Lectin Sensitivity and Intestinal Permeability, An Applied Kinesiology Approach.
Dr. Michael Lebowitz DC
Dr. Noah Lebowitz DC
In 2017 I read 2 books on Lectins: 1) Cure Your Autoimmune and Inflammatory Disease by Gregory Barton PhD and 2) Plant Paradox by Steven Gundry MD. Being a naturalist it made sense to me that plants would manufacture lectins as protective chemicals to protect itself and its offspring from insects and over the years through natural selection, the lectin content of foods could increase. Lectins typically exist in the seed of the plant, increasing the odds that the plant will survive to undergo successful reproduction. Root hairs are often also high in lectins (though not the main root). In certain plants they are also high in the skin of the fruit. In GMO plants sometimes lectins from one plant are incorporated into another plant to help it resist certain insects yet rendering the new “hybrid” unhealthy for consumption. Certain plants do not have lectins or have only very small amounts. Sometimes a plant does not need them. Take for example a macadamia nut, where the protective shell is hard enough that the plant doesn’t need lectins to protect it from prey.
Many lectins are toxic to the nervous system, immune system, etc. Some, like the lectins in raw kidney beans, can lead to death. Hypercoagulation, and endocrine disruption are other possible side effects of eating lectins.
Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins found in your foods. Though they probably exist in all foods to some extent, they are highest in beans, grains, grain and bean fed animal products, nuts, seeds, and nightshades. Fruits that are picked before they are ripe (those grown in other countries and then shipped to the USA) have a much higher lectin content vs. those that are allowed to fully ripen. There is some debate on which foods are allowed vs not allowed on a “lectin free” diet, but a fairly comprehensive list can found in Appendix A.
Lectins are resistant to breakdown by the body’s digestive enzymes and to most methods of cooking. Eating them in excess or even in small amounts in susceptible people can contribute to a myriad of health problems (especially in patients with dysbiosis and/or food sensitivities). One of the body’s biggest defense mechanisms against lectins is natural mucous production. This is a reason your nose runs (increased mucous production) after eating spicy foods.
They are a major contributor to increased intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”) (1). As a result of leaky gut they can enter the bloodstream, react with antibodies and lead to various autoimmune “diseases” depending on your weakened areas, genetics, etc. One study showed specifically how they interact with enterocytes and lymphocytes, leading to antigenic stimulation and cause the expression of rheumatoid arthritis (2). They can also make your body more prone to dysbiosis. New research has even shown lectins to travel from the gut to the brain via the Vagus Nerve to Substantia Nigra, which can cause damage leading to Parkinson’s disease (3). Lectins can also interrupt normal neuronal communication in the gut and brain, causing inflammatory reactions (4). Lectins can also act with molecular mimicry. One example of this is WGA (Wheat Germ Agglutinin), which can bind to insulin receptors, but does not get released as insulin does when the need is no longer present (5).
According to Dr. Gundry, humans have a lectin-binding sugar lining our blood and enterocytes in the gut, Neu5Ac. WGA and other lectins bind to these molecules and cause atherosclerosis as well as autoimmune disease (6). Dr. Arpad Pustazi found that in Genetically Modified (GM) potatoes in which lectins from a snowdrop bulb were added to act as an insecticide it led to rats experiencing stunted growth, deformed intestines, a decreased immune system and smaller brains (7).
Lectins can over stimulate the lymphatic system and suppress both T cell production and B cells. They also act to stimulate mast cells and increase histamine release (7). This is one way that lectins can lead to dysbiosis. Within 24 hours of exposure to lectins “bad” bacteria increased dramatically and it took 48 hours for the levels to return to near pre-exposure levels (8).
Methods and Procedures:
Reading about how lectins could be involved as a contributing factor in many diseases especially autoimmune ones, we were intrigued and wanted to use applied kinesiology to see if we could confirm the hypothesis. We were able to purchase a lectin energetic vial kit from a leading manufacturer. To our disappointment the vials in the kit rarely tested positively on our chronic patients. We were aware that some of the most toxic lectins were found in beans, especially red kidney beans. Knowing that lectins contribute to increased intestinal permeability, we took some raw red kidney beans as well as some other raw beans, and put them aside and then pressure-cooked a small amount of beans from the same batch. According to Dr. Gundry, pressure-cooking can easily destroy bean lectins (although not other lectins such as in grains). Using the tensor fascia latae (TFL) as an indicator muscle, due to its relationship to the large intestine, we tested raw kidney beans as well as the other beans on a strong TFL. On the vast majority of our chronic patients the pressure-cooked beans did not weaken the TFL while the raw beans did. There could be a number of reasons for that but lectins could be an obvious reason.
We started to have these patients avoid major lectins in their diets. The results were dramatic in a number of cases. Knowing that mucilaginous substances as well as a few other herbs could bind lectins, we wanted to test them out as a possible remedy. A mixture of these not only blocked the raw bean finding on muscle testing, but also if the patient took this as a supplement it allowed the patient to reintroduce these foods in moderation without a recurrence of their symptoms while beforehand, they could not.
1) Screen the patient on the “master lectin” vial, composed of a mix of high lectin foods. It may weaken or cause hypertonicity of a strong indicator muscle
2) If the test is negative but you suspect lectins- test on a strong TFL or over the B&E point for the large intestine (LI-21) or over a symptomatic area of your patient.
3) If positive, assume there is a lectin issue especially if the reaction is blocked by a lectin binding agent such as Lectin Protect by Supreme Nutrition Products.
4) Put the patient on a lectin restriction diet for 3-4 weeks and see if symptoms improve
5) Put them on a lectin binding agent )Lectin Protect) during this time to help remove lectins that are already bound to gut tissue
6) On subsequent visits once the lectin vial no longer tests positive have the patient slowly reintroduce lectin-containing foods. It is possible that as soon as they reintroduce them, the lectin vial will again test positive in which case more permanent avoidance is ideal. If it doesn’t cause recurrence of the test finding they may be able to eat them with a low to moderate intake.
From a laboratory-testing standpoint Adiponectin and TNF-α have been shown as potential markers for lectin sensitivity. Eight hundred patients with a personal or family history of autoimmune disease tested and all 800 showed elevated levels of Adiponectin and 760/800 showed elevated TNF-α levels. All the people followed a lectin free diet and within 6 months 100% had their TNF-α levels return to normal (Adiponectin remained elevated in 790/800 individuals). Based off this study Adiponectin can be used as a marker for lectin sensitivity in individuals and TNF-α is a way to measure exposure levels in those with autoimmune disease and/or elevated Adiponectin levels (9).
In addition to giving mucilaginous substances to bind lectins, we still have the patient follow a low lectin diet for optimal results. Lectins are high in beans that aren’t pressure-cooked, grains (some researchers feel you cannot destroy grain lectins), animal products in animals fed beans or grains (most non grass fed animals are fed corn and soy both high in lectins), nightshades, seeds, and nuts. Squash, cucumber etc. have fairly high lectin content in their seeds. Depending on genetics and ethnicity each individual might have a different tolerance for certain lectins. For example, someone of Latin American ancestry may have a higher tolerance of corn lectins as it has been in their diet for more generations.
Adequate HCl and a healthy micro biome will to varying degrees help lectin tolerance. Many cultures instinctively developed food prep methods to decrease lectin content in their food. Fermentation of soy decreases its lectin content (most forms of soy eaten in Asia are fermented), refining of wheat removes one of two harmful lectins (Wheat Germ Agglutinin) and white rice removes some of the lectins found in whole brown rice. It is interesting in places like Italy when they eat tomatoes they often remove the seeds and skin, which are the two highest lectin concentrations in the plant. Traditional sourdough bread has a lower lectin content than modern bread since the microbes used to cause fermentation will digest much of the gluten from wheat.
Lectins have become important enough in patient outcome that we screen for them routinely in patients and we have seen resolution in symptoms as diverse as chronic sinus issues, Asperger’s syndrome, season allergies, chronic lumbar disc issues, arthritis, etc.
1. De Punder, Karin, and Leo Pruimboom. "The dietary intake of wheat and other cereal grains and their role in inflammation." Nutrients 5.3 (2013): 771-787.
2. Cordain, Loren, et al. "Modulation of immune function by dietary lectins in rheumatoid arthritis." British Journal of Nutrition 83.3 (2000): 207-217.
3. Zheng, Jolene, et al. "Dietary Plant Lectins Appear to Be Transported from the Gut to Gain Access to and Alter Dopaminergic Neurons of Caenorhabditis elegans, a Potential Etiology of Parkinson’s Disease." Frontiers in nutrition 3 (2016): 7.
4. Pierini, C. 2009. Lectin lock: Natural Defense against a hidden cause of digestive concerns and weight gain. http://www.vrp.co.za/Public/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleID=102.
5. Fälth‐Magnusson, K., and K‐E. Magnusson. "Elevated levels of serum antibodies to the lectin wheat germ agglutinin in celiac children lend support to the gluten‐lectin theory of celiac disease." Pediatric Allergy and Immunology 6.2 (1995): 98-102.
6. Gundry, Steven R., and Olivia Bell Buehl. The Plant Paradox: the Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain. Harper Wave, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017.
7. Barton, Gregory. Cure Your Autoimmune and Inflammatory Disease. Amazon.com, 2010.
8. Pusztai, Arpad. Plant lectins. Cambridge University Press, 1991.
9. Gundry, Steven R. "Abstract P354: Elevated Adiponectin And Tnf-alpha Levels Are Markers For Gluten And Lectin Sensitivity." (2014): AP354-AP354.
Low Lectin Foods (allowed)
§ Coconut, Olive, Macadamia, MCT, Avocado, Perilla, Walnut, Red palm, cod liver.
§ Stevia (SweetLeaf), Just Like Sugar (chicory root), Inulin, Yacón, Monk fruit, Luo han
Nuts & Seeds (½ cup/day)
§ Macadamia, Walnuts, Pistachios, Pecans ,Blanched Almond, Coconut, Coconut milk/cream (unsweetened), Chestnuts, some do better with no nuts
§ ALL beans (peanut and soy are not allowed). Beans must be pressure cooked!
§ All (without added sugar)
Herbs & Seasonings
§ All (except chili pepper flakes & paprika)
§ Coconut, Blanched Almond,, Chestnut, Cassava, Green banana, Sweet potato, Tiger nut, Grape seed, Arrowroot
§ Shirataki, Miracle Noodles, Miracle Rice
§ (any wild caught, 4oz ./day) Whitefish, Freshwater bass, Alaskan halibut, Alaskan salmon, Hawaiian fish, Sardines, Anchovies
§ Avocado, Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Strawberry, Cherries, Crispy pear (Anjou, Bosc, Comice), Pomegranate, Kiwi, Apple, Citrus (no juice), Peach, Nectarine, Plum, Apricot, Figs, Dates
§ Cruciferous – Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cauliflower, Bok Choy, Napa cabbage, Chinese cabbage, Swiss Chard, Arugula, Watercress, Collards, Kohlrabi, Kale, Green/Red cabbage, Radicchio
§ Other - Celery, Onions, Leeks, Chives, Scallions Chicory, Carrots (raw), Carrot greens, Artichokes, Beets (raw), Radish, Daikon radish, Jerusalem artichokes/sunchokes, Hearts of palm, cilantro, Okra, Asparagus, Garlic, Mushrooms
§ Leafy Greens – Romaine, Red & Green leaf lettuce, Mesclun, Spinach, Endive, Dandelion greens, Butter lettuce, Fennel, Escarole, Mustard greens, Mizuna, Parsley, Basil, Mint, Purslane, Perilla, Algae, Seaweed, Sea Veggie
§ (In Moderation) – Green plantains, Green bananas, Baobab fruit, Cassava (Tapioca), Sweet potatoes or yams, Rutabaga, Parsnips, Yucca, Celery root, Glucomannan – konjac root, Persimmon, Jicama, Taro root, Tiger nuts, Green mango, Millet, Sorghum, Green papaya, carob
Pasture-Raised Poultry (not free-range – 4oz./day)
§ Chicken, Turkey, Ostrich, Pasture-raised or omega-3 eggs (up to 4 daily), Duck, Goose, Pheasant, Grouse, Dove, Quail
Meat (grass-fed & finished – 4oz./day)
§ Bison, Wild game, Venison, Boar, Elk, Pork (humanly raised), Lamb, Beef, Prosciutto
High Lectin Foods (not allowed)
Refined, Starchy Foods
§ Pasta, Rice, Potatoes, Potato chips, Milk, Bread, Tortillas, Pastry, Flour, Crackers, Cookies, Cereal, Sugar Agave, Sweet One/Sunnett, Splenda, NutraSweet, Sweet ’n Low, Diet drinks, Maltodextrin
§ Peas, Peas Protein, Sugar snap peas, Legumes, Green beans, Chickpeas (including in hummus), Soy, Tofu, Edamame, Soy protein, Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
Nuts & Seeds
§ Pumpkin, Sunflower, Chia, Peanuts, Cashews, sesame, other nuts not in yes category
§ Cucumber, Zucchini, Pumpkins, Squashes, melons, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Bell peppers, Chili peppers, Goji berries
Kefir Grains, Sprouted Grains, Pseudo-Grains, & Grasses
§ Wheat, Einkorn wheat, Kamut, Oats, Quinoa, Rye, Bulgur, White Rice, Brown Rice, Wild Rice, Barely, Buckwheat, Kashi, Spelt, Corn, Corn products, Cornstarch, Corn syrup, Popcorn, Wheatgrass, Barely grass
§ Soy, Grape Seed, Corn, Peanut, Cottonseed, Safflower, Sunflower, Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, Canola
§ Coco, Chocolate, Cola, Guarana, Coffee, Black Tea, Green Tea, White Tea, Oolong, Acai Berries, Yerba Mate