Lectins are getting a lot of attention these days, as increasing scientific findings concerning their impact on health are discovered. In my Functional Health practice, IB SolutionsMethod.com, I have been teaching patients about lectins for years as part of their ongoing “Gut Education.”
What is a Lectin?
Lectins are found in most of the plants that grow in the world. They are the natural toxic insecticides hidden in grains, seeds and legumes, part of a plant’s natural defense system to help the plant defend itself against predators like insects, animals, mold, fungi…and of course, people.
Animals and humans may get sick and even die after consuming lectins, especially in the case of plants with more highly evolved (meaning more toxic) lectin systems.
What Plants Contain Lectins?
- Grains: all grains, including wheat, barley, rye, oats, rice, corn, millet, amaranth, couscous, bulgar, farina, kamut, semolina, spelt, teff, sorghum, montina flour, buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa.
- Legumes: all beans, plus soy, peanuts, cashews, lentils, seeds and peas.
- Foods incorporating genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
- All dairy products, including cheese (fresh or aged), yogurt, kefir, etc.
- Yeast, molds and bacteria
- Meat products derived from grain-fed animals
- Peanut and soy oil
- Fruit out of season
- Gums, such as: carrageenan, guar, acacia and locust Bean
How Does a Lectin do Its Job?
Lectins are very grabby. They have carbohydrate and protein claws and hooks, which seek other carbohydrates and proteins to attach to.
Picture a mountaineer attacking an icy mountain: a sharp ice axe in each hand, spiked ice-climbing shoes, and ropes. Lectins are like the axes and spikey shoes, digging into the colon cells, tearing them up as they attach, desperately trying to prevent expulsion and kill their “predator.” Lectins are the plants’ defensive mechanism against pests that would eat them: the damage done to the pest typically kills it. As we try to digest these foods, our own colons can get torn and ripped up.
The good news here is that a colon cell can repair itself in two to three hours. But…if the next meal contains lectins, that wound is ripped open again before it is truly healed. With a constant diet of lectins, a battleground is created in your colon. The poor colon cells become tired, incapable of repairing themselves fast enough. They die prematurely. Looking at the list above, you can see how common lectins are, and how easy it would be to over-consume them, especially in the modern-day world diet of the developed world.
Every three to seven days a brand new colon cell is made. So there is hope.
Defend against lectins by:
- First, create a healthy body environment where rapid healing takes place.
- Limit both quantity and frequency of lectins consumed.
- If you are in a program of colon repair to let your colon rest from this high level of demand by avoiding lectins altogether for a period of time.
Beyond the Colon
Lectin intolerance reactions occur initially in the gut, but can then proceed to the immune system. If your gut is “leaky,” meaning that the thin mucosal lining it has, has been breached (that lining is supposed to act as its boundaries keeping substances in and substances out), “bad guys,” such as lectins, are allowed to escape the gut through exhausted junctures that are no longer tight.
From there, the general circulatory system is affected (artery walls, red blood cells) and thereafter the brain, organs and glands.
You are “lectin intolerant” when your body is unable to prevent the lectins from binding to your gut wall, and they are allowed to penetrate and invade your organs, brain and/or glands. When lectins invade your internal systems, the body triggers an autoimmune response and may display symptoms of autoimmune and/or degenerative diseases.
Symptoms of Lectin Intolerance
One man’s food is another man’s poison. Some of us tolerate certain foods better than others, and some of us can tolerate more challenging foods better in certain seasons of our lives when we have less stress, and we are younger and healthier. In more challenging seasons – stressed, older, already ill – we may be unable to handle them.
All these can be signs of lectin intolerance:
- skin eruptions
- joint pain
- muscle aches
- “brain fog”
- water retention
- high blood pressure
Are You at Risk for Lectin Intolerance?
If any of these apply to you, then the answer may be YES:
- Psychological stress
- Antibiotic use
- Vegan diet
- Excessive intense exercise
- Too little sun exposure
- Sleep deprivation
- Low omega-3 fatty acid consumption
- Toxic exposure
- Processed foods consumption
- Prescription medication use
- Nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs (NSID) use
- Genetic predisposition
- Low secretory IgA
- Malabsorption syndrome
- Standard American diet
- Your blood type (mainly O)
- Body fluid retention
How to Neutralize Lectins
Avoiding lectins altogether may seem nearly impossible, but it can be done, and sometimes it is vitally necessary. I recommend everyone at least get conscious of them and reduce them in order to reduce inflammation in the body and allow the colon to heal in between their consumption. To make them easier for the colon to handle, follow the following tips:
Fermenting foods before eating allows good bacteria to go to work to break down and synthesize lectins into helpful molecules, reducing the plant’s defensive and toxic substances. This is akin to “predigestion.” Perhaps that’s one of the main reasons the healthiest of all cultures consume so many fermented foods. Fermenting doesn’t eliminate all lectins’ toxicity, but does work to neutralize it.
2. Deseed and Peel
Lectins hide in the skin and the seeds. By physically peeling and deseeding lectin-rich plants before cooking or consuming them, you can significantly reduce their highest lectin concentration.
To significantly reduce the lectins in beans, rinse them three to four times, discard water, bring to a boil and then soak again overnight with a bit of baking soda in that water. Rinse again before boiling them the next day to complete cooking.
4. Pressure Cook
Preparing beans, tomatoes or potatoes is best done with pressure cooking. It won’t destroy all lectins but can reduce them significantly.
Testing for Lectin Intolerance
Sometimes I order lectin intolerance testing for my clients when it appears indicated. Lectin sensitivity testing is part of a full spectrum of specialized Functional lab testing aimed at evaluating the overall status of the eleven systems of the body, and identifying the possible root cause of any illness. I use it when I want to measure non-specific immune responses, blood type, and IgE,M,G,D. In addition, I also use another very comprehensive specialized delayed immune response test for certain know lectin foods, also via blood. Specialized stool testing can also reveal lectin intolerance, as well as active infections, including parasites and candida.
For a weak colon, for someone displaying symptoms of intolerance, or for anyone undergoing a program of gut repair or restoration, I recommend complete avoidance of lectins altogether.
For optimal gut health, even without any symptoms of lectin intolerance, I recommend limiting lectin-rich foods and mitigating their potential toxicity via the above methods. In addition, allow time to elapse in between their consumption for your colon to “re-arm” itself to battle them again. Lectins are not necessarily a “bad food,” but you’ll need to let your mighty colon operate at its highest level of functionality to handle them as it should.
How about you?
Are lectins your personal friend or foe? Leave me a comment below about how you handle them. Share with someone who needs this info!