I’ve heard the stories too. People who find paleo, cheat three times a week, eat buckets of eggs and nuts, and still manage to instantly lose weight, get super fit, and stop suffering from all of their ailments. Yes, those stories are true. But, they should come with one of those “Results Not Typical” labels. Don’t go running for the hills: a paleo diet will help you achieve and sustain a healthy weight and will successfully address a huge variety of health issues. And people with autoimmune disease should see dramatic improvements in their condition by following the Autoimmune Protocol. So, what’s not typical? Two things: the instant part (obviously, none of us expect this to actually be instant, but many of us still have unrealistic expectations for how long this will take) and the tons of eggs and nuts part (at least when it comes to autoimmune disease).
The paleo diet can feel very restrictive and isolating at times. If you are unlucky enough to need to follow the Autoimmune Protocol, the feeling of deprivation can be overwhelming. It’s no wonder that many of us feel impatient with the Autoimmune Protocol and wonder “just how [expletive deleted] long is this going to take?!”. While some people do experience instant improvement in their symptoms (and some super luck individuals see improvement with out-of-the-box paleo), for others, it can take a while. And when it takes a while, we lose patience and optimism. It can be hard to remain dedicated to a restrictive diet if you don’t feel that it is working.
So how long does it take? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on how leaky your gut is, how inflamed your body is, exactly what types of antibodies your body is producing and what cells in your body they are attacking. Just like your genetics will predispose you to developing autoimmunity if you have a leaky gut, they also dictate how easy it is for your body to stop producing those antibodies and heal your gut. Interestingly, this doesn’t necessarily mean that those people with more severe autoimmune diseases will take longer to see improvement. It’s actually quite hard to predict who will see dramatic, rapid improvement and who will have a long drawn-out recovery.
Your gut needs to heal and this takes time. If you are lucky enough not to have SmallIntestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), this may only take about 6 months. Many people with autoimmune disease do have SIBO however, and healing for these people can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. Many people with autoimmune disease and SIBO also have gut-brain connection issues (this is especially true for those with skin conditions). The inflammation in your brain can take 2 months to 2 years to subside, depending on how well you are sleeping and managing stress, and this directly impacts how quickly your gut will heal. The general inflammation in your body needs to subside. This will generally follow the healing of your gut. Your body also needs to stop producing auto-antibodies. Once your gut has healed, it takes about 6 months to stop producing those antibodies, although for many people the amount of antibodies being produced will decrease while the gut is healing. Your body needs to heal itself, repair damaged tissues and restore hormone balance. Depending on the tissues involved, this can take an additional 6 months, again partially overlapping with the other aspects of recovery. Putting this together, some people will need to follow the Autoimmune Protocol for upwards of 3 years before seeing full recovery, although noticeable improvement should be seen within about 3 months. I’ll also throw out the caveat that, while I believe that all autoimmune diseases can be improved with this protocol, there is the possibility that some diseases operate through mechanisms independent of diet. And of course, depending on the progression of your disease, there may be permanent damage to tissues in your body meaning that you may see improvement but not full recovery. And any exposure to gut irritating food will set you back. Will you ever be able to add eggs, nuts and nightshades back into your diet? Maybe. Some people will be able to and some will not. Once your autoimmune disease is in full remission, try adding back one food at a time and see how you feel.
If you have been following the Autoimmune Protocol for 3 months and have not seen improvement, there are also a couple of other factors to consider when evaluating how well this is working for you. Are you really following the protocol and not allowing yourself cheats? Are you getting enough sleep and managing your stress? Are you spending enough time outside in the sun in addition to taking a Vitamin D3 supplement? Are you dealing with competing goals? It is very difficult for the body to heal in a hypocaloric state, meaning that losing weight and recovering from autoimmune disease are not always compatible. It is very important to provide the building blocks your body needs to heal by eating enough food. You don’t need to be gaining weight, but losing weight may be difficult until your body has healed. Another key factor is food sensitivities. It is possible that you have developed an immune reaction (typically IgG or IgA antibodies) against foods that you are currently eating. These would be foods that don’t normally cause gut irritation, but, because you have developed a sensitivity to them, they stop your body from healing. You may be able to figure out which food or foods you are sensitive to by eliminating your suspects for a week or two and see if it makes a difference. You can also find a physician, naturopathic doctor or chiropractor who will order an IgG (and maybe also IgA) food sensitivity test (I’m sorry to report that these are not cheap. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $400 just for the IgG test). Once these foods are also eliminated from your diet, you should start to see improvement. The good news is that you should be able to add these foods back into your diet as early as 6 months from now (although I think the safest timeline is to reintroduce these foods after your autoimmune disease is in full remission).
Is there anything you can do to speed up the healing process? Some people find that acupuncture or dry needle therapy can help. I have no personal experience with this, but if you are feeling frustrated and you have explored all other avenues, this might be a good next step for you to consider. Most importantly, don’t give up. Autoimmune disease is caused by a combination of genetic susceptibility and diet and lifestyle factors. You can’t control your genetics (except maybe your epigenetics, but that’s a topic for a future post), but you can control your diet and lifestyle. The trick is finding the individual factors that are most important for your body and be patient while you search for answers. I’m hoping that, by giving you a realistic timeframe for how long healing may take, you will be able to find patience with this process. Remember that you are not alone and you are free to use my Facebook Page as a support group if needed.