Updated March 2020
Every bit of life has a defense mechanism; lions have their claws and teeth, squids have ink and humans have their tools.
A lot of people forget (or don’t realize) that plants also have their own defense mechanisms to protect them from predators.
Lectins are the answer to animals that enjoy eating:
- Raw nuts
- Legumes (especially soy)
- Nightshade plants (eggplant, tomato, potato and pepper)
The lectins found in these plants can cause digestive problems, leaky gut syndrome and chronic inflammation when ingested regularly. (1, 2, 3)
What are lectins?
Lectins can be found in both humans and plants, and they are a protein that binds carbohydrates together. (4)
They are sticky molecules that help bind sugars and cause functional shifts in the body, while also protecting plants and supporting immunological function within their species. (5)
How do they protect the plants, you ask?
Lectins have been reported to damage the gastrointestinal lining and create states of chronic systemic inflammation, helping to stop animals from eating them again. (6)
Here is a video I did recently that explains more about lectins, autoimmune disease and low Thyroid disease here
Lectins and the digestive tract
Lectins have been shown to bind with intestinal lining, especially the villis. Villi are pockets in the small intestine that nutrients enter before moving into the bloodstream.
When the lectins bind with, and damage, these pockets, the body has trouble moving nutrients into the bloodstream, and can cause aggressive inflammation, leading to dysbiotic gut flora, encouraging parasites and other pathogenic organisms to move in. (7)
The end result is leaky gut syndrome, meaning the intestinal lining has open gaps that allow lectins and other particles, and pathogenetic organisms into the bloodstream.
Lectins that are in the bloodstream are attracted to the insulin and leptin receptors, desensitizing the receptors, creating insulin and leptin resistence. (8) This is also the way that lectins can lead to weight gain and fat loss resistence.
Lectins and chronic inflammation
The body begins to tag lectins as antigens as they begin to build up in the body, creating an immune response to the particles. This leads to an auto-immune reaction, causing the immune system to attack whatever the lectins are attached to. (9)
As the body becomes more sensitive to the lectins, the body will quickly become inflamed after ingesting high-lectin foods.
The mistaken identity of lectins
People with gluten sensitivity can have quite a few of the same symptoms and problems as those suffering a high-lectin intake. This stems from wheat, whose lectins are called wheat germ aggluten (WGA).
A lot of people have a high sensitivity to WGA, which in turn is confused with gluten sensitivity. (10) This leads to plenty of negative gluten sensitivity tests and a heap of confusion, because WGA, and not gluten, is the cause of their inflammatory problems.
Lectin removal myth
It is widely believed that lectins can be removed by boiling, soaking or sprouting grains, nuts, legumes, and so on.
While this does help to reduce the phytic acid, the lectin concentration is not reduced. Lectins are also resistant to photolytic and enzymatic activity, which explains the difficulty in digesting them.
People attempting to eat a healthy diet often consume high amounts of unsoaked and unrefined nuts, and large amounts of wholegrain- This is especially true with Vegans and Vegetarians. This leads to digestive trouble due to the high lectin volume, and people begin to wonder why their healthy diet makes them feel worse, rather than better.
If you are eating or intend to eat high-lectin food regularly and want to continue, I would suggest taking a good digestive enzyme to reduce the potential negative side effects.
Personally, I use a digestive enzyme when eating out or wanting to eat a high-lectin meal, as well as when intending to eat larger than average meals.