Before modern chemical pesticides, nature developed its own powerful defense system: lectins.
To keep themselves from being eaten to extinction, plants evolved dangerous anti-nutrients to attack the digestive systems of the animals that fed on them. These anti-nutrients are essentially low-grade toxins – not powerful enough to kill instantly, they are more of a passive-aggressive defense. “Go ahead and eat me, I’ll mess you up.”
Lectins are a mixture of proteins and carbohydrates that can bind to almost any tissue in our bodies and start causing trouble. This “stickyness” really takes place in your small intestine, where they bind with your intestinal villi.
The result of lectins binding to your small intestine is cellular damage with a reduced ability to repair themselves, cellular death, and compromised villi. All of this leads to you developing “leaky gut” syndrome, as well as reducing your ability to absorb healthy nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals.
This lectin binding also leads to problems with your gut flora, the beneficial bacteria that support digestion and keeps your immune system healthy. When your good gut flora is suppressed, bad bacteria like e coli is allowed to run rampant.
(And it doesn’t take a medical degree to figure out that a leaky gut plus bad bacteria equals health problems)
When lectins are causing problems with your digestive system, your immune systems and bodily resources are all redirected to fixing these problems and won’t be able to focus on basic growth and repair processes (such as building lean muscle, metabolizing fat, repairing organs, and keeping your energy levels high).
Back to leaky gut and lectins. Once the lectins open holes in your digestive system, rogue particles are free to move around in your body and bind to anything they come across – thyroid, pancreas, kidneys, etc.
Your body then reacts to these particles (and whatever they have bonded to) as a foreign invader and attacks them. This leads to autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s, colitis, thyroiditis, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and arthritis.
Some lectins are definitely linked to certain autoimmune disorders – such as wheat to rheumatoid arthritis – but it remains a new area of study. Your best bet is to avoid lectins as much as possible.
All right, so how do lectins do this? When you normally eat food, all of the proteins are broken down into their basic amino acid building blocks and are then absorbed in your small intestine. Lectins are different. Instead of being broken down during digestion, they attach to the cells where nutrient absorption should be taking place. “Barring the door,” so to speak.
Usually, specific immune cells immediately take care of foreign bacteria and un-broken proteins. But lectins are like sneaky little Trojan Horses, they slip past your defenses and then make your intestines easier to penetrate PLUS they impair your immune system’s ability to close holes in your digestive track.
High amounts of lectins are found in all grains, soy, legumes, nuts, dairy, and nightshade plants. (Nightshade plants include eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers)
And there are even more lectins in genetically modified foods, because additional lectins are added to increase “pest” resistance. (Yes, they genetically added things that cause your body to attack itself. Thank you, Monsanto!)
So, what can you do to minimize damage to your body from lectins?
First, stop eating the worst foods! This includes grains and soy for sure, but I would take out legumes and grain-fed dairy as well. Here is some more info on grains and soy:
Ok, once you’ve cut out grains, soy, and legumes, the next step is to eliminate all Genetically Modified Food (GMO). This can be tough to do at the supermarket, your best bet is to get friendly with your local farmer’s market and get local, natural food.
Next, diversify your diet. When you take away grains, soy, and legumes, most people get into a standard rotation of foods. 3 types of protein, 3 types of fruit, 4 kinds of vegetables, 1-2 kinds of nuts. The problem is that consuming only a small number of foods will maximize your sensitivity to any lectins (or allergens) in the food.
Studies have shown that mixing up your primary food sources will limit lectin damage, so a healthy diet based on low-lectin foods will minimize any damage caused by occasional higher-lectin sources.
And finally – this is very important – take care of your digestive system! Minimize use of antibiotics, take probiotics, eat prebiotics (garlic, onions, dandelion greens), get rid of ibuprofen, and de-stress.
Minimizing lectin damage is a big step towards improving your health and changing your body, so get started on the steps above right away!
[EDIT: Check out this post for more cool info on lectins! Your Blood Type And What NOT To Eat]