An autoimmune disease is one where the body attacks itself. In the past, I have written about rheumatoid arthritis, MS, and other autoimmune diseases. Many people don’t realize eating beans, peanuts, peas, lentils, soy, or tofu could be an issue. Many people eat these foods frequently, and it can exacerbate pain syndromes driven by an autoimmune process. These foods are high in lectins and therefore cause reactions in some people, even if you are unaware of it. They can increase autoimmunity. So can a lack of Vitamin D by the way!
We have many medications for autoimmune disease
We have many medications for autoimmune diseases, but what you eat could negate the effects of your drug. I feel the avoidance of lectin-containing foods is wise for people who have a pain syndrome like lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, rheumatoid, or Lou Gehrig’s. I’m not saying these food groups are bad, they have fiber and some nutrients, it’s just that some people experience flares from the consumption.
Research shows that these foods may harm the delicate intestinal lining. If they ‘poked’ microscopic holes in there, then lectins and partially undigested food globules would leak into your bloodstream. It’s called “leaky gut” but medical speak refers to this process as “increased intestinal permeability” or “intestinal malabsorption.” Once the door opens in your small intestine, and your intestinal villi are compromised, all kinds of symptoms occur.
How do lectins cause autoimmune disease?
It happens like this: Lectins and undigested globules of food proteins are spotted in your bloodstream because they leaked out of your gut. They are also spotted in an organ (because they will park themselves eventually). Then your immune system gets fired up.
Your immune cells crank out pro-inflammatory cytokines which cause pain and swelling and attack the organ where they see the foreign protein ‘parked.’ For example, if they park themselves in your thyroid, you might have Hashimoto’s or Graves, parked in your myelin, it spells more neuropathy for multiple sclerosis. Your joints and flares rheumatoid arthritis. Think of pro-inflammatory cytokines as pain-causing chemicals that you don’t want hanging around in excess.
In case you share my column with clinicians, it goes like this: There are many food antigens, among them lectin and gluten (gliadin) which increase intestinal permeability, leading to intestinal malabsorption. You see an up-regulation of the NF-Kappa B pathway which launches the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines; food antigens can counter the positive effects of medication because they cause the production of inflammatory cytokines, histamine, or interferon-gamma.
What foods trigger more episodes for people with autoimmune disease?
The theory suggests that foods (like wheat, cereal, beans, tofu, and lentils) could spell trouble for autoimmune sufferers. This is why the paleo diet and the work by Dr. Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf , has been so important. Going completely grain and lectin-free could resolve many pain syndromes in my opinion. I also recommend Doug Kauffman’s Phase One diet. For some, the Carnivore diet may work. These diets all have one thing in common. They are free of some of the most allergenic foods on Earth!
Foods with the highest lectin activity include grains (especially wheat, legumes (especially soy), nuts, dairy, and nightshades like eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, and others. But the big deal is the grains, legumes, and dairy! The other foods I just listed are best avoided, but not super urgent or critical. If you have to have dessert, I’d say fruit is better than pie. And in case you haven’t surmised this yet, beans are worse than meat!
Here’s an example of a daily meal plan:
Breakfast Scrambled egg with spinach and bacon (no sugar added bacon)
Lunch Sliced avocado and chicken wrapped in lettuce
Snack Hard-boiled eggs
Dinner Ribeye steak with a salad
Dessert Dairy-free dark chocolate, greater than 70%
If you try the Paleo Diet, I’d give this diet 4 months at least, forever if you feel better. Many ask if soaking beans removes the lectins, I think it can help but I don’t think it is 100 percent effective. Protect your gut lining with probiotics, digestive enzymes, and avoidance of refined/processed foods.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.