Nightshade vegetables and joint pain

Nightshades produce a particular group of substances called alkaloids – these alkaloids protect the plant against insects that would otherwise eat them.  Although the level in vegetables is very low – it is these alkaloids which can cause problems.

While many people can consume the small amount of alkaloids present in the common nightshade vegetables and have no trouble, research indicates there are some individuals who are highly sensitive to these alkaloids.  These alkaloids appear to be deposited in the synovial fluid around joints which our body’s immune system then attacks causing inflammation and joint pain.

What vegetables are in the nightshade family?

Nightshade vegetables are part of a large and very diverse family of plants know as Solanaceae.  Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers including chilli, cayenne and paprika (excluding peppercorns) are the most common of this family, which get their name because they have more activated growth during the night.

Conditions associated with nightshade vegetables.

  • Arthritis, joint pain, swelling and stiffness are most commonly associated with nightshade sensitivity.  It is suggested as many as one in three arthritics may be experiencing side effects from eating nightshade vegetables.

Some research also indicates certain alkaloids may affect the metabolism of calcium by removing calcium from bones and depositing it in soft tissue such as the tendons, ligaments, cartilage, cardiovascular tissues, kidneys and skin which could be a factor in arthritis development.  Osteoarthritis is basically calcium deposits in the soft tissues of joints.

  • Fibromyalgia (related to arthritis) – which causes chronic muscle and joint pain, twitching and fatigue has been improved in some cases by avoiding the nightshades.
  • Skin Conditions – all individuals experience sensitives differently.  There are people who have not had joint problems but cured unexplained skin conditions such as eczema by cutting out nightshade vegetables.
  • Digestive disorders – there is evidence that nightshades can have a damaging effect on the cell membrane in the digestive tract adding to irritable bowel and other gastrointestinal issues.

The Arthritis Nightshades Research Foundation, formed in the 1980’s found that eliminating nightshades could also alleviate conditions such as autoimmune disorders, sleep disturbances, and even weight loss.

How will I know if I should avoid nightshades?

If you suspect this group of food might be causing you discomfort from joint, muscle or nerve pain or you constantly experience stiffness, unexplained skin or digestive problems – the best way to know is to put yourself on an elimination diet.

  • Elimination: Cut out all nightshade vegetables (including seasonings and sauces) for a month.  It is a good idea to keep a food journal during this time and notice any changes in how you feel.
  • After one month feast on nightshades all day.  Then journal how you feel over the next few days.
  • This should give you are pretty good indication if there is a sensitivity.  If you are still not sure, it is likely that there is only a minimal affect from alkaloids and eating nightshades in small doses should be fine.

I always encourage people to use their power of observation and awareness around food and how it affects their body.  Be your own experiment.

If I don’t have a problem with nightshades should I avoid them?

Even if you don’t seem to have trouble with nightshades, in my opinion it’s a good idea to eat seasonally and get lots of variation in your diet. We are very reliant as a culture on potatoes, tomatoes, tomato sauces and peppers. Especially considering nightshade vegetables used to be grown for ornaments only.

With modern supermarkets nightshade vegetables are available all year round and many people don’t even know when they are in season or not.  Not to mention an abundance of tomato products available by can and bottle.  I believe eating seasonally is a great way to ensure you the nutrients available in fresh produce and provide what your body needs without creating an excess of alkaloids for example.

TIP 1: Green spots on potatoes indicate a high alkaloid level and this should be peeled to minimise the alkaloids

Tip 2: Taking a specific supplement for supporting joint health can sometimes also be very beneficial.

Tip 3: Making Bone broths can also be very beneficial for joint health as they provide the minerals and glycoaminoglycans needed to rebuild joints and cartilage.

Ben Warren

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