The Lectin paradox (Part 2 of 3)

The Lectin Paradox (Part 2/3)

Myth #2: Everyone Has a Lectin Issue.

Are you enjoying the abundance and diversity of produce available in August? This time of year I look forward to my weekly trips to the farmer’s market. And yet, what good would it be if you can’t eat the foods you most enjoy? Last week, we debunked the pervasive myth that all lectin-containing foods are bad when we learned that lectins come in different forms and that some may even have health benefits.

But before you go stocking your reusable shopping bags with tomatoes, peppers, and black beans, we have to face the reality that even though not all lectins are equally bad, many of us still experience extremely unforgettable symptoms — like bloating, gas, headaches, and even vomiting — after eating them. What gives? 

Answering this question forces me to challenge yet another extremely common lectin myth, which is that everyone has a lectin issue. Does everyone REALLY have a lectin issue? And if so, why has this become a problem recently when it seemingly hasn’t been in the past?

The simple fact that not everyone experiences side effects from lectins should be the first big hint that ‘No, we don’t all have a lectin issue.’

I’ve long suspected there’s another unseen factor working behind the scenes and causing some to develop an intolerance to lectins, whereas others do not. 

But what is this factor? 

This week, we’re diving into what I believe is the true root cause of so-called lectin issues. And surprise! It doesn’t have much to do with lectins at all, even though lectins can contribute to the problem. 

In my practice, I’ve seen dozens of patients go from being lectin intolerant to lectin tolerant by healing their gut, which I believe is the underlying factor in many lectin issues.

Understanding the Gut-Lectin Connection

I’ve observed firsthand what a huge role your gut plays in how damaging lectins can be. You see, your gut harbors about a hundred trillion microbes, which include up to a thousand different species of bacteria, a few dozen types of yeasts and fungi, an unknown number of viruses, and an occasional worm. Collectively, these are called the “gut microbiome.”

Our understanding of the human gut microbiome is still in its infancy, but newer research shows that it can impact human health and illness in many different ways, including affects our mood, immune systems, energy levels, and our ability to tolerate various foods, including lectins. 

In a healthy gut, everything functions optimally and there is a healthy balance between beneficial bacteria. On a day-to-day level, this means the gut houses a world of friendly, diverse good bacteria that help us digest our food, produce vitamins, and keep unfriendly gut organisms in check. 

When the gut is healthy, it also: 

  • Tells you when you’re full. A healthy gut sends accurate signals to the brain when you are full so that you do not overeat, which means you feel satiated but not overly full after meals. Check out last week’s blog to learn about the connection between leptin and lectin intolerance. 
  • Helps you break down food into absorbable nutrients. A healthy gut secretes just the right amount of digestive juices at the right time, which means that all your food is digested into its component parts. This includes the ability to break down and digest foods rich in lectins. 
  • Supports a healthy gut barrier. A healthy gut has a discerning gut barrier, which means the gut wall allows nutrients to be absorbed but is able to block bacteria, yeast, and other ingredients from entering the bloodstream and causing damage. 

Unfortunately, many of us don’t have a healthy gut. If your gut is unhealthy, you will inevitably suffer from dysbiosis—an imbalance between good and bad bugs in the gut. You may not even know you have a dysbiosis, but what you do know is you feel bloated, icky, tired, mentally foggy, and achy all over. 

But what causes an unhealthy gut in the first place? There are certain lifestyle factors that can impact the health status of our guts. For example, how often you have bowel movements and the medications you take can impact the growth of gut bugs. In fact, antibiotics are probably the number one worldwide culprit for dysbiosis, because while they do the important job of killing harmful bacteria in the body, it can also wipe out the beneficial ones. As you might already guess, what you eat also has a massive influence on your microbiome 16; some foods — like healthy fats and fiber — are great for your microbiome health and other foods, like processed sugars, raw cruciferous vegetables and lectins can irritate the gut and either cause or exacerbate an existing gut issue. I talk about gut-friendly and gut-harming foods extensively in my book, Happy Gut.

Leaky gut and lectin intolerance

If your lifestyle doesn’t support your gut health, you will develop dysbiosis, which will create the ideal environment for another common gut condition, called leaky gut.

Illustration of Normal vs. Leaky Gut

Leaky gut is characterized by a “hyperpermeability” of the gut wall, which exposes your body to partially digested protein molecules from food and toxins.

Think about it like this: Your gut lining acts like a security guard that determines who can come in and who stays out of your bloodstream. When you have a leaky gut, it’s like that security guard has nodded off and anyone can come and go as they please, including lectins. And while that doesn’t sound like the end of the world at first glance, when lectins and other toxins and molecules from food enter the bloodstream, the immune system does not recognize them so it attacks — and that is what causes the terrible symptoms like gut pain, nausea, and bloating. 

The trickiest part is that you may not even be aware of these sensitivities. Food sensitivities don’t always manifest as digestive distress; in fact, they can cause seemingly unrelated body symptoms, such as hives, allergies, chronic sinus inflammation, and migraines without any abdominal pain, bloating, or bowel movement problems, and only eventually become the triggers for irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune disease.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. It’s my belief that lectins often get the blame for problems that really should be blamed on leaky gut. A healthy gut, which includes a healthy balance of gut flora and a strong gut wall, can handle lectin-containing foods better and prevent this immune system attack.

If your lifestyle doesn’t support your gut health, you will develop dysbiosis, which will create the ideal environment for another common gut condition, called leaky gut. Leaky gut is characterized by a “hyperpermeability” of the gut wall, which exposes your body to partially digested protein molecules from food and toxins. Think about it like this: Your gut lining acts like a security guard that determines who can come in and who stays out of your bloodstream. When you have a leaky gut, it’s like that security guard has nodded off and anyone can come and go as they please, including lectins. And while that doesn’t sound like the end of the world at first glance, when lectins and other toxins and molecules from food enter the bloodstream, the immune system does not recognize them so it attacks — and that is what causes the terrible symptoms like gut pain, nausea, and bloating. 

The trickiest part is that you may not even be aware of these sensitivities. Food sensitivities don’t always manifest as digestive distress; in fact, they can cause seemingly unrelated body symptoms, such as hives, allergies, chronic sinus inflammation, and migraines without any abdominal pain, bloating, or bowel movement problems, and only eventually become the triggers for irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune disease.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. It’s my belief that lectins often get the blame for problems that really should be blamed on leaky gut. A healthy gut, which includes a healthy balance of gut flora and a strong gut wall, can handle lectin-containing foods better and prevent this immune system attack.

Revealing the true problem with lectins

As a doctor who specializes in gut health, I’ve observed that if you have a healthy gut with balanced gut flora, the amount of lectins that could create issues is far higher than what most people would eat. That’s because a healthy gut lining produces digestive enzymes that break down lectins and lectins are not allowed to slip through into the blood stream. 19

In other words, while lectins get associated with autoimmune disease and gut imbalances. It’s the other way around!
I’ve found that gut imbalances are often the problem, not just lectins.

As we learned last week, some lectins damage the gut more than others. Kidney bean lectins, for instance, can especially damage the cells within your gut wall, cause bacterial overgrowth, and create nutritional deficiencies. 21 Meanwhile, in people with a healthy gut, some lectin-containing foods such as tomatoes and other fruits are healthy. 18 Clearly, classifying all lectins as “harmful” oversimplifies this broad group of foods.

To be fair, lectins do create problems for patients who have dysbiosis. For these people, lectins can:

  • Interfere with nutrient digestion and absorption
  • Adversely impact the immune system within your digestive tract 22
  • Affect the health of cells in the gut and its ability to heal itself

These issues should not be ignored or underestimated. Let’s say you eat legumes, for example. The lectins in those legumes will resist being broken down in your gut, because they can withstand the acidic environment of your stomach. 23 They end up binding to cells within the gut wall lining.24 If you eat large amounts of them, they can irritate the gut wall, creating symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting, and exacerbating leaky gut, which allows them to slip through the gut all and enter your bloodstream. This sets off the inflammatory response that has a domino effect, resulting in a host of problems. Basically, when you are internally inflamed, more of the calories that you eat are stored as fat and weight gain happens right before your eyes. In addition, an irritated and inflamed gut lining may also interfere with the absorption of other important nutrients. 25

Over time, as lectins get through the gut wall, they can bind to all sorts of tissues in your body, including brain, thyroid, liver, and pancreas, even possibly leading to autoimmune disease. This is the fuel to the fire of autoimmunity. Inflammation leads to a wide range of conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. 26 I call this phenomenon the lectin-autoimmune connection. But as you can see, this is a complex and multifaceted issue. Blaming lectins and lectins alone for all these problems dramatically oversimplifies the issue at hand.

In my practice I find that my patients with lectin intolerance typically start out with a damaged gut.

And while eating lectins may have worsened their condition once the gut became damaged, those lectins alone didn’t actually create the damage in the first place.

Healing lectin intolerance by healing the gut

When lectins attach to the gut lining, they can contribute to leaky gut. 20 That’s the bad news. The good news is that once you fix your leaky gut and rebalance your gut microbiome, you can better tolerate lectin-containing foods (especially when prepared the right way), many of which can be considered a healthy part of a balanced diet. 

So how do you fix leaky gut and rebalance the gut microbiome? You’ll be surprised, the remedy is not all about what you eat, but also about how you live.

7 Steps To Heal Your Leaky Gut

…So You Can Enjoy Lectin-Containing Foods Again

Refined Sugar

Cut down on processed and refined sugar

Eating too much sugar can set you up for dysbiosis by allowing sugar-eating gut bacteria and yeast to grow out of control. This can crowd out beneficial bacteria — the kind you need to make sure lectins aren’t causing uncomfortable symptoms. If you’re craving sugar, try opting for dark chocolate, herbal tea, or a piece of fruit instead.

Move your body every day

There’s an established link between the gut microbiome and physical fitness. But that doesn’t mean you have to have a six-pack or run a marathon to have a healthy gut. Instead, focus on moving your body every single day in some way, which could mean anything from dancing to tennis to a 15-minute jog.

Move your body every day
Make Sleep a Priority

Make sleep a priority

This might come as a surprise, but your gut bacteria are also affected by your sleep schedule. The best way to get better sleep is by establishing a nighttime routine. This doesn’t have to be complicated; in fact, it could be as simple as putting your phone away an hour before bed, having a cup of chamomile tea, dimming the lights and reading your favorite novel.

Find a stress management tool that works for you

Yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, stretching, and journaling are all science-backed tools that help you cope with life’s many challenges and the daily ups and downs. And while you might expect it at first glance, psychological stress is a major risk factor for dysbiosis.

Find a stress management tool that works for you
Only take medications when you actually need them

Only take medications when you actually need them

There’s a time and place for prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications but unfortunately, especially in America, we often overuse these drugs and it sets us up for dysbiosis AND leaky gut. If you want to prioritize your gut health, make sure you’re only taking medications like antibiotics, steroids, and over-the-counter pain relievers if you really need them. Even seemingly benign OTC drugs like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen can lead to leaky gut and dysbiosis when overused. And if you do, try to only take them for a short period of time.

Opt for healthier household products

By switching to green cleaning products, cosmetics, and beauty products, you can decrease the number and amount of chemicals your gut has to process each day. This will help protect the diversity of your gut microbiome and heal your gut.

Opt for healthier household products
ollow a lectin-limited diet COMBINED WITH a gut-healing program

Follow a lectin-limited diet COMBINED WITH a gut-healing program

To truly heal the root cause of the problem, you not only need to take away the offender (i.e. lectins), but you also have to heal the gut lining. The best way to do this is in an integrated gut-healing program with an elimination diet that not only cuts out most high-lectin foods, but also eliminates dairy, gluten, corn, sugar, alcohol, and coffee. This is what the Happy Gut Reboot: 28-Day Cleanse is all about.

As you can see, there are a ton of steps you can take to heal the gut and reverse a lectin intolerance before you think you have been sentenced to a lectin-free diet for the rest of your life. I mean, in all honesty can anyone do that? 

The truth is to simply cut lectins out of your diet for good is missing a big part of the whole picture. They say you can’t see the frame if you’re in the picture. Well, in this case, gut health is the framework for enjoying the bounty of delicious, lectin-rich foods in the ideal picture of summer. At the end of the day, if you don’t turn your attention towards healing the gut, you are missing the root cause of many health problems, including lectin intolerance. And that’s why I called this series The Lectin Paradox.  

3 responses to “The Lectin Paradox (Part 2/3)”

  1. Deedee Daumit says:

    Where do I sign up for your blog?

  2. Deedee Daumit says:

    I take your Synbiotic 365. I also take GutConnect 365. I take lots of Dr. Mercola supplements. Always have had gut issues. What test do I need to see if I have leaky gut? Diagnosed 7 yrs ago with Hashimotos but two endocrinologists can’t figure it out. I have tons of energy, thick hair and strong nails. Been in Synthroid and don’t have antibodies for Hashimotos. They just say I’m doing fine on Synthroid so forget about it.

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