August 10, 2011

Can Grains be Hurting Your Gut Health?
Enter Lectins

By Tim Lochhead

Take the Power Back

Ok let’s start off on the right foot with a good mindset. I am not trying to take away goodies (and at the end of this Top Ten series countdown I will share some wheat free goodies I’ve found). I am sharing information so that you can make an informed choice. This is really important stuff that marketers and various parties would rather be kept from you. So this really fits with my new “Take the Power Back” slogan. You don’t have to be a slave to mainstream marketing; take control of what you do.

Lastly, when this series of posts concludes you might even want to remove them for a month. I’ll give some tips on how to do this too. It might feel weird but what have you got to lose? And what have you got to gain? Simply reintroduce them and see how you feel.

Let’s get down and dirty…

The Controversy

Practically revered as a food stable necessary for health, grains are the champion of the ‘food guide pyramid’. (Remember our old adage; if you want to look like a pyramid, eat like one).

It’s finally become recognized about the dangers of gluten in grain products. We can pretty much agree to that, so we don’t need to focus on gluten.

What about gluten free? Doesn’t the gluten-free label mean it’s healthy?
What about whole wheat? Aren’t we being healthy by eating whole wheat?

This month we will look at the Top 10 Surprising Facts you need to know about grains (and grain-like foods), whether gluten free or whole wheat.

Top 10 Surprising Facts About Grains

Grains (“cereal grains”) are grasses that are member of the monocot families Poaceae or Gramineae.

These include wheat, barley, rye, and even rice and corn. Based on experience and common opinion among grain-less food consumers, wheat, barley, and rye tend to be the ‘worst’ in the sense of gut irritation issues (but for reasons other than gluten; i.e. the gluten ones seem to be really bad all around). Corn and rice appear to be tolerable if used sparingly or infrequently.

One of the better descriptions that provide an overview is from Robb Wolf and his book The Paleo Solution.

All life on this planet has to have a way to defend itself and survive. Animals can run away, have protective mechanisms (like a porcupine) or follow the best defence is a good offence – like claws or fangs.

Plants are living things and have protective mechanisms to continue life as well. Some are “friendly”, like a raspberry. If you consume it you will eventually ‘spread it’s seeds’ at a later point in time and the next generation of raspberries lives on. So this is a mutual tradeoff.

Other plants have nasty defences more like the animal example with claws or fangs. For example, poison ivy. Another example are grains – in that they act as poisons – a foreign substance which negatively disrupts our internal systems. When eaten they attack and damage our digestive system in a variety of ways. Various other systems are negatively impacted but the most important may be digestion, so our first point looks at this.

#1 Lectins

Lectins are a protein in grains that are not broken down during ordinary digestion. They remain intact and are transported through the intestinal lining. These large, intact proteins are mistaken by the body’s immune system as an invader like a parasite or bacteria.

Because of the nature of the intestines they are loaded with immune fighters. When the large lectins cross over they also damage the intestinal lining allowing other proteins to make it through.

The problem is our own immune system attacks all these proteins and makes antibodies against them. The problem is proteins are one of the building blocks of life. Proteins themselves are made of building blocks called amino acids (I’ll cut out the science terms and make it easily understandable).

Certain proteins or sequences of amino acids are “flagged” to be attacked; however, various proteins and amino acids make up all sorts of structures in our bodies. Thus, an autoimmune condition is created where we attack ourselves. A common one is joint tissue. If the protein structure or amino acid combo looked like something in our joints, we attack and “eat” our own joints. If it looks like something in the liver, or the brain, etc. we attack those places.

So, a variety of nasty health conditions can ensue.

Furthermore, just like you are developing antibodies against certain proteins you can also do this to any food particles (and hence foods) that make it through a damaged gut. This is how food sensitivities can develop.

Check out our next post in a few days when we continue our countdown (yes, as if the above wasn’t enough there is more) and will get to a solution for what to eat and how to Take the Power Back!