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Both these physical and chemical defensive strategies are remarkably effective at keeping predators at bay, and even sometimes at getting animals to do their bidding. Because their initial predators were insects, plants developed some lectins that would paralyze any unfortunate bug that tried to dine on them.
Obviously, there is a quantum size difference between insects and mammals, but both are subject to the same effects. If you are suffering from neuropathy, take notice! But we are not immune to the long-term effects of eating certain plant compounds. Because of the huge number of cells we mammals have, we may not see the damaging results of consuming such compounds for years. I learned of this connection via hundreds of my patients who respond almost instantly, often in fascinating ways, to these mischievous plant compounds. As long as the canaries sang, the miners felt safe, but if the chirping stopped, it was a clear signal to evacuate the mine posthaste.
You learn about some of them in the Success Stories throughout the book. Paul G. He suffered from POTS syndrome sudden low blood pressure and was allergic to almost everything, breaking out regularly in severe hives.
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Paul also had dangerously high cortisol and inflammation levels. Because he was allergic to most foods, he was emaciated. He now takes no medications and is enjoying camping and other outdoor activities. Botanists and other scientists regularly refer to plant seeds as babies. Plant seeds can be divided into two basic types. Some are babies that plants actually want predators to eat. Fruit trees, which bear seeds enclosed in a hull, are one example of the first type of plant seeds. The mother plant relies on animals to eat the seeds before they fall to the ground. If the swallowed seed remains intact, it emerges from the animal along with a nice dollop of poop, to boost its chance of sprouting.
Thanks to the protective hull, there is no need for such plants to resort to a chemical defense strategy in the seeds. In fact, quite the opposite! One is color. For this reason, all animals that eat fruit have color vision. Before such things as the Granny Smith apple were introduced to this country, youngsters of my generation who ate green apples learned the hard way, via the green apple two-step diarrhea , not to eat fruit before it was ripe.
So, when is the right time for the predator to consume the fruit? Incredibly, the plant has chosen to manufacture fructose, instead of glucose, as the sugar in the fruit. Glucose raises insulin levels in primates and humans, which initially raises levels of leptin, a hunger-blocking hormone—but fructose does not. As a result, the predator never receives the normal message that it is full, which would signal it to stop eating.
Would it surprise you that great apes gain weight only during the time of year when fruit is ripe? That makes for a win-win for predator and prey. The animal obtains more calories, and because it keeps eating more and more fruit and therefore more seeds, the plant has a better chance of distributing more of its babies.
And even if we still needed those calories, until the last few decades, most fruit was available only once a year, in the summer. As will soon become clear, year-round availability is making you sick—and overweight! Plants have long taught us to associate red, yellow, and orange colors with ripeness; however, now when you buy fruit in North America in December, it was likely grown in Chile or another country in the Southern Hemisphere, picked slightly unripe, and then given a blast of ethylene oxide when it arrived at its destination.
The Next Gluten
The ethylene oxide exposure changes the color to make the fruit appear ripe and ready to eat, but the lectin content remains high because the protective coating of the seed never fully matured and the fruit never got the message from the parent plant to reduce the lectin content. Again, when fruit is allowed to ripen naturally, the parent plant reduces the amount of lectins surrounding the seeds in the fruit and skin and then communicates this information by changing color.
In contrast, gassing artificially changes the color of the fruit, but the lectin protection system remains in effect. Thanks to the high lectin count, eating fruit picked too early is detrimental to your health. In Europe, most out-of-season fruit is grown in Israel or North Africa. Because it does not have to travel a long distance over several days, it may be picked ripe and not have to be gassed.
In the case of naked seeds, plants use a divergent strategy. These grasses, vines, and other plants that grow out in the open fields have already chosen a fertile spot in which to grow. They want their babies to fall in place and take root there. That way, after the parent plants die off in the winter, the babies will sprout the following season, replacing the earlier generation. There is no advantage to being carried off, so the plant must discourage insects or other animals from consuming its babies and transporting them elsewhere.
Whole grains actually contain all three of these defensive chemicals in the fibrous hull, husk, and bran. To find out if the plant was aware of being eaten, scientists re-created the vibrations that a caterpillar makes as it eats the leaves. Still other plant-predator dissuaders include tannins, which impart a bitter taste, and the alkaloids found in the stems and leaves of the nightshade family.
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You may already know that nightshades, which include such culinary favorites as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers, are highly inflammatory. Plotting to harm us? Concocting chemicals to deter predators? Convincing animals to transport their seeds to other locales to expand their territory? Such strategies suggest that plants are capable of intention, perhaps even of learning.
But any living thing wants to survive and reproduce. Did you know that a plant knows when it is being eaten? It deploys troops to defend itself, in an effort to stop the predator. In this case, the research subject was a plant called thale cress Arabidopsis thaliana , a member of the cabbage family.
Potential benefits of plant food lectins
Thale cress was the first plant to have its genome sequenced, so researchers have a better understanding of its inner workings than of most other plants. To find out if the plant was aware of being eaten, the scientists re-created the vibrations that a caterpillar makes as it eats the leaves.
They also recorded other vibrations that the plant might experience, such as that of wind blowing. Sure enough, the cress responded to the vibrations that mimic a munching caterpillar by upping its production of mildly toxic mustard oils and delivering them to the leaves to deter predators. The plant showed no response to wind or other vibrations. Another example is the sensitive plant Mimosa pudica , which is deserving of its name.
It has learned to protect itself from being disturbed, which includes being eaten, by defensively folding its leaves in response to touch. In fact, the leaf-folding behavior is more pronounced and persistent when it grows in an area where it has been particularly subject to interference than when it grows in an undisturbed area.
Thinking, reasoning plants! Plants also respond to circadian rhythms, just as humans and other animals do. In one study, researchers found that the so-called clock gene in plants determines the time of day a plant will produce an insecticide to coincide with the time a predator is likely to be on the prowl.
When the researcher removed the clock gene from the plant, it lost its ability to produce the toxin. Yes, you are reading that word correctly. It is lectin, not lecithin a fatty substance in a plant or animal or leptin the appetite-regulating hormone mentioned above. When bugs start eating leaves on one side of a plant, the lectin content doubles almost immediately on the other side, as the plant valiantly struggles to dissuade further consumption. Yes, there are ways to make marinara sauce without tomatoes and bell pepper. For the most part, with one important exception, they are large proteins found in plants and animals, and they are a crucial weapon in the arsenal of strategies that plants use to defend themselves in their ongoing battle with animals.
Scientists discovered lectins in as part of their investigation into different blood types. Until now, you have probably been familiar with only one famous—or, rather, infamous—lectin: gluten. Just as a teaser, 94 percent of humans are born with antibodies to the lectin in peanuts.
How exactly do lectins help plants defend themselves? Like smart bombs, lectins target and attach themselves to sugar molecules, primarily on the surface of the cells of other organisms—particularly fungi, insects, and other animals.
They also bind to sialic acid, a sugar molecule found in the gut, in the brain, between nerve endings, in joints, and in all bodily fluids, including the blood vessel lining of all creatures. For example, when lectins bind to sialic acid, one nerve is unable to communicate its information to another nerve. If you have ever experienced brain fog, thank lectins. Lectins also facilitate the attachment and binding of viruses and bacteria to their intended targets. Believe it or not, some people—those who are more sensitive to lectins—are therefore more subject to viruses and bacterial infections than others.
Think about that if you seem to get sick more often than your friends do. In addition to the potential to cause health problems, lectins can also stimulate weight gain. You read that correctly. And guess what?
Forget gluten—this might be the actual cause of your health woes
We will explore these implications further in the following chapters. A plant will do just about anything to keep your mouth off its seeds and save its babies, including sacrificing its leaves. By design, lectins either kill any animal that dares to eat it outright or at the very least make that animal feel unwell.
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