What Are Lectins?

In our search for optimal health we are taking a look at lectins in food. If we cannot digest these tough little protein-sugar molecules found in our very common foods like wheat, dairy and soy, they insinuate themselves into our tissues causing inflammation, misery and disease. Wouldn’t it be a shame to suffer so much simply because we’re ignorant of the fact that some of our daily foods are gradually killing us in a slow painful, incapacitating way?

If we get smart about what’s affecting our bodies, we can live vibrantly and joyfully fulfill our God-given purposes.

So, what are lectins?

Here’s one of the better definitions from MedicineNet:

Lectin: A complex molecule that contains both protein and sugar. Lectins are made by both animals and plants and are able to bind to the outside of a cell and cause biochemical changes in it.

Let’s dissect that definition a bit further.

You could think of a lectin as a key that goes into special kind of carbohydrate lock. These carbohydrate locks project from the surfaces of all cell membranes. When the a lectin shaped like the right key inserts into one of these locks on the gut wall, gland, artery or other tissue it opens the lock. That starts the cascade of damage to the cell membrane and the cell itself that may lead to a cascade of immune and autoimmune processes leading to impairment or death of the cell.

But are all lectins harmful?

Actually lectins are found throughout plants and animals and serve valuable purposes like regulating protein levels in the blood and recognizing certain types of carbohydrates that are only found on the cell membranes of germs. When the lectins discover these foreign invaders, they initiate an immune response to attack and get rid of them. Thus they serve a valuable purpose in plants, animals and us.

Plant seeds commonly have the highest concentration of lectins, possibly to help the seed germinate and survive any fungal or other parasitic attack. As the plant grows, the level of lectins present in it decreases.

Consequently, the seeds that we eat have the higher concentrations of lectins including cereal grains, beans, nuts and other seeds. Cooking and sprouting these seeds may decrease the adverse lectin effects on the persons that consume them.

Unfortunately though, cooking and sprouting (or fermenting) the cereal grains like wheat does not reduce the adverse effects of the lectins on our tissues.

Why are wheat lectins so tough?

Wheat has for centuries been selectively bred to contain higher levels of protein. Unfortunately the lectin levels have also increased in this process. And we simply have great difficulty digesting these tough little proteins.

The vicious cycle goes on and on and on…

The lectins then damage the lining of our guts which decreases our ability to digest anything, especially the tough lectins which further damage the gut cells. Can you see how this vicious cycle develops?

The lectins become more easily absorbed through the damaged intestinal lining (mucosa) and make their way to our cells where they can damage any of our tissues including our hormone producing glands, brain and nervous tissue.

Besides wheat, soy and dairy products contain problematic lectins.

So what’s a person to do?

Obviously, it’s a good idea to give yourself a trial off of wheat. Then see how you feel. But that’s much easier said than done since wheat hides in so many prepared foods.

And wheat may not be the only culprit. The other grains contain problematic lectins too as do dairy and soy products, other legumes and nuts and seeds.

A good starting point:

The eating plan in Dr. Jo’s Natural Healing Cookbook provides you a simple way to eliminate the food most commonly causing lectin problems in our bodies. Follow the initial recommendations. If you still don’t feel optimally well, then eliminate even the alternative grains listed in that eating plan.

To review the first article in this series read:

Is Wheat Killing You?

For more complete information on testing for the effect of lectins on your body read:

Lectin Elimination Plan


Dr. Jo

About Dr. Jo

Dr. JoDr. Jo delights in sharing the message of health. She believes disease is optional if you know how to take care of yourself. And she’s a great coach to help you reverse or prevent disease.

So she writes this blog to keep you up to date with information that may undermine your health if you are not aware of it. She also provides tips on healthy living, how to reverse degenerative diseases, delicious recipes, and ways to enjoyably change your habits to healthy ones.

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