The road to better health: What is The Autoimmune Protocol?

Navigating the internet in search of remedies (or just answers!) can be like dodging your way through a mine-field. Much of the information out there is useless, unaccredited, misinterpreted or downright dangerous. With every ailment I’ve experienced I have found myself trawling through hundreds of pages of contradictory advice – everything from rubbing onion juice on your scalp to steroid injections for Alopecia Areata through to zero-fibre diets for Crohn’s Disease. The advice for Crohn’s is what really gets me riled. The medical industry suggests pumping you with anti-inflammatory drugs and that you follow a high carb, stodgy diet with minimal fibre to help alleviate diarrhea. At the opposite end of the scale the nutritional therapists will advise that you cut out all of that beige food and LOAD UP on your veggies. After 2 months of following such a diet I can assure you that the nutritional therapists have got it right.


Since posting my latest youtube video which reveals new hair growth following extensive alopecia areata, so many of you have enquired about the diet I’m following. Where possible I have tried to direct everyone to the expert behind it – Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, author of ‘The Paleo Approach’ book and thepaleomom.com blog, as well as wonderful therapists such a Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt (Autoimmune-Paleo.com) but I understand that the wealth of information they provide can seem a little overwhelming at a glance. I assure you that reading every word they write is 110% worth your time. I have devoured all of it and I’m now well on the road to recovery. In an attempt to encourage you to read more about the Autoimmune Protocol I am going to summarise it as much as possible here, giving you a gist of the plan. But please, I am no expert on this matter so I urge you to follow up with some solid reading into the ‘what, why and hows’ of this lifestyle choice. The science behind it will blow you away. I only wish I could afford to go back to university to study it!

 

What diet am I following to treat Crohn’s Disease and Alopecia Areata?

Sarah Ballantyne’s Autoimmune Protocol (aka AIP or Autoimmune Paleo). This diet is founded upon Paleo principles with extended limitations during the ‘elimination phase’ (the first few months while you heal). The Paleo diet is simple: no grains, no dairy, no potatoes, no legumes, no refined sugar, no processed foods, no modern vegetable oils. If early (palaeolithic) humans didn’t eat it, we shouldn’t either.

The Autoimmune Protocol takes this a step further:
No eggs, nuts, seeds, nightshades (i.e tomatoes, aubergines), alcohol or NSAIDS (ibuprofen) and fructose consumption should be kept to a maximum of 20g a day.

“What the hell can I eat?!” I hear you squeal.

LOTS. Lots and lots of vegetables and my favourite – MEAT. Fish and shellfish, organ meat and offal, quality fats (from meat, fish, avocado, coconut, olives), fruit, probiotic foods (kombucha, coconut kefir or coconut yoghurt, fermented fruit and vegetables), glycine-rich foods (joints, skins, bone broth) are all essential too.

To make this simple to follow Mickey Trescott of Autoimmune-Paleo.com has put together some wonderful guides that show exactly what is and is not included on the AIP.

>>>THE PALEO AUTOIMMUNE PROTOCOL PRINT OUT GUIDES <<<<

You can also purchase her wonderful Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook

autoimmune paleo cookbook

Of course her list of possible fruit and vegetables is far more extensive than those stated here and for that reason I urge you to take a look at Dr Sarah Ballantyne’s book  The Paleo Approach.  It is my bible.

ThePaleoApproach-Updated-Cover-800x1024

How and why does the AIP work at tackling these diseases?

While the types of autoimmune disease are so varied – crohn’s, hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac, psoriasis and alopecia areata to mention just a few, their cause is the same. The symptoms have simply manifested differently.

Autoimmunity is considered to be the result of your body’s inability to differentiate between nasties such as bacteria and your own natural cells. This causes your immune system to attack you rather than the foreign invader. While it is true that lifestyle and genetics factor in your predisposition to autoimmune disease, the key player is diet. In order to heal it is necessary to remove foods that contribute to inflammation and what is known as a leaky gut and gut dysbiosis (the wrong gut flora) – both of which are believed to be involved in all autoimmune diseases.

A leaky gut is a necessary prerequisite of autoimmune disease and by treating it you can reverse your disease. But what is a leaky gut? Exactly as it sounds. The small intestine has become damaged by foods such as gluten, grains, dairy, etc. causing holes to form in the gut lining that allow its contents to leak out into the bloodstream. There it is met by our immune cells… and you guessed it, they attack the food, pathogens and bacteria from the gut as foreign invaders. Inflammation levels in the body rise and immune system wreaks havoc. This inflammation is general and not limited to the gut; it is without a target and any cell in the body can fall victim to it – your hair, your skin, your joints. Say hello to your new autoimmune disease!

What the AIP does is provide a nutrient dense diet to restore your gut health. Bone broth, fats and joint tissue repair the lining of the gut, beneficial bacteria regulates the immune system, heaps of vitamins from vegetables, meat, fish and offal support healing and the removal of nightshades, sugar, grains, dairy etc. keeps you free of inflammatory triggers.

As I said, this is a super condensed version of the story but I wanted to give you a taste of what it’s all about. Importantly, Sarah Ballantyne stresses that this is not just a diet, it’s a lifestyle choice. Your day to day habits – exercise, sleep, stress levels, all need to change and play a vital role in your healing.

Have a further read about the AIP here: http://www.thepaleomom.com/autoimmunity/the-autoimmune-protocol and maybe that will convince you to buy the book and embark on your journey to recovery.

I’ll be back soon with another video to show the progress of my hair growth and I’ll explain a little more about what I eat from day to day (I often post meals on instagram), as well as the probiotics I take and other healthy habits conducive to healing.

Good luck!

*If you find this blog helpful and you like to see more content from me, please consider a donation. The funds will help pay my tuition fees at the College of Naturopathic Medicine so that I can become a Nutritional Therapist and thus be better able to help you.*

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26 thoughts on “The road to better health: What is The Autoimmune Protocol?

  1. Hi. I recently found a small spot on my head. This is the 3rd time, and I know like it has to be more than just stress. I watched a few of your videos. My question for you is, why did you switch from the Wahls protocol to AIP… was Dr Wahls protocol not working?
    ps. have you ever slipped up on your diet, if so did anything happen?

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  2. Hi, Is diatomaceous earth AIP complaint? I’ve heard it’s great for candida. If not, what are your suggestions whilst doing the AIP. Thanks Jo

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  3. Hi Stella, I just wanted to say thank you for your blog and youtube, they have given me hope and motivation to get better. I have a problem with my thyroid and low iron which has lead to alopecia areata on my scalp and the complete loss of eyebrows. I really want to start the AIP diet and commit myself but I am in my first year at university and live in catered halls so cannot make my own food, although a vegan option is provided it is never particularly appetizing or nutritious and often has wheat and other non AIP foods in it. I was wondering whether you think I will see some improvement by going on a reduced wheat/gluten etc diet where I cut as much as possible out? Thank you xxx

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    • Hi Hannah! I’m so glad you find the blog and videos motivating 🙂 I agree, if you really can’t commit to AIP, the next best thing you can do for yourself is eliminate gluten. But when I say this, I really mean 100% no gluten. It’s one of those things that you can’t just cut down on – the tiniest trace can have profound effects on the body. If you have to, tell them that you’re celiac so that you can get gluten free meals. It takes time for the body to heal on the inside so don’t give up just because you don’t see any improvement in a few weeks, some people take months. If after 3 months you see no improvement then I highly recommend finding a way to may AIP work for you, or at least take things to the next step and eliminate dairy. I hope this helps. I wish you well x x

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  4. Hi Stella, I would like to thank you for the wonderful support you are giving to all the people suffering from AA. In my case, AA is added to a low thyroid condition (I’ve been precrived thyroxine for life…) and It seems its all connected to the autoinmune system? I also used to suffer mild anaphylactic shocks (they seem to stop for some reason:) only once in the last fewvyears…but thst was from eating quorn!) ;and after AA started couple of years ago, I’m having for first time in my life thrush (candidiasis vag). Even my mood changes easily and feel tired most of the time…; I,m aware I went tru quite a lot of stress during the last four years but its all past and now time to deal with my body! :))

    That is why I.m sure it is worth to have a go and try the AIP diet! I.m very positive this can help me and I almost can imagine my self missing my wigs in the future lol

    Still need to go trough the info but I wonder about tea? Please let me know if regular tea would b ok? Also kefir, is that made from cow milk…its a bit cofusing…

    Thanks again,

    Laura

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    • Hi Laura,
      Thank you for your message! It’s so nice to know that the blog and videos and providing support to others. The autoimmune diet would certainly help to manage your thyroid condition alongside the Thyroxine, many people are using AIP to treat Hashimotos thyroiditis.
      I’m not surprised you were having shocks to quorn!! Those veggie alternatives contains SO MUCH soya which is a very common allergen and is strictly prohibited on the autoimmune protocol.
      Some people continue to drink tea on AIP and some don’t. I would say keep it to a minimum – it’s the caffeine you need to watch out for. Try only to drink it in the morning – too much caffeine may affect cortisol regulation and sleep quality which is integral to your healing. Oh, and just don’t add milk!!
      As for Kefir, there are are 3 different types: milk, coconut and water. Milk kefir is not allowed on AIP but coconut and water kefir are perfectly safe. You can buy these in health food stores or even make your own if you google search for the recipe and starter cultures.
      I hope this helps 🙂
      xx

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  5. […] Among the many questions I receive with regard to Alopecia Areata is the popular “what shampoo do you use?” It’s a fair question; we have been trained by the medical and beauty industries to treat dermatological problems with topical creams, lotions and potions. It’s a fairly new (yet ancient) concept that we can treat such conditions from the inside out. Most of you have heard me tell the story time and time again that quite simply, I changed my diet. But I’m not writing this blog post to tell you more about the Autoimmune Protocol – you already know, and if you don’t, then I urge you to read my earlier blog post that outlines what to and what not to eat in order to heal. […]

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  6. Hi Stella,

    First thank a lot for sharing your experience; you are really making a difference, I am also really happy that your conditions have improve so much
    My wife was diagnosed with AA a few months ago when she was going through some anxiety and stress; she has a very similar hair loss pattern as you did so finding your videos/blog was very important for us and both of immediately went on the AIP diet and bought the books you recommended. We are currently on our 4 week and even though it’s a very strict diet we are making the most of it, and I wanted to ask a few questions if that’s ok

    Ongoing results

    1) Her hair seemed to stop falling or at least not at the rate it fell before, (still she finds hair in her comb and shower, but it seems too early to tell, what was your experience in term of timing?
    2) We have been seeing some white almost transparent hair growing in a few of the patches, is this how re growth starts?

    On diet

    1) We are finding difficult to eat much organs or fermented food, I imagine this is critical, do you have any suggestions? Or supplements that could help
    2) We are not planning on doing any re-introductions yet but are looking forward to it in the a few month, have you done any, what do you think is the right timing for this?
    3) She has not taking any supplements other than biotin but we are thinking of adding, L- glutamine, probiotics and vitamin D, my question is around probiotics, should she go to the doctor first or it’s safe to take off the shelf dosis?
    4) I saw on a video that you where allergic to coconut and fish, both are big components of the AIP, how do you substitute them? I ask just to make sure we can variate a bit our diet

    Thanks in advance, you have been an inspiration and please continue with your journey to learn more about nutrition, it will be a very big deal for many people out there

    Will keep you updated with progress, and sorry for long post

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Carlos,
      Thanks for you message – I’m only too happy to help! I know what a miserable and lonely disease AA can be and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody so I’m very sorry to hear that your wife is suffering. But how lovely of you to try the diet with her! ☺

      OK so to answer your questions:
      Ongoing results
      1) Your wife’s experience sounds the same as mine. My hair was still coming out at the beginning of the diet and even while it was obviously growing back although the quantity of hairfall does eventually reduce over a few months. I can’t remember the timing exactly. Even now I seem to have quite a bit of hair in my comb or at the bottom of the shower (but no patches!) and I wonder if it’s sheer paranoia that makes us think it’s too much – after all we are supposed to shed up to 100 hairs a day.
      2) Transparent hair sounds right to me! I remember the first bit of growth I saw was much like the light downy hair on your body – so faint that when I showed it to my sister she couldn’t see it! But it’s there and you’ll notice the skin begins to feel less slimy. That hair will darken very gradually but be patient. Also, not all patches grew back at exactly the same time – some were a month behind.

      Diet
      1) At the start of the diet I ate liver twice a week which often became just once and now I hardly have any at all. I can’t bare the thought of liver because I think I over did it! What I do eat now is Ox Tongue which is sliced like ham and taste like corned beef – much more palatable! As for fermented foods – do try a probiotic. I use this solgar – just take one a day: https://wholeearthlife.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/easy-probiotic-supplementation/
      Does your wife eat coconut? At many health food stores you can find probiotic coconut yoghurt or kefir. Kombucha is a great fermented drink you can buy premade too – as well as raw unpasturised sauerkraut.
      2) I would say wait at least 3 months before reintroductions. Wait until you can clearly see that the hair is growing back. I have reintroduced spices and seeds, green legumes, red wine, very dark chocolate and occasional white rice. I’m staying away from nuts because I have a history of nut allergy anyway. I tried eggs and didn’t have any bad gut reactions but as a child I was allergic and given that with alopecia it takes much longer to see a reaction, I’m not willing to reintroduce them permanently in case I have some underlying problem with eggs that I’m not aware of. I’m yet to test out tomatoes and potatoes – I’ve waited longer to test these because they’re very inflammatory and may affect my crohn’s disease more violently.
      3) Have a read of my blog post here about supplements: https://wholeearthlife.wordpress.com/2015/11/02/four-supplements-for-autoimmune-healing/
      I definitely recommend adding vitamin D and probiotics. She doesn’t need to see the doctor about probiotics. The off the shelf dose of 5 billion cultures is safe.
      4) Being allergic to fish and coconut is the bane of my life. I miss out on a lot of paleo cookie/cake baking recipes because of it although I am now experimenting with cassava flour. There is no coconut substitute as far as I’m aware…
      I wiiiiiiiish so badly that I could eat fish. If you can, please eat plenty of it! I just have to make up for what I miss with red meat and poultry but I try to get some healthy omega fats by eating plenty of olives.

      I hope that helps! Feel free to ask any more questions. Best of luck to you both! xx

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      • I can’t find this book in my country so could you do me a favor and send me summary of this amazing book, thank you so much for helping

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  7. Dear Stella,

    I’d like to add my heartfelt thanks for your videos and posts. So inspiring for me to see your hair regrowth. I finally started to see how my AA and gluten intolerance could be linked. I’ve had lifelong AA, but, like yourself, I was always able to conceal it. The AA has accelerated with menopause and I’ve had a miserable 18 months, losing my confidence. Recent blood tests show that I am low in B vitamins and zinc and I can now see how the Paleo diet would help by restricting whole grains and dairy, which inhibit zinc absorption. Some wonderful articles out there on zinc and Alopecia Areata.

    Thanks again; without coming across your video, I’d still be in the dark.

    Best wishes,
    Jane

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    • Hi Jane,
      Thanks so much for your lovely message. I’m so glad you have found the videos and blog helpful. I will definitely read more about the relationship between Zinc and AA now that you mention it. I wish you the best of luck with the diet and please do update me on how you get on with it 🙂
      x x

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    • Hi Stella,

      I am exited about your great success with the AIP regarding your AA. As I am suffering from AA/AU for almost 23 years I want to give AIP a try. Glutenfree and dairyfree is not a problem but I am wondering what to eat for breakfast. Fruit is not an option. Do you eat offal or meat for breakfast each day?

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      • Hi Kirsten,

        Thank you for your message and for watching the videos 🙂

        I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been suffering with AA/AU for such a long time! I really hope that with the AIP you can reverse this. Breakfast is a tricky subject because we all have such engrained conceptions of what is a ‘normal’ or traditional breakfast that eating anything else sounds crazy! The truth is, many people on the AIP actually eat leftovers from lunch or dinner for breakfast. For example, if I cook some roasted root vegetables like chunks of parsnips, sweet potato, butternut squash, carrots and beetroot, I will often prepare enough so that I can have a few reheated on the microwave in the morning. As you progress with AIP you will learn that it is a good idea to cook more than you need so that you always have leftover food the next day to save you from cooking again.

        Also, fruit is allowed on the AIP. Just not lots of it! Try to keep it to no more than 2 portions of fruit a day. I very often eat a portion of fruit for breakfast in the morning such as an apple, banana or berries along with some cold cuts of meat like slices of ham or topside beef. Or leftover sausages from dinner… (Just make sure they’re AIP compliant – don’t contain grains, milk or sugar).
        Another great breakfast food is avocado. Sometimes I eat half an avocado, some ham and a bit of sauerkraut on the side. You could even just eat the avocado on its own with a spoon.

        Some people make a ‘breakfast skillet’ but it’s very rare that I ever do this because I don’t have time before work but it makes a nice change on the weekend. You can read about the breakfast skillet here: http://autoimmune-paleo.com/create-your-own-breakfast-skillet/

        If you don’t already have Mickey Trescott’s book ‘The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, I highly recommend it to anyone starting the AIP because she provides some great advice about how to mange cooking alongside her awesome recipes: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Autoimmune-Paleo-Cookbook-Mickey-Trescott/dp/0578135213/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1447926867&sr=8-1&keywords=the+autoimmune+paleo+cookbook

        I hope this helps.

        Best wishes

        Stella

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  8. Hey Stella, thank you so much for your YouTube videos, your advice, expertise and knowledge. I feel like I stumbled upon your Youtube video when I needed it the most. You gave me hope that I too can beat alopecia if I just follow some of your guidelines listed. I really do want to thank you for being so brave and open about your condition. My condition is one of my deepest, darkest secrets and I know that not many people are open to talk about it. However, thanks to you I now know that I do not stand alone. Most importantly, I know that there is hope and a solution out there.

    I wanted to ask you what supplements you take aside from probiotics.

    Today, I went to the store and got probiotics as well as L-Glutamine.
    I will rush to the bookstore right after work to get the book you recommended.

    Thank you so much and if you don’t mind, do you think I could personally email you to talk more about this? I honestly don’t know who else to talk to — I feel like most people can’t relate.

    Thanks so much!

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    • Hi Natalie, you are very welcome! I am so glad that you’ve found my videos and blog helpful 🙂 I know exactly how lonely and difficult it can feel so I’m totally with you there! The most important thing to do is to be strong and know that this condition doesn’t have to be your deepest darkest secret. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Great that you’ve bought some L-Glutamine!! I am also taking that and recently have added Vitamin D to my list of supplements because many people with Crohn’s are deficient and it plays a vital role in regulating the immune system. Other than probiotics, l-glutamine and vitamin D I don’t take any other supplements – it’s best to get all the nutrition you can from diet. You can of course email me at wholeearthlife@gmail.com xxxx

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  9. Hi Stella,thank you for your blog it’s very uplifting.i have had alopecia areata for a couple of months but it’s on it’s way to reversing itself 🙂 I do think diet helps a lot but I just want to give u some names of supplements which I have been taking also,which has helped me hugely,in a sort period of time,firstly I took pro biotics in the morning along with L glutamin this is amazing as it helps repair the stomach and G.I tract also take this at night aswell,honestly my gut feels 100% times better.Also please take N acetyl cysteine,this enhances cellular glutathione which has the amazing ability to modulate the immune system,this has helped me so much and last but not least kallawala tablets they have helped me the most as they regulate your T cells back to normal this amazing supplement is used in European country’s to treat auto immune disease.i hope this helps and your beautiful Hun 🙂 all the best

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    • Hi Laura, thanks so much for your message! It’s lovely to know that you find the blog uplifting.
      I’m glad to hear that your hair is growing back with the help of natural remedies! I too take probiotics in tablet form twice and a day and also eat fermented foods. I will definitely have a read into the other supplements you have suggested – thank you for those! 🙂 xxx

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