Lectins: toxic proteins or revolutionary research?

Although lectins are proteins, they are not as good for us as one would think. They are beneficial in plants as they keep insects (kind of like a defence mechanism) away and contain nitrogen which is essential for plant growth. In the human body however, lectins can be toxic!I

The reason lectins cause us so much grief is because they are incredibly sticky and therefore cannot be digested properly. Instead, they adhere to the cells in our guts so that vitamins and minerals do not get absorbed. They also stick to insulin receptors, blocking the hormone called Leptin, so your brain never recognizes when you are full. I’m sure you can guess where this is going. Yes, lectins increase your appetite. Amongst other things.

Increased appetite means weight gain is at the top of the long list of bad things lectins cause. The rest of the list includes achy joints, indigestion, digestive damage, fatigue, brain fog, constipation, mood swings, immune system suppression, depression, and overall poor health.

Everyone has heard of gluten and how millions are avoiding it whether they need to or not. Gluten is a lectin, but there are many other lectins that cause just as much grief (or more) for people with food sensitivities. In fact, if you have been diagnosed with Celiac’s disease, you should avoid all lectins.

Well, people like myself that suffer from a wheat (but not gluten) allergy realize that it is a protein in wheat that triggers my reactions. I was never told however that it was a lectin or that I might be lectin intolerant. This probably explains why those without Celiac’s disease or a gluten allergy (like myself) who have eliminated wheat from their diets feel so much better.

Wheat germ lectin has been shown in research to impact the immune system by increasing inflammation within our bodies. Not just in our stomach or intestines, but all over our bodies. Have you heard of “leaky gut syndrome?” This happens because lectins punch holes in our intestines (hence the leaky gut) letting toxins and bacteria out of your gut to invade and cause inflammatory responses in many other organs.

This resulting long-term inflammation has been linked to many serious medical conditions including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, uterine fibroids, breast and ovarian cysts, auto immune diseases and small airway obstruction (asthma) in lungs. I was experiencing most of these health issues when I was first diagnosed with my wheat allergy. It took me persistence and quite a long time to figure this out.

Now for the good news! Lectins are not always bad. Recent research reveals that lectins have been shown to be beneficial in some revolutionary uses. I say revolutionary because the use of natural plant extracts instead of harmful and expensive chemical medication is just that. This is quite exciting, except perhaps to the mega-rich and powerful drug companies. Oops, sorry, I am digressing….Here are some of the revolutionary uses I spoke of:

  • Small amounts of lectins may help the good bacteria that live in human digestive systems.
  • Research suggests that lectins may be useful for helping to identify and diagnose cancer. Lectins are also being studied for their potential to slow down the rate that cancer cells multiply.
  • Researchers are even looking at lectins as potential treatments for illnesses caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

So, do you continue to consume foods containing lectins or eliminate them from your diet? Well, that depends on how badly they affect you. In my case I avoid wheat. Keeping a journal of foods (lectins) you eat and how they affect you can help decide which ones to eliminate from your diet.

These are the foods with the most lectins, in descending order:

  • legumes (peanuts, cashews, beans, soybeans, peas, chickpeas, lentils) with uncooked red kidney beans the worst, as well as butters from these (peanut butter, hummus)
  • wheat, corn, rice, oats and quinoa
  • nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers)
  • dairy products containing casein A1 (most North American cows)
  • corn, soybean and sunflower oils
  • squash family (zucchini, melons, cucumbers)
  • soy products (milk, beans, sprouts, tofu, oils)
  • many fruits, including bananas. See list below for lectin-free fruit

The answer for those of you without an obvious reaction is to simply reduce the lectins you eat. It is not necessary to completely eliminate them, and there are ways to reduce the amount of lectins you are putting into your body. Sprouting, fermenting, removing the seeds, or cooking the culprits well will severely diminish the lectins’ potency. Get your pressure cooker out and dust it off!

What foods are left to eat that are lectin free you ask? If you don’t have any of the above health issues to try to clear up, don’t worry about them, lectins obviously don’t affect you. If you do feel the pain (literally), eat the lectin rich foods (above) but ensure they are well-cooked and in moderation, and eat more of these lectin-free foods:

  • mushrooms, onions, garlic, celery, and carrots
  • broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus
  • leafy greens (spinach, kale etc)
  • sweet potatoes (cooked)
  • cherries, apples, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, and lemons
  • pasture raised (grass fed) meat and chicken
  • sheep, goat, and coconut milk as well as South European (A2) cow’s milk
  • almonds, almond butter
  • olives and olive oil

The moral of this story is to listen to your body. If you suffer from many or any of the health issues listed above, maybe you are lectin intolerant! I wish I had this information ten years ago when I was going through my personal battle to figure out what was wrong with me. My doctor wanted to put me on antidepressants, but I refused, believing it was more complicated than that. I’m sure glad I did. I feel better now pushing 60 than I did throughout most of my 40’s and early 50’s!

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Living with Food Allergies

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Food allergies can be a pain (literally) to live with.  Some are much more severe than others, with the most severe allergies, called anaphylactic, potentially fatal.  Allergic reactions vary from mild skin rash, slight cough, or itchy throat, to stomach cramps and diarrhea, to heart failure, complete throat/airway obstruction, or unconsciousness.

Common to all allergic reactions is the fact that our immune systems treat the allergen as a foreign substance.  Our immune systems are designed to protect us, so when such a foreign and potentially dangerous substance (called an allergen)is identified, the body goes into attack mode.

In the case of an anaphylactic reaction, the immune system produces massive amounts of histamines which cause the muscles in the lungs to contract, blood vessels to dilate and heart muscle to overwork to a point of heart failure.

A non-anaphylactic, but potentially just as painful, reaction results when the allergen results in the production of antibodies that are deposited in many organs throughout the body.   This is called a CHRONIC reaction, meaning not acute.  This buildup of anibodies takes years to accumulate, so reactions are often hard to diagnose and identify.  Symptoms can mimic asthma, arthritis, high cholesterol and more.  My WHEAT allergy is this chronic, yet painful and unhealthy type of food allergy.

There are many misconceptions of wheat and gluten allergies as well as other gastrointestinal disorders.  Here are some of the important facts:

  • People allegic to wheat and or gluten can and do have anaphylactic reactions as described above.
  • It is a protein in the wheat that is the culprit in wheat allergies.  Gluten is one of, but not the only protein found in wheat that can cause allergic reactions.  So if you are allergic to wheat you do not have to be allergic to gluten, but if you are allergic to gluten, you are allergic to wheat.
  • Gluten is present in wheat, barley and rye.  Semolina, spelt and kamut are less common types of wheat that contain gluten.
  • Oats do not contain gluten, but most products that contain oats have the possiblity of cross contamination from gluten within the grains listed above.  For this reason, people that suffer from celiac disease or a gluten allergy often avoid oats too.
  • Celiac disease results when the allergic reaction to gluten happens within the small intestine.  Most people are aware that celiac disease causes digstive problems such as bloating, gas and diarrhea, but are unaware that edema, fatigue and anemia are common symptoms as well.  Diagnosis is made from a biopsy of the small intestine.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) causes similar symptoms to celiac disease and chronic food allergies but affects the large intestine.  It is often caused by a bacterial imbalance within the digestive system, and can often be treated with a probiotic.
  • Crohn’s disease causes intermittent patches of inflammation between normal patches within the whole gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but predominantly the lower small intestine and upper large intestine (colon).  The inflammation can extend through the layers of the intestines into surrounding mesentery (tissue)  The cause of Crohn’s disease is suspected to be related to an overactive immune system.
  • Ulcerative Colitis usually starts in the rectum and extends upward into the large intestine.  It only involves the inner lining of the intestine and is more localized (not patchy) than Crohns.  Although diet and stress aggravate UC, the exact cause is still unknown, but also thought to be linked to the immune system of its victims.

 

 

Many people not diagnosed with a gluten or wheat allergy have chosen to eliminate those substances from their diets because they believe that fewer carbohydrates in their diet can result in a  healthier lifestyle.   As suspected by many doubters, this decision may turn out to be temporary  like many other fad diets that have come and gone.

Probiotics are also an option for those concerned with their digestive health.  Check out the research within this guide on probiotic supplements for more information.

If you suffer from the symptoms common to the conditions listed above and cannot control them with your diet, seek advice from your doctor.  Why people choose to eliminate wheat and gluten from their diets does not matter if their lives are improved.

Unfortunately, for many of us, it is not an option.

What’s better than your own tomato harvest?

What can get better than harvesting your own tomatoes?  Taking home someone else’s tomato harvest!  I was cleaning up a client’s garden recently and came across a few grape tomato plants in amongst the perennial flowers and shrubs. I picked them off the frost-bitten vines and left the tomatoes in the sun to dry while I finished working on the garden.  Sun dried tomatoes must need a whole lot of sun to dry them out as these grape tomatoes were still soggy and soft three hours later.  My client didn’t want to bother collecting and cleaning the tomatoes to use in her kitchen, so I brought them home with me.  I shared my bounty with another client that lives next door to the tomatoes…

I took my share of the grape tomatoes home, washed and strained them, then cooked them up in a pasta sauce for dinner…

I sauteed crushed garlic, onions, olives and turmeric in olive oil for the main ingredients, added cooked and drained pasta (gluten-free for my wheat allergy) then stirred in a beaten egg and parmesan cheese to make the sauce creamy.  I seem to use turmeric in just about everything these days, since I read it is a powerful anti-oxidant.  I would have added roasted red peppers if I had some in my fridge to roast that day.  The pasta dish was reasonably good, although I think I left too many green tomatoes in the sauce as it had a bit of a sweet and sour taste.

Prepare and enjoy an authentic Thai dinner at Urban Element Culinary School in Ottawa

Recently my husband and I went to Urban Element Culinary School in Ottawa to prepare and enjoy an authentic Thai dinner.  Our eldest son had given us this treat as a Christmas gift.  Our session was named Cheater’s Thai because many commercially available sauces were used as the ingredients.  He chose the Thai dinner (as opposed to Italian) knowing that although I am wheat intolerant/sensitive, I would be able to eat most of the food prepared.

It was a fun night out and the food was delicious, yet still fairly easy to prepare.  A group of approximately ten couples prepared the meal under the knowledgeable yet friendly instruction of chef Mark Wells and his sous-chef, and then  enjoyed the fruits of our labor with a few glasses of wine…

We started off the meal with an (pre-made by the chef) appetizer of roasted sweet potato slices topped with goat cheese and tamarind chutney.  In addition to the items pictured (curried coconut and shrimp soup, pork cutlets with peanut sauce, chicken satay and a Thai version of crème caramel), also on the menu were pork dumplings (the only thing on the menu that contained wheat), a green curry stir-fry of green peppers, snow peas, shallots and fish sauce, a sweet chili sauce and a lightly marinated cucumber salad, all of which we made ourselves.

The recommended main ingredients of this and any authentic Thai meal are a good quality coconut milk such as Arrow D or Savoy brands, Maesri red or green curry paste, Thom Yum Thai shrimp paste, 3 Crab Blend fish sauce, bird’s eye chilis, turmeric, cane or palm sugar and cilantro.  All of the commercially prepared ingredients mentioned here are available in Ottawa’s Chinatown near the corner of Booth and Somerset streets.

Urban Element Culinary School is located in a converted fire hall at 424 Parkdale Avenue in Ottawa. Phone 613-722-0885 to register for a similar dinner plan.  If you are looking to plan a private evening out for a group of friends, co-workers or relatives, this would be a great option.

Naturopathic Care

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If this post sounds familiar, it is because it is an updated version of one of my first posts, way back in January of 2012…

For about a year before the post, I noticed a significant decrease in my energy level and suffered from constant “brain fog”.  I could not seem to concentrate on anything for very long and became distracted very easily.  Most people I complained to shrugged and laughed saying “it’s just age” As I had just turned 50, I found that hard to swallow!

After a complete physical from my G.P. I was told my iron stores or ferritin levels were very low and I was put on an iron supplement, which constipated me but did very little for my ferritin levels.  My hormone levels were within the normal range; so I was classified as perimenopausal.  It was also suggested by two different doctors that I was suffering from depression. I also found that hard to believe, so I started digging deeper…

I found a naturopath online and went to see her.  Kandis Lock   Although I had to pay for this visit (my health insurance does not cover naturopathic treatments) it was well worth it.  She listened to my “story” and set up a plan.  She suggested testing for food allergies and/or sensitivities, again at my own expense. I had suspected for years that I am sensitive to many foods with frequent bouts of stomach cramps and diarrhea.  I had the option of eliminating foods from my diet to see if I felt different/better (which could take months or even years) or a blood test.   I agreed to the blood test and received results within two weeks: I am allergic to asparagus and wheat protein.   Now asparagus is pretty easy to eliminate from my diet, but wheat?  Wheat is in everything!  Luckily I am not allergic to gluten as many others are so my diet isn’t quite as restricted. Gluten free products (which means no wheat to me) are sold in most grocery stores these days.  I can eat barley, oats, corn, rice, rye etc. so have switched my pastas and breads to these grains.

Fast forward to almost three years later…

I feel more energetic, have less stomach cramps, and feel healthier.  At the time it was suggested that I undergo further testing to determine other foods (dairy, eggs etc) that I may react to that were not covered in the original testing panel. I declined that option at the time, preferring to deal with one major change at a time.  Now that I know how much eliminating wheat improved my health, I am thinking of undergoing more tests.   I do have another complete physical examination scheduled with my GP also, so will find out my current blood levels of ferritin, cholesterol, and hormones.

The moral of this story is recognize that your body is providing warning signals when you experience symptoms like stomach cramps, brain fog, lethargy, and low energy levels.  It is up to you to do something about it!

Bye Bye Asthma…

In one of my first posts, I think I told you how the last time I went to my respirologist to check on my lungs, he told me the condition of my lungs had improved.  I had been diagnosed with asthma several years earlier, with my symptoms and test results getting worse each visit to the respirologist.  Since my father had recently died from pulmonary fibrosis, and my mom from lung cancer before that, the deteriorating condition of my lungs was worrisome.

At that 2012 visit, I didn’t tell the respirologist about my wheat allergy news (discovered by a naturopath) and the fact that I had been wheat-free for almost one year before this round of testing as I wanted to see if there was a change in the pulmonary (lung) function test results first.  His response to my belief that my wheat-free diet was the reason for the change in my lungs was skeptical, as not many doctor like to be told that advice from a naturopath is sound.  His comment at that time was “well, whatever you have been doing, keep doing it.  Come back and see me next year”…

Well, i just returned from the annual respirology appointment, and my pulmonary function test results were even better than last year!  In fact, the respirologist  feels he doesn’t need to see me anymore, unless my symptoms return.

Although some things, like smoke and strong chemical smells, still bother me, I know to avoid them.  I also know that daily exercise and reduced stress make a difference too; my new career takes care of that aspect…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should You Go Gluten-Free? an article from Dr Leigh Erin Connealy, author of the Newport Natural Health Letter

I thought I would share this article with my followers; this describes how I felt for years, until I found out two years ago that I am allergic to wheat…
 The wheat we eat today is a far cry from the grain older generations grew up with — and there are serious questions about how healthy it is. If you’re suffering from gastrointestinal problems or have symptoms that are going undiagnosed, avoiding wheat for one month might solve those problems.
One of the most common statements I hear from new patients goes something like this: “I don’t feel good, but my doctor says there’s nothing wrong with me.” In fact, this is such a frequent issue that I decided to do a newsletter about it. Generally, in these cases, a patient tells their doctor that he or she just isn’t feeling well. Specific symptoms might include digestive disorders, low energy, weight gain, moodiness, joint pain or general achiness, memory problems, brain fog, and/or other nagging health issues that just won’t go away. The doctor does a blood panel, and maybe a few additional tests, and then reports that the results are all normal. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with you.

Under different circumstances, that would be excellent news. But when you still don’t feel right, it’s not much consolation to know that “there’s nothing wrong.” Clearly, something’s off, but for whatever reason, the doctor has no interest in solving the problem. I’ve had many patients come to me after seeing multiple doctors, and being told time and time again, “Nothing’s wrong.” That’s when I start thinking outside the diagnostic box.

Food allergies or sensitivities are among the most common sources of health problems. But there’s one food in particular that is turning out to be the source of multiple ailments: wheat. Until recently, whole grains had been considered some of the healthiest foods around. However, decades of tinkering with wheat to make it more productive and profitable have turned the grain into something of a Frankenstein’s monster with questionable health benefits.

In fact, today’s wheat even looks different than the classic grain, and it no longer contains the same beneficial nutrients. Even worse, wheat — like sugar and high-fructose corn syrup — is used in some form or other in products where you would least expect it. Wheat turns up in everything from frozen french fries to pet foods to skin lotions — and it uses a variety of names, including hydrolyzed wheat protein or wheat starch.

Unfortunately, there’s one additional concern with wheat: contamination by GMO (genetically modified organism) wheat that “escaped” from experimental fields. This fact, acknowledged by the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), has already led Japan to cancel its contract for wheat with American farmers. Many other countries have also banned GMO foods, so they could follow Japan’s lead. I’ll be writing more about why it’s so important to avoid GMO foods, but for now, I’ll just say that this is one more reason to avoid wheat.

For individuals with celiac disease, eating wheat can have very serious consequences, including digestive problems, joint pain, malnutrition, skin conditions, fatigue, and developmental issues in children. In an earlier newsletter, I wrote about celiac disease, an under-diagnosed condition believed to affect as many as 1 in every 133 Americans. Unfortunately, millions of Americans are unaware they even have celiac disease, so they continue to suffer with misdiagnosis and treatments that do nothing to improve their health.

Celiac disease is not the end of the story when it comes to wheat. Certain individuals who do not have celiac disease still have a hard time processing wheat. As a result, I’m seeing an increasing number of patients with ailments that disappear when they stop eating wheat. These aren’t just brief bouts of indigestion. I’m talking about arthritis, asthma, and a long list of skin problems. These people have wheat allergy, sensitivity, or intolerance. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, is believed to be behind many of these wheat-related health issues.

An individual who is sensitive to or intolerant of gluten might experience mood swings, depression, difficulty concentrating, or changes in behavior after eating food containing the protein. Experts estimate that as many as 20 million Americans who do not have celiac disease are sensitive to gluten.

In addition, a separate disorder — wheat allergy — can cause everything from skin rashes to asthma. Wheat allergy is thought to be far less common than celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but it can lead to life-threatening consequences, including anaphylactic shock.

When a person with celiac disease eats wheat, the lining of the small intestine over-reacts and shuts down. Unable to absorb nutrients from food, sufferers of the disease might experience malnutrition, along with numerous other symptoms. For doctors who aren’t familiar with this condition, the symptoms are often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome or indigestion.

Treating those conditions doesn’t help, however, so the nagging health problems continue, even though a simple celiac disease blood test, followed by a biopsy for confirmation, is all it takes to identify celiac disease. However, the condition is not on the radar of many physicians, so it’s not at all unusual for patients to struggle with health issues for years before finding out what’s wrong with them.

Let’s say your blood test shows that you do not have celiac disease or a wheat allergy, but you still don’t feel quite right. There’s much more you can do on your own to determine if wheat is a problem. You may want to start with a test for gluten sensitivity, which you can obtain online from EnteroLab (www.enterolab.com). Or you can simply start with the same thing I tell my patients — a gluten-free challenge diet. Here are the four essential steps you need to follow:

Let’s say your blood test shows that you do not have celiac disease, but you still don’t feel quite right. There’s much more you can do on your own to determine if wheat is a problem. I recommend starting with the same thing I tell my patients — a gluten-free challenge diet. Here are the four essential steps you need to follow:

Step One:

Clear your cupboards and refrigerator of products containing gluten — commonly found in wheat, rye, and barley. To determine if you are sensitive to gluten, you need to completely eliminate it from your diet for a minimum of 30 days. This is no time for half measures. You must give your body time to heal. If you give up bread made with wheat, for example, but continue to eat ordinary pasta, crackers, cereal, etc. (as opposed to gluten-free), your results will be skewed. In other words, you must commit to going totally gluten-free for 30 days. So get ready for some label reading, and remember — even the smallest amount of gluten is unacceptable for the next month.

Step Two:

Replace gluten-based foods with gluten-free versions. These days, that’s fairly easy. Food manufacturers are very aware of gluten and wheat health issues, so there are gluten-free breads (check the frozen foods aisles), pasta, cereal, and much more.

If you bake, you can make your own gluten-free cookies and breads by substituting any of the gluten-free flour blends on the market today. I encourage my patients to focus on foods like vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and brown rice or other grains that are naturally gluten-free. If you are going out to eat, ask your server about dishes that do not contain gluten — and stay away from the breadbasket. Remember, you aren’t giving up bread, cupcakes, and doughnuts forever — it’s only for 30 days!

Step Three:

During your 30 days without gluten, I urge you to keep a diary documenting how you feel. Are your symptoms the same or are they improving? How about your energy levels — the same or better? Weight loss or gain? At the end of the month, this summary can be helpful for sorting out your condition.

Step Four:

At the end of four weeks, reintroduce one form of gluten to your diet. Don’t go overboard. Have just one slice of whole wheat bread, for example, and then wait four days before consuming any additional gluten. Use your diary to write about your body’s reaction. Did any symptoms that had disappeared return? If so, you might want to continue avoiding gluten. If not, try one portion of another food containing gluten, like pasta. Again, wait four days and record the reactions.

This pattern of eating a possible problem food every four days is known as “the rotation diet”, and it has been shown to be very useful for identifying food sensitivities.

So, again, if at the end of the 30 days you find that a slice of wheat bread or a bowl of pasta causes some digestive problems, joint pains, memory issues, or another complication, you would probably be better off avoiding gluten entirely. Some patients with gluten sensitivities find that they can eat gluten occasionally, but not every day. That’s fine, if it works for you.

If you’ve been to more doctors than you can count or if your physician keeps insisting there’s nothing wrong with you — and you know there is! — try eliminating gluten from your life for a month and see how you feel. I’ve seen patients go from weary and depressed to Energizer Bunny in a matter of weeks, just from giving up gluten. That doesn’t sound like such a bad trade-off, does it?

If  these symptoms sound familiar, give the gluten-free diet a try, it gets easier as you go along and it is well worth the effort.  Keep me posted on your progress, you are not alone!