The Autoimmune Protocol: What to Do When Nothing Else Has Worked

Today’s guest post is from my good friend Tara Grant, truly a superstar in the Primal/paleo/ancestral health movement. Tara started out as a success story: “Tons of Doctors and No Solution” – one of the most visited stories in our entire archive. She’s had a change of attitude since that article was published. As she says in this article, Luckily, none of the doctors I saw over the years had any idea what was going on.”

In 2013, I published her remarkable book called The Hidden Plague, which details the painful and poorly understood skin condition of Hidradenitis supprativa (HS). (The Hidden Plague is on sale for just $3.99 this month. See the details below.) Enter Tara…

People by the thousands are reclaiming their health and shedding diseases as well as excess pounds. Their shouts from the rooftops are giving credence to our movement: eating and moving naturally works. Our bodies are designed to be healthy, fit and lean. If we just give our genes the right input, everything will magically fall into place.

Except when it doesn’t. Some of us have really buggered ourselves up by a lifetime of self-medicating and following conventional advice. We’re the ones that have to go the extra mile on our path to enlightened health and vitality—a standard ancestral diet just isn’t going to cut it. When autoimmunity is in the mix, all bets are off. You have to do things differently. (Click here to see if you may be suffering from an autoimmune condition.)

Before I found the Primal lifestyle, I used to smoke almost two packs a day. I medicated myself not only with any drugs doctors prescribed me, but also with sugar—and lots of it. My operating system was running on software it couldn’t communicate with and it started to get pretty buggy. I was very unhealthy but I didn’t realize it—all I could see was the excess weight and my inability to lose it. After all, there was a pill or a salve for whatever else was wrong with me. I wasn’t alone in the endless search for the magic cream that made everything better, and a quick trip to the drug store legitimized every problem I had.

At the time, if a doctor had told me I was suffering from no less than six separate autoimmune diseases that had no known treatment or cure, I probably would have ended it all. Luckily, none of the doctors I saw over the years had any idea what was going on. They treated each individual symptom with little to no success and then threw their hands up in defeat. It was up to me to change my life, my health and my perspective. I wanted to thrive, not just exist. I wanted to live.

Ancestral diet and fitness strategies took care of the excess weight and the sugar addiction. That part was easy. The other symptoms I had—the symptoms of autoimmunity—didn’t go away as advertised. I had to do some more digging to figure out what was going on.

If you’ve been Primal for a while, chances are you’ve heard of the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). Chances are you’ve also heard that no two people have the same triggers, that blood tests are fairly useless in trying to identify those triggers, that it “works for some but not for others,” that the AIP diet is devoid of anything flavorful and exciting, and that you will have to prepare every meal by yourself, at home, alone, because your friends and family, by day six, will have abandoned you and your constant stream of “I can’t eat that!” to go gorge themselves at HomeTown Buffet.

Unfortunately, most of this information is right. The AIP is really tough to navigate and it may even be harder on your friends and family than it is on you. Depending on which protocol you follow, you may not even be aware of certain potential triggers, like the wild yeast on your blueberries or the ashwagandha in your supplements.

The Hidden Plague is the answer to every question I had while I was navigating autoimmunity. While it concentrates on skin issues, the book also explains autoimmunity, leaky gut, the stress connection and how your hormones are involved in a very easy to understand way. It allows you to see the bigger picture—autoimmunity as the disease itself. The Hidden Plague also discusses all classes of potential triggers so that you can figure out what’s causing your symptoms. Finally there are step-by-step instructions on how to successfully reintroduce foods back into your life.

The Kindle version of The Hidden Plague is on sale for only $3.99 during the month of March (U.S. residents only). Stop guessing and start healing! Pick up your copy here.

Note from Mark: Coincidentally, the Kindle version of The Primal Connection is also on sale at the moment. You can get it and a bunch of other paleo books for just 99 cents each today only. Check them all out here.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

35 thoughts on “The Autoimmune Protocol: What to Do When Nothing Else Has Worked”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. As someone with an autoimmune disorder (Hashimotos) I’m definitely going to snag the kindle edition of this book!

  2. I started on Low Dose Naltrexone this fall, an inexpensive and very safe drug that balances one’s immune system, and my IBS symptoms are finally gone. I can eat whatever I want now. But I am staying primal 95 percent.

  3. If autoimmune disease is linked with leaky gut, which one causes the other. Can I heal just my conditions by healing my gut? I have to admit that eating primal has not heal my gut but I was under the impression that healing my gut was the key to heal myself.

    Sorry if I’m not clear, I’m really confused with everything that I’ve read on internet these past months.

      1. That’s what I thought. I have probiotics in the mail coming soon and I eat plenty of meat stock. I had a relapse because of the flu though. If it takes up to a year, I hope I will not have another flu anytime soon.

        1. @ Snake Plissken

          I’m not sure if it’s really what happened to me but apparently it can happen that fever causes a die-off of your gut bacteria.

        2. Most people say whole food probiotics work better, or at least pop open the pills into a glass of milk and let them feast and duplicate

        3. I don’t know what type of probiotics your buying but from experience I would recommend fermented foods like sauerkraut even just to drink the juice and obviously the kefir both milk and water. They are a lot cheaper and more powerful than the tablets which didn’t help me at all.

          Anyway, good luck.

      2. I had at one time healed myself with raw dairy kefir but now I have a dairy allergy. I also have SIBO and multiple food allergies and my daughter has Hashimoto’s (me too probably but I was never dx’d), but now I have multiple thyroid nodules) and despite everything I have not be able to heal again.

    1. Coco, like you, I wasn’t able to truly heal my gut or get my autoimmunity fully under control on Primal, but I figured out why: for me it was casein. Although I keep hearing that “food sensitivity tests are useless”, it wasn’t true in my case.

      After testing positive to gluten, even though I’d been gluten free for years (cross-contamination or cross-reactions, most likely) as well as Celiac antibodies (a surprise since I have no GI symptoms) through the Cyrex gluten proteome panel (the only truly comprehensive gluten test available), I also took the Cyrex gluten cross-reactive foods test and found out that I cross-react to casein and whey as if they were gluten. What a game changer that was! The small amount of grass-fed cream and the Kerrygold weren’t doing me any favors.

      After cutting dairy completely and going AIP while focusing on gut healing (I like Sea Cure whitefish peptides for that), and doing immune modulation under the guidance of a good functional medicine practitioner, I finally made some real progress! I only wish I had done these things sooner.

    2. Mostly following food combining rules helped my digestion a lot. That’s what I recommend for gut issues. I think food combining rules are underrated here.
      I also ate some fermented foods.

    3. Primal blueprint is just that, a template ( a great one). With gut issues it takes some heavy detective issues and the ability to be persistent. Look at categories like nuts/seeds, nightshades, dairy.

  4. This book is amazing (as is the author!). I met Tara a few years ago and she let me know she was writing this book, so I was keeping tabs on it. I pre-ordered it and it is pretty much my Bible now. I have pages marked, highlighted, etc. and I refer to it all the time! AIP is hard. It sucks sometimes. However, it is so worth not feeling sick, having pain, etc. Maybe you’ll even discover you love cooking and creating new recipes! Thank you, Tara, for this amazing book and all of the information in it. You’ve helped so many people.

  5. Tara’s book is great – well written with lots of great info. I already own the hardcover version, but that $3.99 is a great price for people who Kindle.

  6. I wonder if this book addresses a problem I have. I don’t exactly have skin irritations, but whenever I get a cut, scrape, or bump, the discoloration takes VERY VERY long to heal. I actually feel like it doesn’t heal at all, in fact. I have marks on my legs that came from half a year ago that are still prominent, and others that are even older.

    1. Hi Helena,

      Just a thought, do you get enough zinc in your diet? I have dealt with severe autoimmune conditions from leaky gut for several years and one of the biggest “game changers” has been adding more minerals into my diet. Magnesium, potassium…even FDA recommended doses can prove insufficient!

      1. I eat lots of vegetables, some meat, eggs, and avocados, so I suppose I get enough zinc. But I’m not sure if my problem with slow-healing skin discolorations is even because of some autoimmune condition. That’s what I was asking.

        1. It would seem you are nutrient deficient despite your high quality food intake. It is not always the case that when you ingest a lot of nutrients that your body is able to digest/absorb them. You might have Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) a possible precursor to leaky gut. An Overgrowth of bacteria can affect your nutrient absorption, perhaps the bacteria are sequestering the nutrients for themselves. Chris Kresser talks about it in depth and so does Sarah Ballantyne. The basic deal with SIBO is to manage it with diet by cutting down on certain foods or even just excess food of any type. Still this may not be enough and you might need to go on an antimicrobial treatment supplementing with probiotics. In any case some quick tips I’ll offer would be to drink a daily cup of bone broth, it’s a source of easily digestible nutrients that can help with skin healing, as well as healing your gut lining, so you can better absorb other essential nutrients. Taking a shot of apple cider vinegar before a meal to stimulate stomach acid production, which SIBO tends to suppress. Eating Liver, it’s got a lot of nutrients.

  7. My issues seem to be running along the same line. Ive been paleo for about a year now and I feel like I do well “maintaining” but I am constantly one wrong (very unpredictable) move away from diaster. Ive been on a FODMAP diet for almost 6 weeks and its helped “maintain” a little better but I have not noticed any healing. Slight emotional stress and very light working out has helped me pack on 7 lbs of water weight over the past couple of weeks. I feel like I can not seem to get a full grip on my health. Even though this book focuses on skin autoimmune issues, do you think it would be benifical to my internal issues?

  8. Thanks! I just got myself an e copy of the book. I also have a collection of autoimmune diseases that have been helped immensely by the AIP diet! I’m always amazed at how food affects our body, in both good and bad ways. Lately it’s just the good though! I haven’t even felt the least bit deprived, there are so many “new” foods to eat! I do miss some nice dark chocolate though, and hope to be reintroducing foods soon, when I get my blood test results next week. Fingers crossed that all the antibody levels are going down!

  9. I came across this book (via the last time Mark posted about it) when I was trying to recover from mistakenly eating some wheat-coated french fries about 6 months ago. I went primal (thanks to MDA) 3 years ago, which solved my lifelong IBS problems. I assumed this was due to the elimination of grains. Since then, I’ve never purposely cheated because IBS sucks and 20 years was long enough to deal with it. After getting pregnant 9 months after going primal (and still breastfeeding now), I had upped my carbs (to around 150 g/day) with no problems. Anyway, after eating those fries 6 months ago, the IBS was back and would not go away. I tried the AIP diet, low-fiber, low-FODMAPs, Prescript Assist probiotics (all in the background context of the primal diet). Nothing worked. Over time, my mood began to falter (which is not common for me since going primal) and I seemed to have become sensitive to everything! Five months after the fries and still miserable with IBS, I was researching the GAPs diet as my last resort and found a really helpful critical review (on Amazon) that suggested just trying low-carb before starting GAPs. Then the lightbulb went off. That was the only explanation for why I was unable to eat the same (safe) primal foods after the french fry incident without problems. I immediately went low-carb again, and the IBS went away. Now, a month later, I’m fine as long as I keep the carbs under about 80 g/day. I assume my gut flora changed (causing SIBO or something related) when I ate those fries, and it will still take a while for it to recover. But at least I’m not dealing with IBS anymore, and the depression I had developed is completely gone.

    Anyway, I thought the book was great for anyone who truly has an AI problem, but the takehome is this: It’s easy to read the list of symptoms and make the case that your problems are caused by autoimmunity or something else that is really challenging to work out. It may send you on a wild-goose chase, thus preventing you from seeing the obvious answer. In my case, my problems were solved just by going low-carb again.

  10. Helena I also take a long time to heal, and I’m often black and blue (as a kid my mom nicknamed me Chiquita after the banana brand because I bruised do easily). Turns out that in addition to Hashimoto’s, I have ITP, idiopathic thrombositic purpua, aka low blood platelets. Consider having your platelet levels tested; ITP, though not frequently, can be deadly.

  11. First I eliminated all starches, and sugar. That helped, but eliminating all dietary fiber cured my autoimmune issues that I had been afflicted with for decades. I can’t prove it but, I think autoimmune issues are caused by a harmful variety of microbes that feed on fiber, and carbs in the diet.

  12. I can’t recommend this book enough!!!! absolutely brilliant, for any auto immune condition (because the principles are the same for all autoimmunity) . One of the biggest reasons it’s so brilliant is it highlights many food items that are on the safe list for standard AIP. But if you are like me and have not just Nightshades as triggers, but also yeast/mold/fungi and wait for it….onions, this book is a life saver. It can really help you tighten your focus to YOUR personal triggers. I have absolute control of my condition (though I am still trying to further heal my gut and just calm down my systems general ‘twitchiness’ ) GO NOW… and …..BUY it BUY it BUY it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Great book. Tara spells it out very well. Thanks Tara!

      It’s not a sliver bullet as much as it is instructions for making the silver bullet.
      You must be willing to change your life, and not just in the short term.

      Vigilance and determination are virtues with autoimmune disease.
      The key is to stay focused on what you will gain, not what you are giving up or letting go of.
      It may end up being more than food! You’ll find the better you feel the less patience you have for old stuck habits, and people. Your life might just open up for you.

      The quality of each day, and the sustained feeling of vitality that I have now is such a quantum leap over how I felt.

      Don’t wait if you’re suffering.


  13. I had chronic hives and deteriorated over weeks to the point where I felt sick all the time, had fever, episodes of lips and lower face swelling although thankfully my throat never swelled shut. Found out through trial and error it was wheat and similar grains such as spelt. I would eat wheat, hives and the other symptoms would show up 4 to 7 hours later. The delayed reaction made it hard to figure out what was going on. I went 100% wheat free for a year with no other dietary changes. After that I found I could eat wheat again with no problem (not saying that’s a GOOD thing) and 15 years later still have no problem with wheat. I never had any allergic-type problems before or after the wheat episode. It did motivate me to try to eat better quality diet but not as good as primal yet. Still working in that direction. Was it leaky gut or something else? I guess I’ll never know.

  14. Primal blueprint is just that, a template ( a great one). With gut issues it takes some heavy detective issues and the ability to be persistent. Look at categories like nuts/seeds, nightshades, dairy.

  15. Hi Helena,

    Only an idea, do you get enough zinc in your eating regimen? I have managed serious immune system conditions from broken gut for quite a while and one of the greatest “distinct advantages” has been including more minerals into my eating routine. Magnesium, potassium… even FDA prescribed measurements can demonstrate deficien

  16. This book is truly amazing! I have read it several times. I enjoy the way the author writes and makes what could have been a technical boring read into an interesting, even sometimes amusing read. There is lots of valuable information in this book, about more than just the skin condition HS (which I have). It will help with any autoimmune condition. Please get this book. You will heal and change your life!

  17. I am just shocked to see people get autoimmune kind of disorder. i didn’t knew anything about this befor this. thanks for stating here. appreciate