The Problem of Lectins

June 15, 2015

The Problem of Lectins 

 Reference: Wikipedia, Phytochemistry 2015, PloS One  

 Have your heard of lectins?   Could you give me the one-sentence summary of what they do to you? Ok, you will in this column learn what that means. Lectins are the proteins made by plants to protect themselves from their predators. They are, in effect, poisons that prevent the plant from being eaten.   Plants need to be eaten to propagate – at least their seeds do. That delicate balance leads to lectins needing to be poisonous enough to keep the bugs away long enough so that animals will eat the seeds and spread them around. Animals need to be able to tolerate the poison enough to not be too harmed, but still be benefited by eating some of the plant while spreading the seeds around.   

Lectins are sticky.   That results in many useful functions like allowing cells to bind to one another, like Velcro. But it also leads to lectins binding to things and injuring them where they may not be invited, like your gut. As long as we humans ate a wide variety of seasonal foods, each in modest quantity, we weren't really harmed by them.  Now we are being harmed. Which foods have the most lectins in them?   Grains.   (Wheat gets the bonus amount.)   And beans.   (Soy wins. Peanuts right behind) Finally, the nightshade family is another occasional bad actor. And finally, dairy products (the cow eats grains and passes them through – remember, you absorb them.) 

 What’s the problem with lectins? This is where the story gets interesting.   We humans used to eat wheat once a year for a couple of weeks when we came across some ripening wheat while hunting around the Black Sea.   Think grass seed, only bigger.   Now we have changed wheat to be much more calorie containing, grown it in vast fields and storing it for year-around use. Then we added 28 more chromosomes from other grasses and presto, modern wheat, loaded with lectins.   And then Pillsbury made us fine white flour and Dunkin made donuts.   Or bagels, or bread, or cookies.   We now eat wheat year around.   Lectins bind to the cells in our gut and add to their damage, leading to leaky gut. Leaky gut can’t absorb some things, and let other compounds get through without being digested.   With that, even the lectins get absorbed because they are very tough to digest, and may even be the primary cause of leptin resistance

What’s the problem with leptin resistance?   It ruins your appetite feedback cycle and may be one of the primary underlying causes of obesity. What’s the problem with leaky gut?   This may be the foundation of autoimmune disease.   We want you to have the means to reverse that foundation. This is a tricky one to prove because the subtle effect takes years to have an impact, and our food supply is to complex you can’t nail down any one source of anything.   But the physiology has been “discovered” and partially worked out and the mechanisms are there, just not proven yet. The premise of all of this is that we have to start considering the impact of low-grade inflammation and irritation as the root cause of much illness. Hmmm.   It’s a hard one to prove, so traditional medicine steers away from it.   We can't ignore it, it's happening to all of us. 

 WWW. What will work for me.  Well, I feel better when I eat less grain and less legumes.   I can feel it. I don’t get much effect from avoiding tomatoes and eggplant. And I love cream cheese and cheese.   I suspect the only real way to prove to yourself is to try a 3-4 week trial of avoiding one food group at a time.   But I have a suspicion this story isn’t over. I wanted you to learn the basics because it’s so interesting.   

 Pop Quiz

  1. Lectins are poisons? T or F                     Answer:  True
  1. They are present mostly in plants, with wheat being the champion and tomatoes right behind? T or F                       Answer:   Trick question. True on the wheat, soy right behind.   Tomatoes present but down the list a bit
  1. Lectins are sticky and bind to gut lining cells, damaging them. T or F                      Answer:  That's it
  1. And thereby cause……what?                          Answer:   Leaky gut
  1. Leptins are hard to digest and get absorbed easily and cause internal damage too.   T or F Answer: True
  1. Milk can contain leptins if cows are fed corn and beans. T or F.                       Answer:   True again