Lectin Sensitivity

Many plants contain lectins or agglutinins in their seeds, early leaves, and roots that act as homemade pesticide by binding to invaders. as well as s way for plant cells to communicate with each another. But could these built-in pesticides also be affecting us? 

What are lectins?

There are different types of lectins, each with its own effect on our health.

  • Legume lectins
  • Cucurbitaceous lectins – found in the sap or juice of cucumbers, melons, and squashes
  • Prolamin (i.e., gluten and gliadin) Agglutinin or hemagglutinin
  • GMO foods may contain higher levels of lectins since they are bred to be more pest-resistant and lectins are a natural pesticide.

Which foods contain lectins?

  • Legumes, such as beans, lentils, peas, soybeans, and peanuts
  • Nightshades
  • Dairy products
  • Grains

Eggs are controversial but if consumed, pastured raised that have not been given grains.

How can lectins negatively affect my health?

Lectins can affect function throughout the body. In the book Lectins by Nathan Sharon, lectins in the form of lima and kidney beans lead to “…depressed growth, pancreas enlargement, depressed insulin, and disruption of normal protein, fat, and carbohydrate intermediary metabolism.”

Agglutinin lectins have the ability to aggregate themselves, meaning that lectins like to bind to carbs. This means that lectins can bind to sugars, creatng a “franken” compound—creating an immune system response which has been shown to trigger for autoimmune conditions.

Lectins are also resistant to human digestion since they are extremely small and sticky. This allows them to attach themselves to our gut cells, leading to leaky gut. They can then enter the bloodstream and bind to any organ, connective tissue, joint, or blood vessel by binding to its cell membrane. For example, one of the reasons that we can’t consume castor beans or raw kidney beans is because they contain lectins that attach to our red blood cells–leading to the same kind of reaction that occurs when receiving the wrong blood type during a transfusion.

Lectins have also been associated with leptin resistance. Leptin is the satiety hormone, so being leptin-resistant means you won’t receive the “I’m full!” signal in time, leading to weight gain and metabolic syndrome.

Can we neutralize lectins?

Soaking, fermenting, sprouting, and cooking may help deactivate lectins by removing their sticky coating.

But since each plant is so different, processing some types of lectins may make them more easily absorbed. Take red kidney bean for instance. Soaked overnight may help remove the outer coat, but they become more toxic when heated to 80 degrees Celsius (175F). 

What is a good resource to learn about the science behind lectins?

Being such a complex topic, a great resource for detailed information on lectins is The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in “Healthy” Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain by Dr. Steven R Gundry MD.

What is the best way to test for lectin issues?

The most effective method is a 1-2 month elimination diet to calm down the immune system. Food then can be reintroduced to determine if it still a problem for you. 

Other methods include Cocoa pulse testing and advanced food sensitivity testing through Cyrex Labs. This lab looks at the food in its raw and cooked forms as well as the lectin components.


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