Research Update: New Study on The Autoimmune Protocol and Rheumatoid Arthritis


If the stories compiled on our site and from the worldwide community are anything to show, the Autoimmune Protocol has helped a great many people with autoimmune disease live healthier, fuller lives. Many of us discovered this way of eating and jumped in as early adopters, before the research had time to catch up with us. I, for one thing, am happy I did, as I would not be healthy and happy today had I not made that leap! A lot of people get hung up on the fact that for the most part, the medical community does not acknowledge or support this intervention for managing autoimmune disease. Let’s be real though — times are changing (more on that in a minute!).

Research is one of the missing links to this acceptance, because it starts the conversation about how and why these interventions might be working, and informs doctors on what to recommend to their patients. I am eternally grateful for the work of people like Sarah Ballantyne, PhD, who presented a refined version of the Autoimmune Protocol in her book The Paleo Approach, and Terry Wahls, M.D., who in addition to her book The Wahls Protocol has raised funding and conducted clinical trials using dietary and lifestyle interventions to manage multiple sclerosis. These contributions have begun to ground the Autoimmune Protocol in the scientific landscape, which is essential if we are to get anywhere in getting the medical system to make these important shifts in philosophy.

A new study on the Autoimmune Protocol and rheumatoid arthritis

Julianne Taylor, as a part of her Post Grad Dip Sci in Human Nutrition, conducted a qualitative study research project for Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve been following Julianne and her writing since the beginning of my journey, as she was one of the first people I found online writing about her personal experience using ancestral principles and the elimination diet in order to manage autoimmune disease (her blog was one that helped me decide to personally take on the protocol!). In the study, she interviewed those who had experienced success with rheumatoid arthritis in order to find out more information about management with dietary interventions. For those who are interested in this research, I’m presenting a summary here.

Aims of the study:

  1. To find out what motivated people to change their diet in the first place.
  2. To discover which challenges they encountered changing and maintaining the diet.
  3. To learn how they managed those challenges.
  4. To find out which foods they consumed and which presented symptoms on reintroduction.

Julianne found 10 participants from ages 28-60, with a positive RA diagnosis who had been following the Autoimmune Protocol or similar elimination diet for 6 months to 5 years and had reduced their disease symptoms or clinical markers. She interviewed every participant on a variety of topics and presented a summary of her findings.

Some of the findings I found interesting (although not surprising!):

  • Some of the study participants were encouraged to try the Autoimmune Protocol from alternative healthcare professionals (the system is changing, folks!).
  • Many participants found their conventional doctors to be unsupportive of their nutritional choices, and chose to work with a combination of both natural and conventional practitioners.
  • Those that participated in the study were convinced to try it because of a blend of science as well as anecdotal evidence.
  • One participant found relief on a strict Whole 30 Paleo-style diet and did not take out additional foods, while the rest of the participants did.
  • Both mental and physical preparation were key at making the dietary transition work for those who participated (what do I always say — set yourself up for success!).
  • Everyone who participated in the study shared that there was one important person who supported them in their transition, either emotionally or physically. Many helpers assisted by shopping for and cooking food (this is huge!).
  • 80% of the participants switched overnight, while 20% made gradual changes. Many chose dates to start that were clear from family celebrations or events that would create difficulties.
  • The two biggest challenges for participants were eating away from home and lack of support from friends and family.
  • Adherence to the the diet was very high, over 95% for all but one participant who was at 85% compliance, and avoidance of pain was the primary motivating factor.
  • The dietary changes were difficult to implement, but became easier as time progressed.
  • The main dietary challenges for participants were the time it took to prepare meals, lack of convenience foods, high cost of food, eating out, travel, and lack of understanding.
  • Every participant experienced health improvements besides a reduction in their rheumatoid arthritis symptoms — there was weight gain or loss, if the person needed it.

I found these reintroduction findings particularly interesting:

  • Most participants used a unique reintroduction protocol — some focused on the one in The Paleo Approach, Reintroducing Foods on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, relied on advice from their healthcare providers, or blended that with their intuition to customize an approach.
  • Some participants had been on a standard Paleo diet before trying the elimination diet to successfully pinpoint additional sensitivities.
  • The most common sensitivities found in the group as a whole were wheat, dairy, eggs, and corn.
  • Other sensitivities found in some participants but not others, were rice, nightshade vegetables, rancid and heated seed oils, and soy.
  • Every participant had foods they reacted to in a way that was different from a rheumatoid arthritis flare.

While this study was not randomized and controlled and leaves a lot of questions unanswered, it offers a fantastic starting place for other researchers developing interest, seeking funding, and conducting more in-depth studies on why these dietary and lifestyle interventions are working for people. We can only hope that as time progresses, there will be more research and discovery that will enable doctors to fine-tune dietary interventions to best manage autoimmune disease.

If you’d like to learn more about Julianne and read some of her writing, check out her blog Paleo Zone Nutrition. You can contact her directly to request to see the study. She is also publishing a series of blog posts on the topic, the first of which can be found here and the second of which can be found here.

A clinical trial using the Autoimmune Protocol is underway

Dr. Gauree Konijeti, M.D., M.P.H., director of the inflammatory bowel disease program division of gastroenterology at Scripps University in San Diego will be running a clinical study titled “Efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet for Inflammatory Bowel Disease” this fall. Dr. Konijeti will be using Angie Alt’s online program SAD to AIP in SIX to study outcomes in patients with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis using the Autoimmune Protocol to manage their autoimmune diseases. We couldn’t be more thrilled about this new study and hope that more collaborative efforts are on the horizon with the medical community!

About Mickey Trescott

Mickey Trescott is a co-founder here at Autoimmune Wellness and a co-teacher of AIP Certified Coach. After recovering from her own struggle with both Celiac and Hashimoto’s disease, adrenal fatigue, and multiple vitamin deficiencies, Mickey started to write about her experience to share with others and help them realize they are not alone in their struggles. She has a Master's degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Nutrition, and is the author of three best-selling books--The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook, and The Nutrient-Dense Kitchen. You can watch her AIP cooking demos by following her on Instagram.


  • Tamara says

    I an so excited and blessed to see this article. I look forward to hearing more, and will continue my path as a peer based while health and recovery coach. I will sign up for these blogs, request the data, and stay tuned!
    Please feel free to add me to any all newsletters, blogs, or anything else you may think may be helpful (I’m just getting started on this journey -almost 18 months – and look forward to any direction from community partners).
    Thank you for the article! I am excited to being schooling this fall for Holistic Nutritional Wellness Practitioner and growing in this field!

  • I have just published another blog post outlining the foods that people in this group found caused flares for their RA. Link here
    Thanks for the article Mickey.
    Just as a note – Mickey’s recipe book was a favourite resource for many of the people I interviewed.

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Thanks for sharing Julianne- have updated the post with the link. Hope you are well!

  • Fiona Blackwell says

    My daughter (7) has UC. At present she is doing brilliantly well on an almost paleo diet (occasional rice and dairy as treats seem tolerated well).
    Long term if she flares I would encourage her to try AIP – although young I am trying to ensure she is on board and understanding of the choices I have made for her (us, as I eat the same, to support and for my own accidental health improvements).
    Medical support for nutritional changes is zero, and some people consider I am giving her more issues by us avoiding foods!
    I am always looking for papers/science yo back up my approach.
    I would love to know more about Dr Konijeti, in particular the study you mention. I have Googled but can’t find any info.
    Thanks for any links you can provide.

    • Angie Alt says

      Hi Fiona! So great to hear about your daughter’s positive changes w/ a Paleo template. Basically, the details on the study are as follows: I will be partnering with Dr. Gauree Konijeti, MD, MPH, Director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program Division of Gastroenterology at Scripps Clinic in San Diego, to run a clinical study entitled, “Efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet for Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Myself, Amy Kubal, RD and Dr. Konijeti will be using my highly-successful online group program, SAD to AIP in SIX, this fall to study outcomes for patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis using AIP to help manage their autoimmune disease. The study, which will be conducted at Scripps clinic, will be analyzing the gut microbiome before, during and after implementing the Autoimmune Protocol. Dr. Konijeti will be examining how changes in diet affect the symptoms reported by her patients, as well as, inflammation itself. The inflammation will be monitored through measurement of calprotectin and endoscopy or imaging studies both before and after adopting AIP. At present, we don’t have online info, but we will be sharing research updates w/ the community as Dr. Konijeti & her team make them available.

  • Tracey Parisi says

    I know without doubt from my own dietary changes that food choices are key when living with chronic pain and inflammation from RA. I’m excited to learn more.

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Happy you’ve found that out by trial and error – we are excited to see what more research brings!

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  • Hi. I am so happy to find you. I have been suffering for chronic RA for 1 1/2 years and I have no luck with medications. I am done. I want to change my diet and give it a try to see how I can manage my disease. I am the mother of 2 active boys, I am 43 years old and I have been in bed most of this time.
    I am from Colombia, South America so you can imagine that my way of eating is very different from the american way… but still a lot of rice, potatoes, meats and vegetables.
    I need your help! this has been the most difficult time for me and my family and I am going directly to the book store to buy a copy of the books.

    • Angie Alt says

      Excited to here you are going to give AIP a try Marcela! We hope the books are helpful to you as you transition. Good luck!

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hey Marcela! Did you know I have a Spanish edition of my cookbook? I’d also recommend checking out, a Spanish-speaking resource for AIP. Wishing you the best in your recovery!

  • Michele says

    I was able to get my colitis (microscopic) under control with a modified AIP; I can have dairy (lactose free only) but cannot have coconut, tapioca, arrowroot.

    I am allergic to eggs, nuts and seeds trigger eczema (also coconut). Nightshades, though, were the major culprit, along with sugar alcohols.

    I had been eating nuts and/or seeds weekly, sometimes daily, and saw a return of eczema, weeping fluid in my ears and bodily aches – mainly joint aches and stiffness. My father has osteoarthritis, and my mother has joint issues as well which prompted me to search AIP and arthritis since going back on the diet has me at much, much lower bodily aches in just a week.

    Thank you for sharing this information!

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hey Michele! Sorry to hear about your issues, and I hope you are able to get things well on track by using the elimination and reintroduction protocol. Good luck!

  • Jennifer O'leary says

    I want to thank you, Dr. Ballantyne, Dr. Walls for the research that has been given. I work in a field where once I tell others that I am on the Paleo diet, I am then met with a “oh, not much real research so it’s a fad diet”, and due to your blog as well as the others, I am building up my arguments and support for this diet. Been on the diet for a few months, rheumatoid arthritis.
    Keep in mind this might be a great spot for future studies, near the Medical college of Ga, and RA runs rapid here in the south.
    Your blog is helping me have hope.

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hi Jennifer! So happy to hear the protocol has helped you. We are hoping to someday study AIP and RA in medical study – fingers crossed for a great researcher to contact us!

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