Reducing Gluten and Lectins to Calm Autoimmune Symptoms
Gluten and lectins are plant compounds found in wheat, barley, rye, (gluten) legumes and potatoes (lectins). In some people, and perhaps many people, gluten and lectins cause intestinal damage and inflammation, which can eventually lead to celiac disease. While gluten has long been implicated in celiac, the theory of lectin-induced damage is in its infancy. Nonetheless, some speculate that damage to the small intestine by these substances may be the primary cause of other autoimmune conditions because intestinal damage can lead to increased permeability, which allows undigested and foreign material to enter the bloodstream and trigger widespread inflammatory reactions (the “Leaky Gut” theory) though this has never been proved in conventional medical literature. Limiting your consumption of gluten and/or lectins, whether or not you have an autoimmune condition, is something you might be interested in if you haven’t found other paths to feeling well.
I haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease, so is it ok for me to consume gluten/lectin?
Celiac disease is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal infections, lactose intolerance, sensitive stomach, nervousness or sometimes even psychoses. If you experience chronic abdominal pain, constipation/diarrhea, flatulence, fatigue, weight-loss, nutrient deficiencies and widespread inflammation, then you will likely benefit from reducing or eliminating gluten/lectin from your diet, which will give your small intestine a chance to heal.
I don’t think I have celiac disease, but I want to reduce my consumption of gluten/lectin to see if my autoimmune inflammatory symptoms improve. What is the best way to do this?
Gluten and lectins are widespread in the typical American diet because they are in foods made from grains, such as bread, cakes, cookies, muffins, cereals, crackers, chips, pasta and a wide variety of sauces, salad dressings and condiments. Furthermore, grains that don’t contain gluten or lectins, such as oats and rice, are sometimes contaminated because they are processed alongside other grains. Switching over to a more “paleolithic” diet (that includes meats, vegetables and fruit, but no grains or legumes) will give you an opportunity to see if your autoimmune symptoms improve. If you can’t go without bread or pasta, then consider gluten-free varieties made from rice flour. Allow yourself at least two weeks after the dietary changes before you try and assess if your inflammatory symptoms have improved.
Should I avoid eating in restaurants and cafes during my experiment?
Yes. Most restaurants don’t consider the gluten/lectin content of their menu items. Even restaurants that claim to have gluten-free dishes rarely take the precautions to 100% eliminate contamination (which involves the use of separate gloves, knives, pots and pans to cook the gluten-free food).
Are there any studies that show that a gluten reduction will improve autoimmune symptoms?
There is solid research to indicate that early and effective gluten elimination in celiac patients reduces the frequency of developing a second or third autoimmune disease. While nobody has proved that a gluten free diet can reduce the symptoms of an already-established other disease (diabetes, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, etc), it’s certainly not unreasonable to try a gluten and/or lectin free diet to see how your unique body responds.
Questions for your doctor
- How long does it take for an injured and inflamed small intestine to heal in the absence of gluten/lectin?
- Is weight-loss common on a gluten-free diet?
- Were our hunter/gatherer paleolithic ancestors healthier than our neolithic ancestors who cultivated grains?
This blog post was originally published by AutoimmuneMom.com and first published on Sep 15, 2012.
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