Viruses & Lectins- The Missing Links
This paper is the manuscript for my upcoming lecture at a major veterinary conference. It covers my latest passion- studying the potential interrelationships between the lectins of the “big 4” (gluten, casein, soy and corn) and the latent viruses that are residing in our cells, some even being embedded in our very DNA. These interactions help to explain “autoimmune” diseases and shed light on the development of that dreaded diagnosis of cancer.
Viruses and Lectins- The Missing Links
John B. Symes, D.V.M.
Beltline Animal Hospital, PC
The role of viruses and lectins in the development of disease has been one of the most amazing topics that I have researched over the past seven years. I include these together because there is a fascinating interaction between these two entities that helps to explain many of the conditions we still refer to as “idiopathic”, a term to which I now take exception. The only concept that upsets me more is “autoimmune disorder”, a term that implies that our immune system does not know what it is doing. I wholeheartedly disagree with that premise and a better understanding of viruses and lectins supports my dissent.
Let’s start with lectins. In my quest for solutions to “idiopathic” problems, the study of these antibody-sized proteins/glycoproteins yielded answers to many of the questions that were haunting me as I tried to explain how my dietary changes could yield such phenomenal results. Lectins are carbohydrate-binding glycoproteins or proteins that are ubiquitous in nature, with plants, animals and even bacteria producing these remarkable compounds. Although the true role of lectins in plants is still under investigation, we know that these proteins play numerous important roles in animals and man. They serve to bind circulating glycoproteins to cells, such as those in the liver, to facilitate their removal. Our body produces lectins that are involved in immune responses (e.g. mannose-binding lectin), the adhesion of cells, and the removal of pathogens through binding to carbohydrates on their surfaces. In the case of neurons, the oligodendrocyte produces two different lectins- one that helps nourish the neuron and another that can kill it. Bacteria produce lectins that enable them to adhere to tissue. Finally, certain foods contain lectins that can do serious harm to susceptible individuals. Therefore, there are “good” and “bad” lectins in nature- those that promote health and others that contribute to disease.
For the purposes of this discussion, the focus will be on those dietary lectins that have been directly linked to illness in animals and man. The most common sources of damaging lectins are the gluten grains (wheat, barley, rye), dairy products, legumes (e.g. soy, peanuts, beans), and corn. The nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant and tobacco) also contain potentially harmful lectins, most of which are inactivated by cooking but to which some individuals can become quite sensitive (e.g. arthritis). For example, uncooked wheat flour, beans, and eggplant are considered toxic while heating them removes most, but not all, of the harmful lectins. Fermentation, sprouting, and soaking have also been employed to remove these harmful substances. But I frequently tell people to think “peanut allergy” when considering the degree of sensitivity that some individuals develop to these proteins.
The literature describes the pathomechanism of the damage done by these lectins as being like a lock and key, in which the circulating lectin serves as a key that unlocks the cell to which it attaches. All complex cells, plant or animal, have carbohydrates that project from their cell membranes. These serve as glycoprotein receptors (docking stations, if you will) to which circulating lectins and other things can attach. When the right “key” comes along, its attachment can initiate a cascade of events in that cell wall that may lead to a number of different outcomes, ranging from the attraction of the immune system and cell death to the production of hormones and chemicals to the multiplication of that cell.
Once I found that these harmful lectins (especially those from gluten, dairy, soy and corn) could cause inflammation and tissue damage all by themselves, without an immune response, things really started to make sense. The immune response is actually secondary to that damage, which helps to explain why we see such a variation in the measurable response in different individuals challenged by these glycoproteins. Some will respond with an outpouring of antibodies yielding positive tests while others will not, thus helping to explain the negative tests in individuals who ultimately respond quite well to the elimination diet when they employ it despite those negative tests.
It then becomes clear that these dietary glycoproteins are also a big part of what we label as “autoimmune disease”. Personally, as I stated at the outset, I do not like nor do I use that term anymore unless I put it in quotes. That term implies that the immune system is attacking its own host’s tissues for no good reason. I contend that this does not happen…ever. The immune system always responds appropriately but we simply do not always fully understand why it does what it does. The inflammation being incited by lectins is a prime example of this.
As stated, lectins are antibody-sized entities. How would we know they are present when they are, in fact, that small? We can’t see them in a routine tissue sample. It would take biochemical analysis or, again, antibody testing to determine whether they are involved. Therein lies the rub. Not everyone responds with what we might call an “appropriate” response (one that we can detect readily). We just have to know that these lectins can and do cause changes in the individual cells of the body (neurons, nephrons, blood cells, etc) of susceptible individuals. I contend that the “big 4”- gluten (from wheat, barley, rye), dairy, soy and corn- are not healthy for anyone. They are simply better tolerated by some than others. This is the nature of “spectrum disorders” among individuals, who range in affliction from the “best of the best” to the “worst of the worst”. Once again, thinking “peanut allergy” helps us to envision the “worst of the worst”. Now that’s a sensitivity!
For the sake of previous discussions on the dietary aspects of epilepsy, does gluten affect neurons? It definitely can. Can gluten kill neurons? Yes, indeed! If an inquiring individual were to do an Internet search for “gluten, neurons”, they would find some very relevant articles. How the lectins of gluten damage and kill neurons is the interesting thing, and the answer lies in understanding of the mechanisms of cellular physiology and how that cell responds to challenges. A concurrent study of viruses helps to complete the big picture and that is why I write so much about this on my site now.
It is logical that the viruses inside that cell are among the things that determine the response of that cell to the challenge by lectins, carcinogens, and other chemicals/pollutants/preservatives, etc. It has been described in the literature that a cell can have as many as ten different responses to a lectin challenge, ranging from cell death (apoptosis) to tumor formation. I believe that one of the answers lies in the adaptive viruses found inside that cell. After all, that is what viruses do in nature- they facilitate adaptation (as well as cause variation in nature).
The phenomenal thing is that our very DNA contains these adaptive viruses. Researchers now estimate that up to 45% of the genetic codes in our double stranded DNA are actually viral information, some active and some extinct. This is what retroviruses, in particular, do. They infect the cell and incorporate their genetic information into our DNA. That is why these particular viruses are involved in cancer and why cancer can be “genetic” (inherited). This “genetic” information can then be transmitted vertically to offspring.
As heretical as it may seem, I am now convinced that cancer itself is an adaptive process. The viruses that “cause” cancer are simply adapting to the challenges (e.g. carcinogens) that we keep throwing at them. When all else fails, they cause the cell that they are designed to protect to start growing out of control in order to ensure the survival of that virus and the cell itself. Thus, I now view a tumor as a “protective cocoon”. Is this a radical idea? Yes, it is. Does it make sense once it is understood that viruses are vital to the normal function of plants and animals (including man) and that their main purpose is to facilitate adaptation? It certainly does to me.
So why don’t we all have cancer and develop it early in our lives? Once again, because there is another part of the “syndrome” that is necessary- a weakened immune system. That’s right. We are all killing cancer cells right now (hopefully). The immune system recognizes when a cell is trying to do something inappropriate or harmful and sends in the cavalry. This could be just what we (incorrectly) label as an “autoimmune response”. Once again, I contend that the body does know exactly what it is doing each and every time it does something. Again, we just don’t understand what it is doing sometimes and I believe that what we call “autoimmune disease” is one of those times.
How does this apply to epilepsy and other neurodegenerative diseases such as MS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS? As stated above, some viruses have a distinct affinity for the central nervous system. The two most common brain tumors in veterinary medicine are the oligodendroglioma and astrocytoma, both of which are likely to be viral neoplasms involving those cells that control many of the supportive functions of the neuron, including the production of the myelin sheath and the control of neurotransmitter levels (glutamate). If there are viruses in those cells causing tumors, then through “reverse engineering”, we can see that there are going to be the processes (e.g. “autoimmune diseases”) taking place that precede the formation of these tumors because these are the means by which the immune system controls the tumor production…until it is overwhelmed by all the toxins we are throwing at it.
Latent viruses are involved in many of the disease “syndromes” with which we are afflicted, including epilepsy and cancer. I like to use cancer as the parallel to illustrate the difference between “causes” and “triggers”. For example, carcinogens do not “cause” cancer. Viruses are the principle, proven cause of cancer (e.g. retroviruses). Carcinogens simply incite the virus into causing that cancer. I am convinced that the public will be told in the (near) future that all cancer is viral. Researchers have been saying this for years and years. After all, it is what some viruses do, incorporating their DNA into that of the host only to have that cell reproduce out of control at a later date. It is those ugly chemicals and pollutants we call carcinogens that trigger those viruses into turning the DNA into a cell factory.
But, viruses and carcinogens alone are not sufficient for the individual to develop cancer. The host must also experience some degree of immune failure in order to get the “big C”. So, it is this triad of factors…viruses, carcinogens, and immune failure…that come together to yield the resulting cancer. That is what we call a “syndrome”.
Epilepsy is also a syndrome and the parallel is probably already quite clear. Most individuals are loaded with viruses that have the potential to cause seizures. In humans, Epstein Barr (EBV) is one such Herpes virus. 50% of our children in the U.S. have Epstein-Barr by age 5 and 95 % of Americans over age 40 have this virus in their body. Many epilepsy sufferers have not ever been told that viruses are known causes of seizures. The fact is that there are over 25 viruses known to causes seizures in people, many of which are ubiquitous, including Epstein Barr, Herpes simplex, measles, mumps, Coxsackie viruses, and many more). Of course, measles and mumps are in the paramyxovirus group, to which the virus of canine distemper belongs.
But why don’t all humans have seizures if EBV can cause them? On explanation would be that most individuals don’t have the right cofactors in place to make it happen. And there are many cofactors in epilepsy: Diet, the existence of food intolerance (e.g. celiac disease), air quality, hormonal influences, lifestyles, and many other things that affect the immune system as well as the health of the central nervous system, liver, kidneys, and endocrine systems, all of which can play vital roles.
Of all of these factors, diet is clearly the most important. This is very easy to see once we understand what is required of our brains, bodies, and immune systems in order to stay healthy and operate optimally. The “big 4” (gluten, dairy, soy and corn) are the “who’s who” of what is wrong with foods, as they damage our gut’s ability to absorb nutrients (e.g. celiac disease), shower our body with damaging proteins (lectins), load us up with staggering levels of “excitotoxins” (glutamate and aspartate) and pound us with estrogens. As a result, tissue health suffers, immunity fails, enzyme systems go down, and the Pandora’s Box of viruses is opened wide.
Many of the viral infections acquired by humans and pets during their lifetime do not come and go but rather come and stay. As I am fond of saying, “If I could do a Star Trek type of scan on your body and give you a print out of the viruses you have in there, once you got over the shock of that news, you might just be motivated to take better care of yourself, eh?” Some infections are “diphasic”, with the initial infection causing some signs while other symptoms arise later once the individual fails to control the initial infection or continues to bombard these viruses in situ with things that “make them mad”.
A number of these viruses have an affinity for the glial cells (astrocytes and oligodendricytes) that support the neuron and regulate the levels of neurotransmitters (e.g glutamate) at the synapse. I contend that this is one of the main reasons why “the G.A.R.D” (the glutamate/aspartate restricted diet) works so well to help control seizures, as it dramatically reduces the work load of these dysfunctional cells and puts a great Band Aid on the epilepsy situation. But, the long-term solution comes from the very same diet (also called the gut absorption recovery diet), which helps to reverse the malabsorption/malnutrition syndrome that ushered in immune failure and tissue ill health that set the stage for the viral uprising.
The bottom line is that viruses don’t like certain things hurled at them (e.g. lectins, chemicals, and pollution). Their first reaction is one of adaptation, enabling the target cell to function in the presence of the offending agent. For example, I believe that’s seizures actually serve a purpose by effectively disposing of the excess glutamate that could otherwise kill the neuron. Glutamate is not only neurostimulating but potentially neurolethal, as illustrated by the fact that brain death results from the “glutamate cascade” regardless of the cause of bodily death.
However, when viruses are called upon to repeatedly react to these noxious stimuli, a more involved form of adaptation is employed and one that draws the attention of the immune system. At this point, the individual had better hope that there is a competent immune system present to put down this “rebellion”. If not, that candidate may suffer the full blown syndrome, whether it be “refractory” epilepsy, cancer, or that myriad of things researchers love to call “autoimmune disorders”. These things are not as “idiopathic” as we have all been led to believe.
Our medical histories all line up with this once the role (and ultimate purpose) of viruses in nature and our bodies is grasped. They are not the malicious entities that we have labeled them to be. They are simply doing their job. The noxious stimuli being thrown at them is the real issue. We are literally forcing them into becoming pathogens. In addition to the plethora of obvious offending agents being imbibed, most individuals are compounding matters through poor nutrition, polluted environments, fast-paced lifestyles, and lack of sleep. All of these things add up to self-induced misery.
Our pets may not be out partying all night but the two most important- their horrific commercial diets and polluted environments- are wreaking havoc of their health. Is it really their “genetic makeup” that is cutting their lives so woefully short? Do “genes” ultimately turn on all of us? If so, why do they wait years to make that turn? If something is genetic, why does it take 10, 40 or 80 years to show up? What is waiting? Why does it wait? What brings it out of hiding? I have suggested many times that, when reading a paper of genetics, the word “gene” be replaced with the word “virus” to see if that treatise makes more sense. Suddenly, answers to the above questions start coming. Coupled with the knowledge of viral stimulants (e.g. carcinogens, lectins, and other viruses), we can start to see what…or who…the real culprit is.
As the cartoon character Pogo so wisely stated years ago, “We have met the enemy…and he is us.”