagnosis or allergy that conventional medicine can’t help.

Or perhaps you suspect your child has compromised gut health because of antibiotic overuse.

Or maybe you would prefer not to medicate your child.

Autism requires lots of specialist therapies, such as occupational therapy and speech therapy.  The GAPS protocol works alongside these to restore your child gut and help the therapies be more effective.

What happens after the GAPS diet?

Once you or your child have healed enough to come off the diet, you can start the gradual introduction of properly prepared grains and starchy vegetables.  Of course I would never recommend you jump back into the standard Australian diet, as it is not healthy for anyone.  But the good news is that if you have restricted your child’s diet because of food allergies or intolerances, you should be able to reintroduce some of these foods. 

So a couple of years of restrictive eating and intense gut healing will allow a wider range of foods to be eaten long term.

Where do I start?

Deciding to go on the GAPS diet can be overwhelming.

For that reason, you are recommended to speak with a Certified GAPS practitioner, like me.  I offer a 3 month coaching package to hold your hand as you transition your family.  If you are interested in finding out more about GAPS and whether it is right for your family, book in for a free 20 min chat and I can answer any questions you might have.

“GAPS™ and Gut and Psychology Syndrome™ are the trademark and copyright of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.  The right of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Patent and Designs Act 1988”.