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What Are Lectins?

Grains with gluten contain lectins.
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  • Written By: Daphne Mallory
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 11 July 2014
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Lectins are glycoproteins that have sugar-binding properties that enable them to attach to the membranes of cells. Dietary lectins are often damaging because viruses use them to attach to cells in the body, and they help to cause major health issues. Food allergies, autoimmune disease, and inflammation are some of the medical problems obtained from foods. Some of the foods that contain these glycoproteins include corn, soy, and grains that contain gluten, such as wheat and barley.

Many foods contain lectin, but not all of them contain high levels that are potentially toxic. Dairy, beans,and nightshade plants often contain high levels of these sugar-binding proteins. When consumed in an improper manner, such as uncooked or if consumed in too high of a quantity, lectins can be toxic to some people, especially those who already suffer from digestive stress. Some of the symptoms and diseases associated with too much lectin in the body include obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Individuals with autoimmune diseases or gastrointestinal problems often eliminate these foods from their diet to help reduce stress and to allow damaged cells to heal.

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Carbohydrates are found within and protruding out of cells. When lectins enter the body, they attach themselves to the carbohydrates in an attempt to damage the cells and destroy them. The right lectin must match the carbohydrate in the cell for it to work, but when it does it breaks through the cell membrane. It often results in negative immune responses, such as an autoimmune disease. How a person reacts often depends on the amount of healthy gut flora present in the body and the condition of an individual’s immune system.

One way to stop the harmful effects of dietary lectins is through dietary intervention. Some diets eliminate foods that contain high levels of them. Two of the popular diets include the gluten-free and casein-free diet and the special carbohydrates diet, which don’t allow many foods containing high levels of lectins. Another method often recommended by health professionals is to take specific carbohydrate supplements, such as glucosamine, which prevents the proteins in lectins from binding to the carbohydrates in the cells. While taking supplements is effective, it often doesn’t work for all the lectins that enter the body on an ongoing basis. For that reason, many experts recommend employing a diet that eliminates them in the first place.

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