Lectins are special proteins developed by plants to protect themselves. They are present in all plants.
They bind to sugars or carbohydrates (part of a cell’s wall). The famous one is Gluten, but there are a lot more. Gluten problems are not “allergies,” but are actually toxic reactions. It is the binding of the lectin to the sugar that changes everything. Depending on what lectin it is and to what sugar it binds, it will lead to various consequences. It changes the activity of various hormones (insulin), immune system (autoimmune), neurologic (Parkinson’s disease) and anatomic barriers (the gut leading to “leaky gut” or GERD). They can disrupt various systems.
Some of our defenses against lectins are mucus, gastric acid and good bacteria. Mucus (mouth to anus) is loaded with sugar, and this is what lectins bind to and now cannot go anywhere else. The stomach acid and digestive enzymes breakdown or neutralize many lectins. Many of our good bacteria can destroy the lectins. That is if we do not consume too many lectins, and that is a major problem because most of us do. Our defenses can be overwhelmed and breached. Many lectins bind with certain receptors on the intestinal cells and make them produce a chemical compound called Zonulin . This breaks down the glue between our inner intestinal wall and creates spaces between those cells allowing all sorts of things to enter our body, without permission. (This is the leaky gut.)
Consider this, as noted above when we eat, the digestive process kills half of our gut bacteria. The bacteria break apart into pieces. The bacterial wall is something we call endotoxin, which can be bad. If we consume lectins, they pry open our gut wall and allow the pieces of bacterial wall (known as lipopolysaccharide or LPS) to enter. This is for good and bad bacteria. Those WBCs in and around the gut wall cannot tell a good bacterial wall from a bad one, so they react to all of them. It gets worse. There is something called molecular mimicry, where the body has difficulty telling good from bad because they look so similar. Sort of like words that sound the same but have different meanings (two or too or to). So now, the WBCs see the LPS breach the intestinal wall and attack them by making antibodies to destroy it. The problem is that many times these things look like pancreas, thyroid, joints, nerves, heart, brain and other organs. So, when you are exposed to these lectins, you are making antibodies to your normal tissues, and this is what autoimmune disorders are.
An example: The lectin wheat germ agglutinin ( WGA ) makes the intestinal cells produce Zonulin which pry open the space between the cells and allows it entry. As it turns out, WGA looks very similar to insulin. The way insulin works is this. We eat carbohydrates which raise our blood sugar that is sensed by the pancreas that makes insulin. The insulin travels through the body and attaches to an insulin receptor present on every cell in us. This attachment opens the door, momentarily, to allow one sugar to enter. When that occurs the insulin detaches and goes to another cell before it disintegrates. WGA can also attach to the insulin receptors and do the same; however they stay on and do not detach. Some significant differences, with muscle nerve and brain cells, the WGA blocks the entry of sugar into the cell, so they starve. So now the brain thinks you are not eating and makes you feel hungry and stimulates your appetite. However, your fat cells are different. When WGA attaches to them, it allows sugar to enter and get turned into fat, because that is what fat cells do. So, your brain thinks you are hungry and your fat cells are being force fed. What do you think the result is? Yes, you put weight on. By the way for those of you who are on a low carb diet, remember, when you eat a lot of protein, that excess protein is converted to sugar by our liver. Has anyone on one of those diets ever gotten to a point of not being able to lose any more weight? Take notice. By the way, WGA is also involved with arthritis. Some of the antibodies against WGA also cross react with our joints (molecular mimicry again) and increase joint pain after consuming this. A lot of people take glucosamine and get relief from their joint pain. The way this works, is that the glucosamine binds the WGA, and other lectins, in your intestine so it reduces the exposure to WGA. Reduce or eliminate WGA and the majority of people find the arthritis improves or even goes away, like magic!
Type A1 dairy (see Dairy tab) has a protein that becomes a lectin, as we digest it. This does bad things.
Lectins are present in grains, legumes and many fruits.
There is a high concentration of lectins in seeds and skin of plants.
When animals eat protein lectins, they typically wind up in their muscle (meat), milk and eggs. When we eat these, it winds up in us.
Soybean oil is loaded with lectins and is the most commonly consumed fat in the USA and plays a major role in the development of obesity and diabetes.
Lectins are now known to be able to “crawl” inside nerves. It has been shown that lectins can travel up the vagus nerve from the stomach to the area of the substantia nigra in the brain and get deposited in an area that leads to Parkinson’s disease. In fact, a recent Danish study showed that after a full truncal vagotomy (when the nerve is cut to help patients with stomach ulcers) the risk of Parkinson’s was reduced by 40%.
The more we learn, it becomes clearer that we should endeavor to reduce, if not eliminate, lectins from our diet.