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Can The Autoimmune Protocol Diet Treat IBD?

By Stephanie Schwartz

We know that what we eat plays a major role in treating IBD. But the only dietary certainty is that no one diet works for everyone.

Some people with IBD feel well on a low FODMAP diet, others on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) and still others respond to something completely different.    So when a diet shows promise for IBD, it’s worth taking note.

Today we are going to look at the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (AIP). You might think of the Paleo diet as a fad diet, but this particular version might benefit those with IBD or other autoimmune diseases.

What is the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol?
The premise behind the AIP is that certain foods trigger an inflammatory immune response, so avoiding these foods might rest the immune system and decrease inflammation.

The way it works is you would eliminate the potentially triggering foods for 1 to 3  months and then gradually reintroduce them.

Here is what you can and can’t eat on AIP:

Not Allowed
Nightshade vegetables (bell peppers, eggplant, white potatoes, tomatoes, paprika)
All other non-starchy vegetables
All grains, including whole grains
Starchy vegetables, such as sweet potato & squash
Legumes, including lentils, chickpeas, peanuts & soy
Snap peas, string/green beans
Lean protein, such as grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, poultry & organ meat
>2 servings fruit per day
2 (or fewer) servings of fruit per day
All dairy
Coconut milk
Nuts, nut butters/oils, seeds, seed butters/oils
Fats, such as avocado, avocado oil, olives, olive oil, coconut, coconut oil
Refined sugars & sweeteners
Small amounts of natural sweeteners, including honey & maple syrup
Fermented soy products, such as tofu and tempeh
Other fermented foods (non-dairy, non-soy), including kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi
Moderate amounts of green and black tea
Food additives, such as guar gum, carrageenan, MSG, sulfates/sulfites
While not a food, AIP calls for eliminating non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds (NSAIDS), like Ibuprofen
Has AIP Been Studied for IBD?
Yes!In a 2017 study, 15 adults with active Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis were put on the Autoimmune Protocol. Over the course of 6 weeks, they gradually removed prohibited foods, and then stayed off them for another 5 weeks. The participants also received lifestyle counseling on exercise, sleep, and stress management.By the 6th week of the study, 11 participants had reached clinical remission, which they maintained throughout the study.Although this was a small group and there was no comparison group, the results are very promising.  In fact, the outcome was better than the authors of the study had predicted!

How does AIP differ from the Specific Carbohydrate Diet?
AIP reminds me of a lot of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which has shown very promising results in treating IBD.

Both diets eliminate grains, most legumes and highly processed foods, lactose and refined sugar, but the AIP is more restrictive because it removes nightshade vegetables, eggs, and all nuts and seeds, all of which are staples on the SCD.

Given the diets’ similarities, one might wonder if this study provides additional support for using the SCD in patients with IBD or did these participants feel better because of all the other foods they avoided unique to AIP?

What’s to make of this?
Before you throw out your eggs and nuts, keep in mind there is no one diet for IBD.

AIP might work for some people but isn’t a great fit for everyone.  For example, one study participant with an intestinal stricture felt worse on the diet after eating rough vegetables and meat.  Others might find AIP too restrictive, costly, or simply feel better on their own protocol.

But, here’s what all of us can take away from the AIP.  It eliminates junk food, including highly processed foods with unrecognizable food additives, limits sugar, and emphasizes whole nutritious foods important for gut healing.

If you are interested in trying AIP, please be sure to speak to your dietitian who can guide you through the process.

Konijeti GG, NaMee K, Lewis JD et al. Efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Inflammatory Bowel Dis. 2017. 23(11): 2054-2059

McGrane, M. The Beginners Guide to The Autoimmune Protocol. 25 January 2015. Accessed February 2018.

Bellantyne, S. The Autoimmune Protocol. date unknown. Accessed February 2018.

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