This week’s article is going to get a bit technical but hang in there, it’s worth the read. What you will learn today will certainly take you on a path of self-discovery and maybe even change your life, or someone else’s you know, I kid you not.
‘So, what is this almighty information I have for you?’ I hear you screaming, well it is all about an irritating little protein called Lectin and what it does to your body.
Plants evolve and grow, just like us humans and their purpose is to continue to grow generation after generation. In doing so, plants have evolved a rather nifty system to protect themselves from being simply eaten and their hard fought lineage being stopped in its tracks.
They protect their future with a toxic and indigestible coating around the reproductive part of their seed called……..wait for it……..you’re gona love this………LECTINS!
Now let’s take a simple story of a bear and a blueberry. Barney the bear eats the blueberry and enjoys the nutritional value and anti-oxidants that the blueberry gives it. During digestion the reproductive seed of the berry protects itself with toxins so that it cannot be digested. It passes through the bear and is deposited in a warm fertiliser to continue on its evolutionary journey the next time the bear goes and does a number 2 in the woods. All is well, but there is a catch…
Lectins are found in the seeds of plants and they protect the reproductive cells of the plant by causing considerable intestinal distress (diarrhoea, nausea, bloating, vomiting, even death) to those who eat the seeds, in hopes of deterring the predator from coming back for more.
So we know why Lectins are created and some of the ways they protect their species but how do they affect us humans when we eat them?
Well, if you dig a little deeper, you will see how eating them is probably the leading cause of the majority of the modern day diseases we suffer from today. Seriously, there are so many possible outcomes to eating wheat, grains and legumes that it is almost impossible to monitor.
Here are some of the ways lectins cause havoc in our system.
Wheat contains a lectin called wheat germ agglutinin, or WGA. Lectins are sticky and the WGA goes into our small intestine and kind of sinks into the lining. It then tricks your body into taking it across the border of your intestine intact, where it is seen as a foreign invader by your immune system. Antibodies are created in response to the lectins but here is where the problem starts. Remember I said at the beginning that this would be a bit technical today, well here it comes.
Lectins have a very similar look and feel to our body as healthy cells already in our body, they can even have compatible receptors which match our healthy cells, so, they may be taking up receptor sites for the pancreas for example which should be used by other enzymes or hormonal messengers.
Now the body becomes confused, it has a cellular structure attached to the pancreas that is regarded as an undesirable invader and so it instils an immune response and attacks the invader with antibodies.(Still with me?) Unfortunately, because the lectins look a lot like the cells of the pancreas, the anti-bodies begin to attack them too. In essence we begin to attack our own healthy cells thinking they are an infection. In this example of the pancreas, the result is Type 1 diabetes which is the result of our own bodies attacking the pancreatic cells. This is very different to Type 2 diabetes which is the result of extreme insulin resistance at the cell sites
This can take place anywhere in the body, I have known cases affecting the kidneys, brain, lungs, etc., creating autoimmune issues like ulcerative colitis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and renal failure.
Because the lectins also circulate throughout the bloodstream they can bind to any tissue in the body — thyroid, pancreas, collagen in joints, etc. In sensitive people, and there are a lot of them, this can disrupt the function of that tissue and cause white blood cells to attack the lectin-bound tissue, destroying it. This is an autoimmune response. The lectins in wheat for example, are specifically known to be involved in rheumatoid arthritis.
To make things worse, on their way into your body, lectins damage the walls of your intestines, helping to create “permeable gut”, so that other large particles can cross the intestinal barrier, enter your blood stream and begin other immune cascades. This is basically how food sensitivities start. Something goes in (like the WGA) and makes some holes in your gut that lets big particles of food into your blood stream. Then your immune system gets VERY overwhelmed and confused and starts attacking things at random – gluten, blueberries, asparagus, olive oil, etc. Symptoms can range from migraine headaches to eczema to weight gain and depression.
Something to ponder on then is this; why is it that some people react to the lectins in foods while others seem to be unaffected by the same foods?
Interestingly, many people who think they do not have a problem or reaction to foods actually do, in fact as many as 75% of the population is probably intolerant to gluten in wheat. So many people go through their lives thinking it is normal to be bloated after a meal or to have aching joints as you get older, think again, it may well be (in fact it probably is) either an inflammatory or auto immune response to something they are eating. Imagine getting older with hardly any aches and pains, that’s got to be a great place to end up!
Ok, so aside from the people who don’t actually realise that they are having some kind of systemic inflammatory response in their body because they think it’s ‘normal’ to feel that way, how about the people who really do have no problems with these foods? What makes them so special?
Well, believe it or not, the ironically, the answer lies in the gut! If the balance of gut flora and a person’s immune system are right then we are on to a winner. The right beneficial gut flora will create a barrier against substances that travel through the intestines, including lectins. The specific protective tissues the flora produces are mucin and secretory Immunoglobulin A Mucin, lies in the mucous lining of the intestines. When lectins enter the intestines they tend to bind to the mucin rather than permeate the gut lining causing problems.
Secretory Immunoglobulin A is one of the most abundant antibodies found in the body and will happily bind lectins, preventing them from causing damage.
So to help with any kind of health issue you may have that may be autoimmune in nature of inflammatory the first thing to do is cut out foods with lectins in, the list is wide and varied and using a little know tool called Google will give you all the usual suspects and I dare say, many more you did not even think of. Take a good look, then take them out of your diet and see how you feel, even if you don’t think you have any problems, remember, most people don’t even realise they have a problem!