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The science is far from settled, but people who struggle with their weight or chronic disease may want to give diets that restrict lectins a go. A new review of published research suggests this could be one of the answers to better health.

Lectin-restricted diets – like the Paleo diet and Ketogenic diet – copy much of what our early ancestors ate during their hunter/gatherer days. Dr. Gundry’s diet-plan focuses on grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, lectin-free vegetables, pastured Omega-3 eggs, certain in-season fruits, and other foods – while avoiding processed foods, grains, and regular dairy products, among other items. Learn more about the approved foods for a lectin free diet.

One of the biggest benefits is the restriction of lectins – a class of toxic proteins found in many grains, beans, legumes, some nuts, some fruits, and some vegetables – in other words, in large classes of commonly consumed items.

Lectins are proteins that attach easily to carbohydrates and other cells in a process that some health experts believe leads to a range of harmful consequences in the body, from digestive issues to immune problems. This happens on a molecular level, according to Ali Le Vere, a senior researcher with GreenMedinfo.

“Lectins can cause the spaces between the cells lining our intestines to become excessively leaky and allow the entry of foreign immune-provocating agents,” wrote Le Vere in a recent review of literature on the impact of lectins on human health.

You may even find lectins described as “the new gluten,” in reference to a growing body of research that suggests lectins, not gluten, are responsible for digestive health issues and other physical challenges people encounter when consuming certain foods. Some health experts believe lectins are a root cause of weight gain, irritable bowel syndrome, and other ailments.

Those ailments include autoimmune disorders.

Do Lectins Cause an Immune Response?

Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s own immune system attacks itself, and the new research review, which assesses prior studies, suggests that lectin-rich foods can promote an autoimmune response. The thinking is that lectins can lead to less “immunological tolerance,” which is how the immune system can “discriminate self from non-self.”

immune cellsWhen the immune system is confused, it may attack the body’s healthy cells, and a broad range of diseases can result, from type 1 diabetes and Crohn’s disease to rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. All of these diseases are due to a faulty immune function.

In the review, Le Vere describes how the health impact of lectins can accrue “for many years or decades” before the onset of symptoms, making a direct link hard to pin down. Many studies that offer evidence of a harmful link to lectins are animal studies, points out Le Vere.

At present, the science of lectins is “hotly contested,” Le Vere writes. Despite the lack of “high-quality, peer-reviewed human studies,” Le Vere adds that “data is accruing” and that many physicians believe in the research.

Ultimately, “a therapeutic trial of a low-lectin dietary regimen … is deserving of consideration,” Le Vere suggests.

You can learn more about how cooking meat transforms its nutrition and the importance of microbes in a separate review. And you can find references and additional information about lectins from Le Vere’s review here.