Dear Pharmacist: Your post on rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune disease intrigued me. I didn't realize eating beans, peanuts, peas, lentils, soy or tofu was an issue. I eat these foods frequently, and I still hurt. Can you tell me more? —D.B., Houston, Texas
Dear D.B.: We have many medications for autoimmune diseases, but what you eat could negate the effects of your drug. I feel the avoidance of lectin-containing foods is wise for people who have a pain syndrome like lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or Lou Gehrig's. I'm not saying these food groups are bad, it's just that some people experience flares from the consumption.
Research shows these foods may harm the delicate intestinal lining. If they "poke" microscopic holes in there, then lectins and partially undigested food globules would leak into your bloodstream. It's called "leaky gut." Once the door opens in your small intestine, and your intestinal villi are compromised, all kinds of symptoms occur.
Lectins and undigested globules of food proteins are spotted in your bloodstream because they leaked out of your gut. They are also spotted in an organ (because they will park themselves eventually). Then your immune system gets fired up. Your immune cells crank out pro-inflammatory cytokines that cause pain and swelling and attack the organ where they see the foreign protein "parked." For example, if they park themselves in your thyroid, you might have Hashimoto's or Graves' disease; parked in your myelin, it spells more neuropathy for multiple sclerosis. In your joints, it flares rheumatoid arthritis. Think of pro-inflammatory cytokines as pain-causing chemicals that you don't want hanging around in excess.
There are many food antigens, among them lectin and gluten (gliadin), which increase intestinal permeability, leading to intestinal malabsorption. You see an up-regulation of the NF-Kappa B pathway, which launches production of pro-inflammatory cytokines; food antigens can counter the positive effects of medication because they cause production of inflammatory cytokines, histamine or interferon gamma.
The theory suggests that foods such as wheat, cereal, beans, tofu and lentils could spell trouble for autoimmune sufferers. This is why the paleo diet is gaining so much traction. It is grain- and lectin-free. I also recommend Doug Kaufmann's Phase One Diet.
Foods with the highest lectin activity include grains (especially wheat, legumes, nuts, dairy and nightshades like eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and others). I'd give this diet four months at least, forever if you feel better.
Many ask if soaking beans removes the lectins. I think it can help, but is not 100 percent effective. Protect your gut lining with probiotics, digestive enzymes and avoidance of refined/processed foods.
This is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose your condition. Go to SuzyCohen.com.