I’ll bet that most lay people and even medical professionals, don’t even know what a lectin is. I honestly didn’t know myself, until fairly recently, when I received a brochure in the mail about lectins. It was promoting a product that could help people eat foods that contained lectins without having an allergenic-response. I decided to do more research and share it with my subscribers.
What is a lectin? Lectins are sticky protein molecules found in nearly all living things, plants and animals. Plants use lectins as part of their natural defense systems. They help plants defend against attackers such as mold, fungus, and parasites. Lectins work by attaching themselves to invaders to block the attack. When you eat foods containing lectins, they aren’t wiped out by stomach acid or digested by enzymes. So still intact they can attack your cells as molecular invaders. Then lectins can attach to cell membranes, which leads to all sorts of physical problems.
The first place they attack is your stomach lining and intestines. Then they pass through the intestinal wall and enter your bloodstream. These molecular invaders are now able to roam freely about your body. They can bind to any tissue that they come in contact with. The effects may impact your digestive system, your joints, and other internal organs resulting in a wide range of symptoms. They can cause inflammation and activate other immune responses. This is why researchers now believe the body’s response to these lectins is a major cause of many immune system imbalances. Based on this recent research, many symptoms once attributed to aging or “wear and tear” may need to be reclassified as immune reactions caused by lectins.
I learned first hand in 1986 how grains caused arthritis in my body. Looking in my food journal I saw that I had recently started eating bread on a daily basis. I eliminated the bread and within two weeks the excruciating pain and stiffness was gone. As an experiment I added the bread back a couple months later – and the severe pain and stiffness was back. It took another two weeks of pain, after I eliminated them – before I felt 100% normal again. I didn’t go back to eating bread or any other grains. No further problems.
Some “after-eating” reactions to lectins include”
Indigestion: Upset stomach, bloating, bowel and colon irritability, heartburn and excessive gas
Weight gain and difficulty losing weight.
Fatigue: poor energy, especially after meals.
Joint Stiffness: everyday joint discomfort and stiffness, especially in the morning.
Headaches that seem to come out of nowhere.
Brain fog and poor concentration.
Skin problems: rashes that don’t go away, itching and skin breakouts.
Respiratory issues: excess mucous, chronically clearing throat, sinus problems or non-illness coughing.
Lectins cause cells to “aglglutinate” which literally means “glued together.”Healthy blood cells have spaces around them and move freely. Agglutinated blood cells tightly clump together. Your body’s immune system sends out white blood cells to destroy the lectins and the previously healthy cells. Thus, lectins may cause ongoing inflammation.
What do lectins do to your body? In the intestines, lectins stickiness permits them to bind with the lining, particularly the villi, of the small intestine. This causes intestinal damage (with impaired cellular repair potential), cellular death as well as compromised intestinal villi, which means reduced absorption of other nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and protein. Add to this altered gut flora, which can allow certain harmful bacterial strains like E. coli to run rampant. In addition, because the body is now responding full-time to the needs of the injured gut lining, proteins and other resources are redirected from other basic growth and repair processes. Furthermore, lectins have been associated with leptin resistance, a pre-diabetic condition linked to obesity.
Lectins also are one of the causes of leaky gut, whereby partially digested food and other toxins leak into the bloodstream. Now they are free to move all about the body and bind to any tissue they come across (anything from the thyroid to the pancreas to the kidneys). Of course, the body reacts to these invaders by directing an attack on these particles and the otherwise healthy tissue they’re attached to. Enter autoimmune problems. That’s why lectins are linked with autoimmune disorders like IBS, Crohn’s. colitis, thyroid conditions, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and arthritis. Specific lectins have been associated with particular ailments (like wheat with rheumatoid arthritis), but more research is needed to trace and confirm these connections. However, it is clear that potent autoimmune destruction can result when the intestinal lining experiences this level of damage. Lectins also cause discharge of histamine from gastric mast cells, which stimulate acid secretion. So the three main pathogenic factors for peptic ulcer – acid stimulation, failure of the mucous defense layer, and abnormal bacterial proliferation (helicobacter pylori) are all theoretically linked to lectins. The mucous stripping effect of lectins, also offers an explanation for the anecdotal finding of many allergists that a “stone age diet”, which eliminates most starchy foods and therefore most lectins, protects against upper respiratory viral infections; without lectins in the throat the nasopharyngeal mucous lining would be more effective as a barrier to viruses.
An example of a common lectin is gluten. Perhaps you know someone who is intolerant to wheat products. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, oats, barley, rye, and other foods containing these grains (including beer, grain-based alcohols, mayonaise, grain vinegar, etc.) The word “gluten” comes from the Latin word for glue, which was often made from wheat. Some 30% of Americans are gluten sensitive. And some 81% have a genetic predisposition towards gluten sensitivity. If you are gluten sensitive, wheat and other grain products may cause bloating, indigestion, embarrassing gas, or diarrhea. But experts maintain that many people who have problems with gluten sensitivity don’t even know they have it. This is because the gluten sensitivity shows up as seemingly unrelated symptoms. You may suffer with joint pain, brain fog, skin rashes, or other problems. Gluten is found in many processed foods, often masked on labeling by names such as shortening, natural flavoring, stabilizer agents, and thickeners. It’s in gravies, sauces, soups and ice cream. It’s even in medicines, as a binding agent, lip balms, and more.
But gluten is just the tip of the iceberg – Lectins are everywhere. They affect more people than just those who have a problem with wheat or dairy. And they are in a wide range of foods we eat daily. Ironically, some of the otherwise healthiest foods can have even more lectins than processed foods. Tomatoes, for example. are rich in antioxidants such as lycopene, but tomatoes also contain a phytoagglutinating lectin. This type can reduce the protective lining in your intestines. They also bind to blood cells, nerve tissue, and interfere with enzymes in the stomach; setting up the development of more serious health issues.
Foods often high in lectins (to avoid or lower intake) include:
Grains such as wheat and wheat germ, quinoa, rice, oats, barley, rye, millet, buckwheat, and corn.
Legumes such as beans, kidney, lentils, peanuts and soybeans.
Seeds and nuts such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds and walnuts.
Oils made from corn, peanuts, soy, etc.
Dairy foods all milk products, cheese, cottage cheese, kefir and yogurt.
Eggs and all products that contain them.
Chicken and Seafood
Fruits such as cantaloupe and pomegranate
Vegetables especially the nightshade family, e.g. potato, tomato, eggplant, cucumber and peppers.
Processed foods containing added flavoring agents, thickeners, fillers and binders are loaded with lectins
GMO Food as lectins are spliced into modified varieties to enhance “natural” pest & fungal resistance.
Do dietary lectins really cause disease? In 1988 a hospital launched a “healthy eating day” in its staff canteen at lunchtime. One dish contained red kidney beans, and 31 people were served. At 3 pm one of the customers, a surgical registrar, vomited in theater. Over the next four hours 10 more customers suffered profuse vomiting, some with diarrhea. All had recovered by the next day. No pathogens were isolated from the food, but the beans contained an abnormally high concentration of the lectin phytohaemagglutinin. Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins present in most plants, especially seeds and tubers like cereals, potatoes, and beans. Until recently their main use was in histology and blood transfusion reagents, but in the past two decades we have realized that many lectins are (a) toxic, inflammatory, or both; (b) resistant to cooking and digestive enzymes; and present in much of our food. It is thus no surprise that they sometimes cause “food poisoning.” But the really disturbing finding came with the discovery in 1989 that some food lectins get past the gut wall and deposit themselves in distant organs, So do they cause real life diseases?
This was an important question because diet is one part of the environment that can be altered. Avoiding lectins is best. There is research which has been done whereby n-acetyl-glucosamine and its polymers have been used to block the effects of wheat lectins; n-acetyl-lactoamine has also been used to block the effect of tomato lectins and probably potato, peanuts and wheat lectins.
After almost 30 years of doing consultations, I learned along the way how unique every person is. No two people are alike, even in the same family. When people followed my advice to avoid specific foods they would have results. Eating one’s Perfect Foods removes a great deal of stress from the body. It really pays to know, which foods are right for your body.
Many of the foods that contain high amounts of lectins aren’t foods that I would recommend. They are foods that can create health problems. Taking certain lectin-blocking supplements, which are available is not even recommended by the people who are manufacturing them on a steady basis. They suggest using them, if you are eating out at a restaurant or on special occasions. Avoiding high lectin food is the best answer.
With lectins so prevalent in the human diet, it is amazing that anyone can remain healthy. However since 66% of the people in our country are overweight and obese, I would surmise that this hidden lectin problem needs to be considered. Since weight gain and diabetes both may stem from ingesting too many lectins, people need to be more aware.
What I have recommended in previous health blogs is the use of a food journal. Keeping a record of the foods that you are eating daily and any reaction – is the best way I know to discover answers. If you develop any kind of a problem it will help you determine the cause; 95% of the time food is the culprit. I, personally, have overcome most health concerns by using a food journal. When clients phone or come for a consultation, I ask them to keep a record of all the foods and beverages that they are consuming for 7-10 days. By going over their food choices, I find it easier to determine what they are doing wrong. Most people have no idea that most of their “good” foods are draining their energy and are slowly breaking down their bodies.
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