Right now, there are about 100 trillion living beings inside you. Surprised? Don’t be. I’m talking about the microscopic bacteria that make up your microbiome.1
And, believe it or not, these bacteria predate us. That’s right – they’ve been around since long before our ancestors even began roaming the planet.
And don’t worry – bacteria often get a bad rap, but the ones in your gut actually help your body:
- Digest food
- Deliver vitamins
- Get rid of yeast
- Diminish abdominal discomfort
- Lose weight
- Fight against harmful microorganisms2
But that’s not all the bacteria in your gut does …
Consider your gut bacteria a bouncer, or security, manning the door to your gut. It helps your immune system figure out which foods and substances are harmless and should be let in. Conversely, it helps determine which foods may harm you and should be barred from entry.3
This security system has evolved over 80 million years, but it hasn’t been that long since we – and our microbes – have been subjected to new patterns in certain foods.
In the beginning, our diets were pretty simple. But, there have been some major changes in how we eat that have tipped the scales a bit, knocking the balance of power between plants and humans off course.
Each of these changes – or disruptions – has required our bodies to adjust to hard right turns or detours in terms of adjusting to, or resisting, significant changes in our diet. Only lately have scientists and researchers really unearthed the role that lectins play in these changes.
But, if we take a look back at the evolution of the human diet, we might be able to gain a better understanding of where lectins fit (or don’t fit), and how we’ve become so sensitive over the years.
Four major shifts in the human diet…
1. The Agricultural Revolution
About 10,000 years ago, the agricultural revolution changed the way humans had been eating since – well, really since we began eating. Suddenly, grain and beans became the main go-tos for almost every diet – in every culture. The reason for this shift? Well, it’s simple. Grains and beans were –
- Easy to grow
- And kept people full while they were laboring on their feet all day
Previously, people had been scarfing down leaves, tubers, and protein. Their guts had never really come across grains and legumes before, and their immune systems had no experience in dealing with lectins.
Skipping forward about 5,000 years, Egypt began feeding its people from massive granaries. We know, from studying the remains of those ancient wheat eaters, their collective health was a mess – wheat eating Egyptians died overweight, likely diabetic, with clogged arteries and terrible tooth decay caused by their high grain diet.4
So, grains, and legumes have always been toxic – but, who’d opt for starvation over cheap, accessible, abundant food?
2. A Mutation in Cows
This one might sound like a bit of science fiction, but it’s actually just science.
Turns out, about 2,000 years ago, a spontaneous mutation in cows in Northern Europe caused them to start making a new protein – casein A-1. But, the normal protein humans were used to for centuries was casein A-2.
The problem is, casein A-1 actually morphs into a lectin-like protein called beta-casomorphin (BCM) during digestion. BCM then latches onto the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. These are called beta cells. When the BCM latches, it instigates an immune attack on those who’ve consumed the milk.5
The cows in Southern European – along with goats and sheep – never experienced the mutation. Thankfully, A2 milk is available in stores – along with goat and sheep milk products. So skip conventional dairy – your body will thank you.
3. Plants from the New World
Now, if we travel back about 500 years, we’ll bump into another major change in lectin exposure – and this might actually be the most substantial change of all.
When Europeans reached the Americas, they came across a bunch of new vegetables and fruit. These new world foods include, but aren’t limited to:
- The nightshade family (eggplant, tomato)
- The bean family (legumes, peanuts, cashews)
- New grains (pseudograins like amaranth and quinoa)
- The squash family (pumpkins, acorn squash, zucchini)
- Chia and other new seeds
Until Europeans reached the Americas, no European had consumed these foods. And, until Europeans began to trade these foods with populations in Asia or Africa, nobody in those cultures had either.
Five hundred years may seem like a lot, but considering that your gut bacteria have been evolving for over 80 million years – it’s really just a blip. We either need much more time to adjust or to ignore these foods, in order to allow our bodies to function properly.
4. Modern Innovation
In the last 50 years, we’ve been bombarded with all kinds of processed foods letting loose a whole new range of lectins. Most recently, the food industry has added genetically modified organisms (GMOs) like soybeans, corn, tomatoes, and canola to the market. These lectins are brand new to us, and with the introduction of antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals – well, we’re literally destroying the gut bacteria responsible for helping our bodies process these lectins. Our immune systems are getting mixed messages, and the upset in communication is wreaking havoc on our bodies.
In the end, we simply can’t assume our bodies will adapt to deal with the onslaught of lectins and new chemicals we’ve started ingesting in such a short period of time.
Again, the bacteria in your gut is old – even 1,000 years is too short a time for your body to adapt to significant changes when it comes to evolution.
And when we add new medication or man-made chemicals like artificial sweeteners to our diets – we really have no chance. We can’t expect our bodies to know how to handle these substances immediately – or even in under a century or two.
But, the world is changing quickly, and it seems there’s a new food on the market shelves almost daily. How can we keep up? Part of the answer is reverting to the lectin-free diet of our ancestors. For more information on how to reduce lectins in your diet, click here and read 15 ways to reduce lectins in your diet.
For more health and wellness advice, keep reading:
1. Zhang, Yu-Jie et al. “Impacts Of Gut Bacteria On Human Health And Diseases”. N.p., 2017. Print.
2. Probiotics: In Depth | NCCIH. (2017). NCCIH.
3.”Uterine Microbiota Play A Key Role In Implantation And Pregnancy Success In In Vitro Fertilization”. ScienceDaily. N.p., 2017. Web. 13 June 2017.
5. Pal, Sebely et al. “Milk Intolerance, Beta-Casein And Lactose”. N.p., 2017. Print.