Lectins are the proteins that force carbs and sugars to clump together. Sure, they’re found all over the vegetable kingdom, but they’re a plant’s greatest defense against us – and they’re toxic.
When you ingest them, the consequences can be pretty severe. Lectins are thought to cause:
- Digestive issues
- Leaky gut
… and a mess of other health concerns.
How do lectins wreak such havoc?
Well, when you eat a seed, certain grains, or the skins of fruit, lectins scout out the sugars in your body, looking for the ones they can latch onto most easily. One of their faves is sialic acid – a type of sugar found in your brain, gut, nervous tissue, and even in human milk.1,2
This ability to latch onto sugars and bind carbs earns lectins the name sticky proteins.
But sticky proteins interfere with the normal functioning of the person who eats them.3
Often, lectins can get in the way of important cells communicating with one another. When that happens, the body’s response is usually inflammation or some other type of reaction to toxicity, like nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting.4
Furthermore, the sticky nature of lectins can allow them to fuse to harmful bacteria and viruses. And they can actually help those bacteria and viruses stick to cells in your body. So, in some cases, people with lectin sensitivities might also get sick or infected more often than those without sensitivities.
Luckily, though, our bodies are prepared to fight against lectins. In fact, in a sense, we’ve got physiological armor.
Your body’s built to defend itself against lectins
Now, you’ve got to understand – even though lectins can be toxic or cause inflammation … and even though they can really upset your body’s internal messaging system …
We’ve developed our own system of defense – in fact, all animals have – to make lectins ineffective, or at least dull their impact. This system of defense has many layers and protects us from many of the toxic effects of plants – especially those caused by lectins.
Your body’s five natural defenses against lectins
The saliva in your mouth is what’s known as a mucopolysaccharide. This word literally means “many sugars.” And this configuration of sugars in your mouth is only there for one reason – to snare lectins and prevent them from making their way deeper into your body.
You just read it above – lectins like to bind themselves to sugars. You know the feeling you get when you eat a jalapeño or some cayenne? Your nose starts to run, right? Well, that’s simply your body letting you know you’ve eaten something that contains lectins. Your body doles out an extra dose of saliva to trap the lectins you just ingested, including an extra sheet of saliva to coat your esophagus, so your meal can make it’s way through your digestive tract.
It’s yet another reason you want to drink your water. Saliva’s made of water. To keep your body’s system of defense working properly, stay hydrated. Then, should you come into contact with lectins, your body will be ready to flush them through your system.
2. Stomach acid
Hydrochloric acid is secreted by the stomach as a major defense, protecting your body against toxins and pathogens ingested with the food you eat.5 In many cases, your stomach acid can digest certain lectins, but unfortunately it can’t get to them all. It is, however, an essential defense that at least eases the burden of lectin digestion.
Your mouth and gut are full of microorganisms which have evolved to thoroughly consume many kinds of lectins. These bacteria provide a wonderful protection as they do away with many lectins before they can reach and wreak havoc on the wall of your gut.
And, it turns out, the longer you have been eating a particular plant lectin – like gluten, for example – the longer you have been breeding gut bacteria whose purpose is to deactivate those lectins.6
So, if you wipe out all gluten from your diet, the gluten-eating bugs die off; then if you accidentally consume something that contains gluten and you didn’t know it did, you can’t digest it. The result … significant discomfort.
4. The mucosal layer
This is the layer of mucus secreted by certain cells throughout your intestines. Just like the mucus in your nose, mouth, and throat, this layer of gut mucus acts as a barrier. It creates a seal, keeping the plant compounds you’ve consumed in the gut where they belong. Then, the sugars in the mucus hold and absorb lectins.
Now, the first four lectin defenses do a decent job of protecting your body from lectins, but lectins can find their way into your diet in many different ways. So, even though your body does its best, the sugars in the mucosal layers get used up and the next wave of lectins can basically chart their own course directly to your gut.
So the fifth defense is really the most important. And that’s …
5. Your brain
You see, it’s not enough to simply rely on the physiological defenses your body has against lectins. You’ve got to engage your mind. So, when you discover there’s a food that can cause a problem, you’ve got to tell yourself, “No thank you,” and simply walk away. Leave it on the shelf.
In the end …
If the temptation is too great, and you simply must eat a lectin-rich food, only do so rarely. Set yourself up for success. Give your body’s defenses the time they need to call for backup and reboot – your body will thank you.
For more helpful health articles, keep reading here:
1.Wang, B, and J Brand-Miller. “The Role And Potential Of Sialic Acid In Human Nutrition”. N.p., 2017. Print.
2.”Antinutritional Properties Of Plant Lectins – Sciencedirect”. Sciencedirect.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 13 June 2017.
3.Peumans, Willy. “Lectins As Plant Defense Proteins”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC157596/pdf/1090347.pdf. N.p., 1995. Print.
4.Peumans, Willy. “Lectins As Plant Defense Proteins”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC157596/pdf/1090347.pdf. N.p., 1995. Print.
5.JL, Smith. “The Role Of Gastric Acid In Preventing Foodborne Disease And How Bacteria Overcome Acid Conditions. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 13 June 2017.
6.Sanz, Yolanda. “Effects Of A Gluten-Free Diet On Gut Microbiota And Immune Function In Healthy Adult Humans”. N.p., 2017. Print.