Here is an interesting story. One of my friends has two daughters, and both of them are vegetarian. They consume a lot of legumes on a daily basis. Not long ago, both of their daughters were diagnosed with irritable bowel syndromes at a very young age. Given the fact that the mother is a nutritionist, the whole family has been eating very healthy. It triggers my interest to investigate this a little more.

Our body is like a running car, while the food serves as the gas, without gas, the car cannot run. That is how important food is to our body. However, certain foods contain not only nutrients, but unfortunately also many things your body does not need, for example, the excessive amount of lectins, particularly from raw legumes, grains, and most seeds that become leaves when the plant sprout. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods, lectins are potentially toxic and they can disrupt the metabolism system when they are consumed in a high amount. There are at least two digestive disorders that have been commonly associated with the consumption of lectins: leaky gut and irritable bowel syndrome. Whether or not those conditions are solely caused by lectins or other issues is still pretty much in question. However, there are links to help connect the dots.

One of the most relevant connections between lectins, the leaky gut, and irritable bowel syndrome is the fact that lectins are not properly processed by the body. In a publication by Authority Nutrition, the human metabolism system cannot digest most lectin properly; the same thing applies to animals’ metabolism system. Lectins are the plants’ natural defense system against insects, pests, and destructive microorganisms. They are so strong that they can pass through the human digestive system intact; they can enter the bloodstream with everything unchanged.

Lectins and Gastrointestinal Health

The human gastrointestinal tract is bound to take care of the damages all the time. Every piece of food being processed causes minor damage to the lining of the digestive tract. Human cells can repair the damage almost instantly, so there is a constant cycle of damage and repair in our metabolism system. The main purpose of this lining is to act as a filter; nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream, while the toxins are filtered out. For metabolism to function at its full potential, the repair system must run all the time, just like a clock.

Precision Nutrition suggests that lectins disrupt this repair system and slow it down to a considerable extent. As a result, when the damage happens, cells cannot respond quickly enough to perform the necessary repair, hence causing the leaky gut. Since the gut lining cannot filter out the harmful stuff until the repair is completed, the digestive system is forced to allow the things we do not need to enter the bloodstream. Some nutrients and vitamins are rendered useless in such circumstances. Consumption of a high amount of lectins forces the digestive system to trigger an extreme response in the form of content evacuation. It can be done through vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms of excessive lectin consumption are similar to those who have irritable bowel syndrome and a leaky gut, but we still need to understand a little bit about those two disorders to know whether lectins play a key role in triggering the conditions.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, cramping, and constipation. It is a common disorder that attacks large intestines, and is usually chronic enough that requires long-term management. Unlike Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome is likely not going to increase the risk of colorectal cancer, It is also worth mentioning that only a small percentage of all patients who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome actually have severe symptoms. Some patients can easily manage it by changing their lifestyle and diet, while others require counseling and medication.

According to Mayo Clinic, a variety of factors play role in the case of irritable bowel syndrome. However, the exact cause is not known yet. It further explains that the disorder happens when the muscles that are lined with walls of the intestines either contract or relax longer than they should. These muscles move foods from the stomach to the intestinal tract to finally end up in the rectum. If they contract longer than normal, the results are diarrhea, bloating, and gas; if they relax longer, the consequences include slow food passage and constipation. Referring back to the explanation by Precision Nutrition, lectins possibly play the role in triggering the broken rhythm of the muscles. Therefore, the cell repair process is disrupted, and the muscles are either weakened or strengthened more than they need to be.

To learn more about the microorganisms in your gut, read how the gut microbiota works.

Leaky Gut
We understand that the bowel is lined with a barrier or filter that separates nutrients from the toxins and other compounds that are contained in the foods we eat. In other words, it is a multifunction line that helps absorb nutrients and keep the anti-nutrient away. In a discussion about “leaky gut syndrome” by NHS, this barrier can become less effective or leaky, yet the condition is considered insufficient to cause severe effects on overall health. The leaky gut syndrome occurs when the tight cell-to-cell junctions in the intestine wall break down. This allows toxins and other compounds to enter the body and leads to the leaky gut syndrome. The leaky gut syndrome is often linked to yeast infection and increased the accumulation of toxins in the body.

Some symptoms of a leaky gut are surprisingly similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome. for example, bloating, cramping, and gas. In fact, irritable bowel syndrome plays a huge part in leaky gut syndrome. Donald Kirby, MD, a gastroenterologist, and the director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Cleveland Clinic, has an interesting insight on the leaky gut syndrome. In a publication by WebMD, he implies that leaky gut syndrome is not actually a specific diagnosis. It only means that there are many possibilities to further examine. He continues by explaining that your doctor should be investigating enough to pinpoint the exact condition. The article also includes an opinion by another gastroenterologist – Linda A. Lee, MD, who agrees with Kirby on the fact that diet most likely plays a big role in the leaky gut condition.

How can you improve your gut health naturally? Read How to use pre/probiotics to guard your gut health and improve your overall health.

You may wonder how to reduce the lectins in your food to the minimum, so you can still enjoy these delicious foods. Here are a few tips.

Soaking: If you are a legume lover, make sure that you soak beans and legumes overnight, and change the water often. Drain and rinse again before cooking. You can also add some baking soda to the soaking water to help neutralize the lectins further.

Fermentation: You can enjoy some fermented products from legumes and beans, such as tofu, tempeh, tamari, natto, and miso. Fermentation allows beneficial bacteria to digest and convert those harmful substances, and render them into harmless ones. However, keep in mind that not all lectins are completely destroyed by these methods; some still remain in these foods.

At least for now, there is no strong evidence to confirm that lectins are the exact reasons why irritable bowel syndrome or leaky gut syndrome occurs in someone. It probably plays a role in triggering either disorder, but it does not seem to be the only contributing factor. Developing a healthy eating habit is also a key to preventing an irritable bowel syndrome or leaking gut.

What are your tips in terms of preventing irritable bowel syndromes? Please share with us.

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About the author: Lucy Liu
Lucy Liu

As a Holistic Health Practitioner, Registered Dietitian, TCM Practitioner, Energy Healer, Master Hypnotist, Reiki Master, Advanced Theta Healing Practitioner, Author and Speaker, Lucy Liu, the founder of optimalhealthsolutions.ca, has gained a good reputation in holistic health after many years of serving patients and clients as a holistic health practitioner. Lucy has developed a unique and comprehensive approach, which combines Western Medicine, Chinese Medicine, Energy Medicine, and Alternative Medicine together, to help others achieve optimal health by creating harmony between the body, mind, and spirit, and maintain long-term success for healthy lifestyle changes.
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