Good Night to Nightshades?

Risa Groux, CN
 | Published: 
May 6, 2018

It is estimated that somewhere between 23.5 million to 50 million Americans are living with some form of autoimmune disease. We are seeing an increase of 12%-19% annually. It’s estimated that 78% of those are women, which means roughly 1 out of 4 women have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. There are hundreds of autoimmune diseases without physician specialists to address such diseases. People living with an autoimmune disease need to work with a specialist in the affected organ/tissue, however, the science is just beginning to evolve. We know that one-third of the autoimmune population stems from genetics, while a great number of studies point to leaky gut (medically known as intestinal permeability) as another major factor. When certain proteins go through the fissures or tight junctions in the gut, this causes an inflammatory response.

Nightshades do not help a leaky gut and a large group of doctors from the functional medical community are supporting the notion that nightshades contribute to both damage to the gut and to perpetuating inflammation. It is believed that the majority of people are unaffected by nightshades. However, if you have autoimmune, digestive sensitivity, heartburn, joint pain, IBS or other gastrointestinal issues… listen up.

Nightshade foods are:

  • Eggplant
  • Potatoes (not including yam or sweet)
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers (Bell, jalapeno, cayenne, tomatillos, etc. except black pepper)
  • Goji berries
  • Okra
  • Sorrel
  • Gooseberries
  • Pepino melons
  • Tobacco
  • Ashwagandha

Nightshades are a member of the Solanaceae family of plants which have been linked to chronic pain and inflammation. They contain compounds like calcitriol and alkaloids.

Calcitriol is an extremely potent hormone, perhaps the most powerful hormone in the body. Calcitriol signals the intestines to absorb calcium from our diet. There is no question we need calcitriol to maintain proper bone density, however, too much leads to high blood calcium. The body wants to balance this out so it deposits the extra calcium into our soft tissues. Osteoarthritis is basically a buildup of these deposits in tissues and joints.

Alkaloids are derived from amino acids. The alkaloids contained in nightshades are solanine, capsaicin, and nicotine.

Solanine, found in potatoes and eggplant, and tomatine found in tomatoes are glycoalkaloids (alkaloid merged with a sugar) which are natural pesticides produced by a nightshade plant. Its purpose is to defend plants against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and insects. That all sounds good for the plants, however, what that means is glycoalkaloids, while trying to protect cell membranes, instead destroy them. Research shows they break open membranes of red blood cells and mitochondria, which is our energy production. This is why people with autoimmune disease while enjoying nightshades, tend to suffer from fatigue. In addition, glycoalkaloids are very poorly absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract.

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in hot peppers that gives them heat. We hear about capsaicins being anti-inflammatory, but they are actually an irritant which produces a sensation of burning in tissues upon contact. That is why your mouth burns when you eat those hot peppers. Its properties actually cause a release of a neuropeptide (protein) that assists in the communication of pain messages to the body. It can also be a potent irritant to tissues such as skin, eyes and mucous membranes.

Nicotine is from the tobacco plant. All nightshades contain some nicotine. Research has showed that nicotine consumption inhibits proper healing.

If you feel that nightshades could be the cause of your symptoms, try eliminating them from your diet for four to six weeks. Assess how you feel and if you’ve experienced any decrease of symptoms, keep a log of what has improved.   Start bringing back one nightshade at a time for a few days and look for a reaction. If you can’t tolerate them, say goodnight for now to those nightshades.

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