Lectins are defensive chemicals made by plants that cannot run away from predators. While it sounds funny, it becomes clearer when you discover that plants have been on this Earth for 1.5 million years longer than any ground animal, including insects. Plants have been defending themselves against other plants too. An example is the black walnut tree that drops a chemical called juglone to limit the growth of all other plants on the ground under the tree allowing their saplings to grow without “foreign competition.”

Lectins form in the outer coverings of all plants’ seeds, fruits and leaves, and animals have adapted to these toxins in many ways. For example, horses have limited their diet to ground plants and have come to terms with their defense mechanisms.

The mucus of the digestive tract is the 1st line of defense binding to lectins, escorting them out in the manure. Lectins not bound to mucus can penetrate the tight junctions between the one-cell layer separating what is inside the gut and what is inside the body. We all know that we only want nutrients to pass through this one-cell layer. Damaged tight junctions from lectins cause a “leaky gut,” allowing inflammatory substances to pass through.

Individual horses react differently to lectins; some show no sensitivity, while others show severe gut reactions to small amounts. Wheat gluten is an example of a lectin. Some people have no problem with this plant protein, while others with a celiac disease diagnosis cannot tolerate even the smallest amounts. As a rule, in my experience, many horses have some reaction to the lectins of grains.

Unfortunately, most feeds today have the byproducts of grains added to horse feeds. These byproducts include wheat middlings, oat hulls, rice bran, soybean hulls and sugar beet pulp. While these are not seeds, they are from the outside of seeds or plants where the lectins reside. Seed byproducts are removed from human consumption because they are reactive and discarded. Horse feeds provide an alternative way to dump this waste without considering their effects on the health of the horse’s gut.

The most effective way to remove harmful lectins from the horse’s diet is not to feed them. Unfortunately, there is no science for adding or removing these lectin-filled byproducts from horse feeds. However, several health issues occur in horses now that did not exist 50 years ago. They were not in my veterinary textbooks. These include diseases of the teeth such as EOTRH and fractured cheek teeth. In addition, leaky gut syndrome is a real issue in horses, and I believe feeding these lectins causes it.

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