Avoiding the Invisible Flame of Pain and Inflammation

by Gloria Gilbère, N.D., D.A.Hom., Ph.D., D.S.C., EcoErgonomist, Wholistic Rejuvenist  

Most individuals have never heard the term “nightshades,” much less make the connection to a food group that contributes to pain and inflammation. Nightshades are a botanical group known as solanaceae – making up over 92 varieties and 2,000 species.

The connection of nightshades and arthritis-type disorders was brought to the forefront largely by the efforts of Dr. Norman F. Childers, former Professor of Horticulture at Rutgers University. Dr. Childers knew first hand the pain of severe joint pain and stiffness. He discovered that after consuming a meal containing any tomatoes, he experienced severe pain. As his interest in the inflammatory responses to nightshades grew, he observed livestock kneeling in pain from inflamed joints – the livestock had consumed weeds containing a substance called solanine – a chemical known as an alkaloid, which can be highly toxic.

What many of us potato lovers don’t know is that potatoes, especially those stored improperly or aged, have been known to cause toxic symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization – symptoms range from gastrointestinal and general inflammation, nausea, diarrhea, and dizziness to migraines. It is believed that the reason for the toxicity in potatoes is the solanine that is present in and around the green patches and the eyes that have sprouted.

Historical Perspective

The specific origin of the word “nightshade” is not clear. The English apparently called this member of the Solanum genus “nightshades” because of their “evil and loving” narcotic nature of the night. Also, the Latin word “solamen” means quieting with sedative qualities. It is written that the ancient Romans were said to prepare potions from the deadly nightshades and offer them to their enemies in their “proposed” peace negotiations—they pulled the shade over their enemy’s life for an eternal sleep!

The Cost of Pain

 The United States alone spends an estimated $60 billion a year in medical expenses, loss wages and worker-compensation benefits as a result of chronic pain and inflammation and represents nearly 20 million visits to doctors;. the numbers continue to rise at alarming rates, exceeding 20 billion annual dollars attributed to pain related doctors’ visits. It appears our dietary lifestyle choices, which include the nightshades, are a large contributing factor, and one we can positively affect through life-style modifications. We also know that monosodium glutamate and some food preservatives, additives and flavor enhancers are not only dangerous chemicals, they also ignite inflammation. For detailed information about toxic food ingredients read the book by Dr. Gilbère. Chemical Cuisine: Do You REALLY Know What You’re Eating? – 224 pages that will change your life forever, available on this website.

You Need to Know:

1          In L.H. Bailey’s Encyclopedia of Horticulture, it is said, “When potatoes are exposed to direct sun rays and ‘greened,’ the deleterious substance (solanine) is so greatly increased that the water in which they are boiled is frequently used to destroy vermin on domestic animals. In any case, the water in which potatoes with peel are cooked should not be used in the preparation of other foods such as gravies.”

2          Cholinesterase is an enzyme in the body originating from the brain that is responsible for flexibility of movement in the muscles. Solanine, present in nightshades, is a powerful inhibitor of cholinesterase. In other words, its presence can interfere with muscle movement—the cause of stiffness and pain experienced after consuming the nightshades. All people are not sensitive to nightshades in the same degree, hence, some people develop inflammatory disorders, and others do not.

3          Livestock have died in North America and Europe after ingesting potato vines, sprouts, peeling, and greened spoiled potatoes.

4          According to A.A. Hansen, a researcher, human fatalities of nightshades are also documented.

5          Arthritis among people in Peru is an increasingly common disease, as is the average life span of 25-30 years. Peruvians mostly grow potatoes instead of grain because of their climate.

6          Potatoes are used in the production of alcohol (including vodka), synthetic rubber, and starch in sizing textiles and paper. Caution: Do not lick envelopes, many adhesives contain potato starch.

7          Potato flour or starch is used to give body to breads, doughnuts, biscuits, candies, cookies and soups. It is widely used in baby foods, possibly setting the stage early in life for inflammatory disorders.

8          Paprika, widely found in many items in grocery shelves and sprinkled on foods, comes from a non-pungent pepper mostly grown in Hungary, which has a higher rate of cancer than surrounding countries.

9          The tomato was originally known as “the love apple,” and grown at first only as an ornamental. It was considered poisonous and disease-producing, and still is in some European communities. The vines and suckers are extremely poisonous to livestock as well.

10        According to Early American Horticulture, the tomato was known as the “cancer apple.” Literature shows that the drug tomatine in the tomato has toxicity similar to solanine in the potato.

11        The garden pepper includes many varieties in the Capsicum family and includes Tabasco pepper, cherry, red cluster, bell, sweet, green, pimento, chili, long and red peppers. The garden pepper should not be confused with black pepper used as a condiment, which is the small berry of a tropical vine. Black or white pepper does not seem to aggravate arthritis and inflammatory disorders.

12        Eggplant (Solanum melongena) was also only grown as an ornamental in early years. It was called the “mad apple” in Mediterranean culture because it could cause insanity if eaten daily for a month. Consumption of this food aggravates inflammation and pain, the same as the other nightshades.

13        Many cultures consume tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa) and are unaware that it is part of the nightshades; therefore the symptoms are the same as with its nightshade cousins.

14        Research warns about consuming the garden huckleberry (Solanum nigrum) native to my home in northern Idaho. My experience shows blueberries also provoke the same symptoms as the huckleberry.

15        Always be suspicious of labels reading “spices,” “vegetable starch,” “natural flavoring,” “seasonings,” or “seasoned salt.” Most of these contain potato starch or tomato in some form. If the ingredients are not specifically listed individually, don’t use it. Many sufferers have diligently adhered to their no-nightshade diet, only to experience the same symptoms from “hidden” ingredients.

Nightshade Quick Reference:

Note: The condiments black/white pepper and pepper corns are NOT nightshades 

Foods That Contain Solanine and ignite inflammation, although not directly in the nightshade family include:

Other Ingredients to Avoid:

*Read labels carefully because you could be doing everything else right, and still be sabotaged by one small amount of an ingredient.

Addicted to Nightshades???

 It has been suggested by people who comment, “I cannot do without tomatoes or potatoes,” that they may be just as addicted to this specific group of foods as those addicted to tobacco, also a nightshade. Someday scientists may actually find and validate evidence that nightshade foods are as addicting as their tobacco cousin…stay tuned, as research becomes available I’ll keep you up-to-date.

Defeat Pain & Inflammation in 12 weeks, Naturally

I have many clients with both gastrointestinal and inflammatory disorders who resist eliminating nightshades, even for an initial trial period of 90 days. Those that do, however, return to report the amazing improvement in symptoms of Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Headaches, Arthritis, Gout, Carpal Tunnel and Scleroderma, to name a few.

Cooking to Combat Pain & Inflammation

In recommending any type of elimination diet, there is always resistance—echoing that it’s too difficult to find adequate substitutions. When people have tried every other means to eliminate the pain and stiffness that deteriorates their quality of life, to no avail, they finally agree to eliminate the nightshade family of foods. The most challenging aspect of the diet is to take time to read labels. Many of the nightshades are actually “hidden” in a wide variety of prepared foods. Therefore, if you don’t take the time to scrutinize every label before buying or eating its contents, you will not achieve the benefits.

It is recommended to use this elimination diet for a minimum of 90 days; however, best results are accomplished through life-long avoidance. After 90 days, if you’re not convinced it’s helped, assuming you’ve followed the diet to a T, resume eating foods in the nightshade family and observe how you feel.

A Doctor’s Perspective

I knew giving up potatoes was going to be a hardy sacrifice. In searching for alternatives, I found using parsnips and sweet potatoes just as satisfying. I peel them, boil them, mash them, slice them and sauté them with onions like hash-brown potatoes. I include them in oven roasting and even make fried mashed parsnip patties from leftovers. The taste is sweeter but pleasant, and most importantly, does not cause the pain and inflammation that last for days and even weeks from consuming nightshades.

For over 30 nightshade-free recipes (including BBQ sauce) and detailed guidelines about avoiding nightshades, read my book, Pain / Inflammation Matters, available on this website.