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QUESTION: How can lectins penetrate the gut? I asked my Doctor and he claimed that they are too large a sized molecule to penetrate the intestines. Is he correct?
ANSWER: Your Doctor is incorrect, however this is a common misconception. There are now numerous studies clearly showing that dietary lectins can penetrate the intestinal linings and deposit systemically in the body.
In one recent study, lectins from wheat germ (Triticum aestivum) and thorn apple (Datura stramonium) included in the diet of test animals reduced the digestibility and utilization of dietary proteins and stunted the growth of rats, with wheat germ lectin being the most damaging. In this study, the researchers were quite clear that these lectins had been bound and actively transported (endocytosed) across the intestinal membrane. All three lectins were growth factors for the gut and interfered with its metabolism and function to varying degrees.
Here are the authors in their own words:
"Furthermore, an appreciable portion of the absorbed wheat germ lectin was transported across the gut wall into the systemic circulation, where it was deposited in the walls of the blood and lymphatic vessels."
Pusztai A, Ewen SW, Grant G, Brown DS, Stewart JC, Peumans WJ, Van Damme EJ, Bardocz S Antinutritive effects of wheat-germ agglutinin and other N-acetylglucosamine-specific lectins. Br J Nutr 1993 Jul;70(1):313-21