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Lectins, Gluten, Rheumatoid Arthritis, & Molecular Mimicry

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Fox News and discuss the concept of food inducing autoimmune disease… On that same note, the following review study discusses the correlation between food proteins, lectins, autoimmune inflammation, and the concept of molecular mimicry…
Despite the almost universal clinical observation that inflammation of the gut is frequently associated with inflammation of the joints and vice versa, the nature of this relationship remains elusive. In the present review, we provide evidence for how the interaction of dietary lectins with enterocytes and lymphocytes may facilitate the translocation of both dietary and gut-derived pathogenic antigens to peripheral tissues, which in turn causes persistent peripheral antigenic stimulation. In genetically susceptible individuals, this antigenic stimulation may ultimately result in the expression of overt rheumatoid arthritis (RA) via molecular mimicry, a process whereby foreign peptides, similar in structure to endogenous peptides, may cause antibodies or T-lymphocytes to cross-react with both foreign and endogenous peptides and thereby break immunological tolerance. By eliminating dietary elements, particularly lectins, which adversely influence both enterocyte and lymphocyte structure and function, it is proposed that the peripheral antigenic stimulus (both pathogenic and dietary) will be reduced and thereby result in a diminution of disease symptoms in certain patients with RA.


Br J Nutr. 2000 Mar;83(3):207-17.

The Gluten Free Warrior’s Breakdown:

Molecular mimicry is not a new concept. In layman’s terms, this process can be explained as such. The chemicals in food are similar to the chemicals found in the body. For example – a gluten protein might be similar to a protein found in your cartilage. If the body’s immune system starts to react to the gluten protein, it can subsequently start reacting to the cartilage in your joints that resemble the gluten protein. Thus the molecules mimic each other and the immune cells are fooled into attacking the body’s cartilage. When the body starts attacking itself, doctors call this autoimmune disease. There are more than 150 autoimmune diseases. Some of the more commonly known ones are:

Leaky Gut Can Be a Trigger

Molecular Mimicry often starts as a result of damage to the intestinal lining. When the gut cells are damaged, small leaks are formed (intestinal permeability or leaky gut). These abnormal leaks allow food, bacteria, viral, and other proteins to leak into the immune system and blood stream. Over time, this process confuses your immune system and helps to trigger autoimmune disease. This is why gluten can affect people in so many different ways.

Lectins Can Be a Trigger

The research article above discusses lectins (many disease causing lectins are found in legumes) and other food proteins as triggers for rheumatoid arthritis. Lectins are sticky proteins found in many plants. They serve to help protect plants from being eaten. Over consumption of lectins can cause gastric distress, leaky gut, suppress normal digestion, and lead to immune dysfunction. If you suffer with RA or any other inflammatory joint disease, the following should be done immediately: In good health, Dr. Osborne – The Gluten Free Warrior If this article helped you, please comment and pass it along via the facebook share button. Together we can help more…

18 Responses

  1. In other words, take out ALL foods that taste good and make you feel good…LOL! Seriously—this whole GF thing is SO much more than just switching brands of bread. Obviously, for many to actually heal taking out the dairy, gluten (and possibly ALL grains) and soy is a start, but your average MD will NEVER tell you this. So you end up like my family, feeling good at first but never reaching feeling good on a regular basis. Our lives are a health roller coaster and it’s gotten pretty unbearable. I used to work out with weights and love to exercise—but the only type of exercise my body can handle 6 years now of GF is a simple daily walk. I would LOVE to know the secrets of these athletes who simply go GF and all of a sudden become dynamos who work out without getting sick or injured and can handle exercise—-because I have just gone downhill in 6 years instead of getting ‘better’ like I was supposed to. Same with my husband, who is SO fed up with our continuing sensitivities and inability to ever feel well—-he even contemplates just eating gluten again and saying….”S@#%w it!”.

    1. Katie,
      I don’t know where you live, but it sounds like you need a good functional medicine doctor to help guide you. Try to find a doctor who might be better capable of helping you and your family feel good again.
      Wishing you the best,
      Dr. O

    2. How are you now? And your husband? I just started paleo because my life has literally been ripped from me by CFS/ME. I have nothing to lose except more hope. Six years is a long time to stick with something yielding such little results. Please give me an update

  2. Thanks Dr. O—YES, we definitely need help from a functional medicine dr!!! Unfortunately, we have joined the ranks of working families hit hard by the recession that won’t end. We are economically stuck, with no health insurance to boot, in one of the most remote locations in the continental US—I actually have our Dr. and clinic all picked out! Just trying to figure a way to get out of here to get the help we desperately need in addition to moving to a less harsh climate and closer to fresh, healthy food.

  3. Katie, have you been tested for Entamoeba Histolytica h.pylori and other parasite and bacteria pathogens? My husband has been gluten free (truly and completely) and is still very ill and one practitioner who believes strongly in gluten free living has ordered these tests, saying she believes without a doubt he will find that his gut is inflamed due to these parasites. She has apparently seen and treated it many times. Best wishes! We empathize with you.

  4. Hi Katie
    I agree with Sharon, there is still inflamation going on there. I had already done numberous cleanses including parasites and candida before going GF. I lost 7 kilos in 7 weeks on the gluten free diet, exercised twice a day with new energy to burn and have never felt better but I do believe the key is lots of green vegetables and quality protein, don’t eat out of packets and avoid anything refined, learn what goods inflame your gut and avoid them. I think of GF and junk free but I couldn’t have done any of this without a good health practitioner to touch base with from time to time. Good luck.

  5. I have just recently gone ALL GF (I think), however, I am still not feeling well. The pain has subsided in my small intestine but I still feel nauseous. There is so much I need to learn, I eat free range chicken eggs but noticed in small print on the carton that the hens are also fed a vegetarian feed made from grains and soy, would the glutens be in the egg just as they would be in the meat? Also, are white potatoes and sweet potaotes a no, no? Any info would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Tracy,
      Are you TRUE gluten free (see video #1 under the glutenology tab above)?
      Chicken and meat can be part of your problem depending on the source. Potatoes might not be the best food choice while you are trying to heal.
      It would be a good idea to get food allergy tested if you haven’t already.
      All the best,
      Dr. O

  6. Dr. O
    I saw you speak in The Woodlands not too long ago and have been following your site since.
    I hope you can help me!
    I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of two. I’ve been sick my whole life! I’m now 34 and feel terrible all the time. I’m exhausted, have Hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s),inflammation and pain in my back, terrible allergies. I’ve also got Psoriasis and dermatitis in my ears.

    I’ve been seeing a functional doctor here in Houston for the last 6 months. I’ve gone gluten free and I’m taking a ton of supplements but I’m not feeling any better. I wanted to see if I can contact you via email to discuss what different action you might take with my case if I came to see you. I’ve already spend over $2k going to this other doctor.

    1. Are you a doctor? I live nearThe Woodlands, Tx. Very ill. RA/ Gluten Lactose and every other ssensitibit, i t seems.
      Please send an email so that I can call your office.
      Thank you

  7. I have been totally grain-free for a yr, after the DNA test showed I inherited a gene from EACH parent making me non-celiac, gluten-sensitive. I’ve been totally dairy-free since Aug. 29. When people ask if I feel better, I have to admit nothing’s changed. My Spectracell test showed slight deficiencies in Oleic Acid, Vit D3, inspite of taking 50,000 IU’s weekly and being fructose sensitive. I don’t like the taste of anything sweet, but love salt. I’ve had the saliva adrenal tests and been on supplements for that since 3-2011. I exercise approx 35+ min most days. I am 70. I also have Hashimoto’s, hypothyroidism, migraines, bronciectasis and hypertension. I always use to be a high-energy person. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you!

    1. Did you get any directions or response regarding your Specta cell results? I also had deficiencies in Oliec Acid, fructose sensitivity, and low D and Low A. On high levels of Omega 3 and a blend that includes olieic acid and taking Bile salts to help absorb the fat soulable vitamins.

  8. Dr. O,
    I am sick (65 yrs old). I’ve ruined my body through eating incorrectly for so many years. Intolerant of so many foods, but am at the mercy of Medicare and Medicaid…desperately need guidance and can’t afford to join your site because I have no money for that or even a consult with you! So frustrated and discouraged. I’m thinking I will have to be off all grains, eggs, dairy, soy…and a host of other things. But I’m having to do this without guidance. I WANT to make the changes and have already begun with the gluten, or I THOUGHT I had until I saw your website…Can you please help…can’t afford testing but DID have high positives on 2 of 3 blood tests (two years ago).. Moreover, meats, fish, fruits, nuts, and veggies are so expensive!

  9. My name is Laura I am 25 years old and last year I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. In that last year I’ve had flare ups in my fingers, my toes, my ribs and it really made me realize just how bad arthritis can be. I really like the doctor that I’ve been seeing because his main goal is to maybe try to have me eat differently and reduce the amount of medicine that I’ve been taking which ultimately is what I would want. I’ve been attempting to eat gluten free and dairy free for about 6 months and have messed up a few times. I guess I’m just searching for some advice that would help

  10. Hi, I have fleeting joint pain/ fleeting rheumatic pain over the last 10 years.

    • Usually in fingers-PIP & MCP, but can be in any bone- palm, wrist, elbow and rarely in large joints like knee, toe, foot etc. Interestingly, it is not on the joint but below the joint.
    • Pain is accompanied with inflammation, joint stiffness and redness.
    • Pain is worse in the morning and improves over the day.
    • Pain usually stays from 1 day to max 3 days and then completely disappears. Once the pain is gone, the joint is as strong as ever. As if nothing ever happened.
    • Frequency- Erratic from once/ twice a week to once a fortnight.
    • Number of joints- More than 5 joints. However usually one joint at a time.
    • Non symmetrical.
    • OTC anti-inflammatory drugs like combiflam and brufen are very helpful.
    • Gluten Free Diet- I left all Gluten products including wheat, corn, potato, Dairy, Coffee, Barley, Soy and all other foods… Also got allergy tests done and left all those foods too.

    • Food Allergy Test-High Allergy, To Be Avoided (I left all for 1 year but no improvement)- Egg White, Barley, Wheat, Cola Nut, Amaranth, Fig, Alga Espaguette, Aloe Vera, Celery, Corn (Maize),Pomegranate, Potato, Mushroom

    • Food Allergy Test- Low Allergy, To Be Rotated (I left all for 1 year but no improvement) – Cow Milk, Bean (Red Kidney), Hazelnut, Cashew Nut, Radish, Lamb, Durum Wheat, Pistachio, Yeast (Brewer’s)

    • Doctors have ruled out- Gout, Psoriasis, Hepatitis, Lyme, Gonococcal, Lupus etc. And have unsuccessfully treated me for Rheumatism, thought all tests for Rheumatism have come negative.
    • Blood Tests Done (All are Negative) – RAF, CRP, ANA, Uric Acid, CCPAb, HLA B27, ESR etc.
    • Medication- (as advised by Rheumatologists, but nothing helped)-Tab HCQS 200 (12 months), Tab Goutnil .5 Mg (10 days), Methotrexate 15 mg-6 months, HCQS-6 months, Naproxen 500mg-6 months,

    PLEASE HELP ME. While the pain continues, having left all food/ drinks, my life has become quite vegetative & meaningless.

    If anybody has had similar problems of fleeting joint pain/ palendromic rheumatism and has been successfully treated, please share with me. My email ID is ULLASVERMA@GMAIL.COM

    I shall be ever grateful to thee.

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