The term nightshades is usually met with confused looks from our clients when we ask them to avoid them. So what are they and why are they such a problem? And what is the link between them and chronic pain?
Nightshades belong to a plant family of over 2000 species, the Solanaceae family. Most of them are inedible and some are quite deadly. This is due to a glycoalkaloid compounds found inside them, alpha-chaconine, alpha-solanine, and alpha-tomatine, neurotoxins. Glycoalkaloids are saponins and all plants contain saponins. Saponins are detergent-like compounds that are part of the plant’s natural defense mechanisms against microbes and insects. They are often heavily concentrated in the seeds. Nightshades along with legumes and pseudo-grains are high in these.
What do Saponins do?
Saponins interact with the cholesterol in our cell’s membranes creating pores or holes in our gut leading to intestinal permeability or leaky gut. If you read our other articles you know how bad leaky gut can be and the connection it has with autoimmunity. Glycoalkaloids found in nightshades are among the most researched. They are cholinesterase inhibitors. Cholinesterase is an enzyme that breaks down an important neurotransmitter acetylcholine, one of its main functions is in muscle contraction. Therefore, these glycoalkaloids, for now on I will simply call them solanine, can inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine leading to a host of issues. Dr. Childers stated, “When these inhibitors accumulate in the body, along or with other cholinesterase inhibitors such as caffeine or food impurities containing systemic cholinesterase inhibiting pesticides, the result may be a paralytic-like muscle spasm, aches, pains, tenderness, inflammation, and stiff body movements.” (1)
Dr. Childers goes on to say another issue is the ability of solanine to create a “very active metabolite of vitamin D3 that results in calcinosis of soft tissues, ligaments, and tendons, mineralization in walls of the major arteries and veins, and osteopetrosis and related pathology in livestock.” (1) This eventually led to the death of many livestock. Of course, this was in livestock but it does raise many questions.
Here is an interesting article. The article covers nightshade toxicity, but it starts off with a story of 78 students who all became very sick. “Symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and, in severe cases, depression of the central nervous system. Several patients were comatose with episodes of convulsive twitching and violent fits of fever. In many patients, there were signs of peripheral circulatory collapse. Within five days of the initial outbreak, all patients recovered in full, though some hallucinated for several days.” What was the cause? Boiled green potatoes.
An interesting tidbit is that as far as we know nightshade vegetables are a relatively recent phenomenon throughout the world except in parts of South America where we think they originated. But through exploration and trade they increased in use throughout the world in the last 200 years. Not everyone is sensitive to them, some are more than others.
Here is the kicker though, solanine has a fairly long half-life of about 1-2 months. In other words it will take about 1-2 months for the amount of solanine you have to decrease by 50%. It can take upwards of 6 months to remove all of it barring further consumption.
To sum it up, nightshades are linked to chronic pain, fibromyalgia, leaky gut, autoimmunity, arthritis, osteoporosis, and atherosclerosis.
Common Nightshade Vegetables and Plants:
- Peppers (not white or black pepper)
- Garden huckleberries (different from regular huckleberries)
- Goji berries
- Potatoes (not sweet potatoes)
One thing of interest that has been recently brought to my attention is soy sauce. Soy sauce that is made in the US with GMO soy beans, possibly has nightshade components in it. They use petunia in the cutting process. Just FYI, you should be using non-GMO soy sauce anyways if you use it.
In Our Practice
We see solanine toxicity quite frequently. Almost always when someone comes in with chronic pain, joint pain, muscle pain, arthritis, etc. solanine is on our radar. A couple of patients of mine have dealt with it. One is so extreme that even touching a pepper can cause a flare up. Another originally came in with severe elbow pain making her work difficult. Sure enough it was a solanine issue in both.
Solanine can easily fly under the radar with musculoskeletal pain. We are often trained to compartmentalize and reduce when approaching patients. But our body doesn’t work that way. Each body system is interdependent with each other. What affects one, will affect the other. Don’t get me wrong we still look at the musculoskeletal as fascial restrictions and muscular imbalance play a big role too. But when it comes to fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and arthritis we are definitely looking broader and often to nightshades as a cause.
A helpful tool we use in our office for solanine removal is Thera Supreme from Supreme Nutrition. This product contains a bilberry, blueberry, elderberry, pomegranate, asparagus, black radish, and cilantro. It is a great detoxifier and antioxidant along with clearing solanine.
If you think you have a problem with them, trying going off of them for three months and see what happens. Maybe it will do the trick. For more information check out Dr. Norman Childer’s website. He has been doing nightshade research for a very long time.