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The Problem with Lectins

June 17, 2015

Have you ever heard of lectins? Could you give me the one sentence summary of what they do to you? This column will teach you 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 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, such as 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 stored it year around. 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 and 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 so complex that 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.

John E. Whitcomb, M.D. is founder and medical director of Brookfield Longevity & Healthy Living Clinic. He is a Yale University School of Medicine graduate and is board certified in holistic and integrative medicine from Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 5, 2015 5:40 am

    Reblogged this on HK Hypnosis and commented:
    An interesting article.

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