What are lectins? Lectins are proteins that adhere to components of a plant's immune system. Lectins are natural plant guardians that help fight molds, parasites and disease agents. Most of these invaders have a sugar molecule component. The lectin attaches to this and this compound blocks the foreign invader's activity and the metabolism of the sugar molecule.

Michael Cutler, M.D. is a board certified family physician who has a special interest in digestive disorders and degenerative diseases. He himself was a victim of digestive problems that caused him to lose part of his intestine. He is a source of much of the following information.

Most plant foods that we eat have lectins in them. These lectins are tenacious and highly resistant to breakdown. For instance the heat of baking or cooking does not easily destroy them.

Lectins do their damage when they hook up with sugar molecules found in your intestine or in the blood. When bound to the sugar molecule they render it inactive and useless. Even worse, since they are designed for plants, they easily become foreign invaders in your body. The union of the lectin with the sugar molecule compromises the human immune system; because the lectin compound is perceived as a foreigner.

This unrecognized alien now becomes an enemy to launch attack against. This causes an immune response to a false enemy. The human immune system attacks this lectin compound and in the process causes chronic inflammation.

The chronic inflammation is not easily recognized by you the host victim. Digestive upset, gas, irritable bowel, skin problems, bloating, excess mucus, joint pain and stiffness often are not recognized as connected to the lectin attack from the food eaten. All these symptoms can be generated by the immune system's reaction to lectins even when the reaction is delayed.

An auto immune disease may even be diagnosed, but labeled of "unknown etiology" (cause). These lectin attacks are indeed an auto immune response that goes berserk and attacks healthy human tissues. Leaky gut, due to inflammation, can allow the lectin compounds to go through the intestines into the blood, making the reaction more severe.

There are many lectins in various foods and a variations of genetics makes the response to them inconsistent. What is good food for one person is bad for another. What is one of the common lectins that can cause a terrible immune reaction? One of the most common ones is gluten...the assassin for celiac victims. It comes predominately from the wheat germ. It is also common in barley and rye grains. It doesn't stop there.

If you consume packaged foods it is frequently added as an adhesive to stick the food together. It is not listed on the label when in trace amounts. For those who own a bread making machine you know what gluten is. Most flours, except wheat ones, require the addition of gluten to make the yeast work and cause the bread to rise.

Gluten can be life threatening in the case of celiac disease victims. Unless recognized as more than an autoimmune disease, it will eventually destroy the digestive system (small intestine) and ultimately kill you. Gluten must absolutely be eliminated from the diet because the ability to digest and absorb food will eventually be totally destroyed.

As mentioned, genetics is a huge factor in auto immune disease and the manifestation of a disease is often triggered by lectins. There are many lectins in various classes of foods. To some people these lectin laced foods are good foods to eat, with others they cause low grade inflammation and are best avoided.

Dr. Peter D'Adamo has written books that reveals the importance of knowing the diversity of food responses... according to your genetic makeup. He correlates the reaction to foods, specifically lectins, to your blood type. Many, who follow his recommendations of foods to avoid, for their blood type, swear to the benefits in avoiding certain foods. One of his most popular books is Eat Right 4 Your Type (Blood type).

Scientific studies are beginning to recognize the importance of lectins; this is in spite of discovery of them over 50 years ago.

The journal of Neuropeptides reports that lectins are found in wheat, green peas, corn, potatoes and lentils. (There are many other lectins that fall into these food groups). The ones mention in Neuropeptides are recognized as binding to insulin receptors and thus affecting glucose metabolism. In addition they are known to promote fat accumulation.

When glucose accumulates abundantly in the blood (insulin is needed to metabolize it) it converts into triglyceride fatty acids. These fatty acids then move to fat beds in the body and become stored fats, increasing your weight gain.

The lectin, gluten, is known to block the appetite hormone CCK (cholecystokinin)'s function. CCK suppresses appetite but also stimulates the digestion of fats and protein. Because of disruptive digestive metabolism due to gluten, this may increase appetite and result in the weight gain of fat.