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The Autoimmune Protocol - Is it necessary to manage Hashimoto’s?

Whether you were just diagnosed or have been dealing with an autoimmune condition for years, you’ve likely had similar thoughts run through your head…

I went on medication for Hashimoto’s and felt better at first, but now I feel worse than ever.

No matter what nutrition changes I make I keep gaining weight.

I feel bloated after I eat and am constantly tired, no matter how much I sleep.

In my private practice I meet with clients who not only have Hashimoto's but have been reading/googling about how nutrition can help their condition. They've also typically dabbled in some diets and are interested in managing the condition with nutrition.

I want to set one thing straight - medication alone will not help individuals successfully manage Hashimoto’s (or another autoimmune disease). After failed diets, tweaking medication, and no improvement in symptoms, individuals with Hashimoto’s tend to turn to alternative treatments. And rightfully so! Conventional medicine doesn’t address other aspects of health, especially nutrition.

Let’s start by first talking about autoimmune conditions. These conditions happen as a result of the body’s immune system attacking its own tissues, organs, and cells. In the case of Hashimoto’s the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Because of the role inflammation has in autoimmune diseases, lowering inflammation through medication, nutrition, and supplementation is beneficial. Knowing that nutrition support of the immune and digestive systems is essential to manage autoimmune conditions, the Autoimmune Protocol was born.

Although it’s difficult to identify who designed the Autoimmune Protocol it seems to stem from the Paleo diet, and is popular among the holistic autoimmune community. Designed as an elimination diet, the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) removes problematic foods due to the supposed inflammatory nature. Because it restricts numerous food groups the AIP is not supposed to be followed long-term. It’s recommended all food groups be removed for a length of time and reintroduced one at a time to monitor for any autoimmune related or digestive reactions. Any foods causing a reaction may need to be removed long-term.

What Foods Are Eliminated?

No grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, nightshade vegetables, sugar, dairy, caffeine, and alcohol. Nightshades are a family of vegetables including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.

So, what do you eat after eliminating all those foods? You are left with vegetables (other than nightshades), meat, and small amounts of fruit.

AIP is recommended to heal leaky guy syndrome which is often associated with autoimmune diseases. For those with gastrointestinal distress, repairing gut health is absolutely vital. Research tells us the “leaky gut” phenomenon may play a key role in the onset of many autoimmune conditions, like Hashimoto’s. This condition affects the lining of the intestinal wall, which has a tight protective barrier. For a number of reasons (stress, poor nutrition) the barrier can become weakened leading gut distress such as abdominal bloating, excessive gas and cramps. Further symptoms can manifest as fatigue, food sensitivities, joint pain, skin rashes, and autoimmunity. Proponents of the AIP believe removing certain foods is the key to repairing the digestive tract and therefore improving autoimmunity.

Does AIP work?

There is anecdotal evidence suggesting some individuals with autoimmune diseases feel better on and after this protocol, however there is no research to support AIP is necessary.

Anyone interested in following a restrictive diet should be evaluated prior to following it and do so under the care of a qualified health professional. Restriction can lead to fear and obsession around food so those with a history of chronic dieting, binging, and eating disorders may not be best suited for a restrictive diet like AIP.

With that being said, can nutrition support and improve symptoms in those with Hashimoto’s?

The answer is emphatically yes!

There is no one “fix” to managing Hashimoto’s, so a holistic approach must be taken, which may include healing leaky gut. When looking to research we find incorporating foods and supplements that mitigate inflammation, repair digestion, and incorporate lifestyle modifications can be most useful.

Start here:

  • Add supplements like vitamin D, probiotics, and omega-3 fatty acids to correct common nutrient deficiencies and support the immune system

  • Incorporate foods like greens, beans, berries, mushrooms, and seeds as they are anti-inflammatory

  • Reduce stress and improve sleep habits to decrease the body’s stress response and balance hormones

  • Consider a trial gluten-free diet to help heal digestion and lower inflammation

What's your experiencing managing an autoimmune condition like Hashimoto's? I'd love to hear from you so tell me about your challenges and successes!


About the Blog

Welcome to the Well Fed Nutrition Blog. I'm Jessica, a dietitian nutritionist sharing recipes, kitchen tips and advice for life well-fed. 

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