- Jeff is a 30-year-old construction worker who has been missing work because of severe joint pain and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Tony is a 12-year-old whose neurologist has diagnosed him to have early stages of Multiple Sclerosis.
- Wendy is a 55-year-old accountant with fibromyalgia and headaches and showing early signs of osteoporosis.
- Martin is a 47-year-old who came in with back problems but is taking medications for depression and anxiety.
- Sandra is a 25-year-old mother of two who has been diagnosed with anemia and suffers from occasional bleeding rashes around her scalp, ears, underarms, genitals, and navel.
What do they all have in common (besides the fact that I changed all their names)?
They all showed improvement when I took nightshades out of their diets.
This is not something that gets a lot of press, so I’m not surprised if you’re not familiar with the term “nightshades.”
Basically, nightshades are a group of fruits and vegetables (genus Solanaceae) that are quietly conspiring to kill you. The origin of the term “nightshade” is not exactly known, but may be due to the fact that these foods were originally associated with witchcraft, narcotics, and murder by poisoning in old English literature. These plants are also believed to be more active at night than during the day, so that could be part of it as well.
The suspects include:
- Potatoes (all varieties except sweet potatoes and yams)
- Jimsyn Weeds
At first glance, this seems like a random list of unrelated plants, but they have some important commonalities. The big one is that they all contain glycoalkaloids. Glycoalkaloids are a natural pesticide produced by these plants, defending them against insects, fungi, and viruses. They bind to and disrupt the cellular structure in these predators, causing their cells to leak or burst open. That can be really useful if you’re fighting viral cells or even cancer cell (as one 2011 has shown). The only problem is that same study showed that glycoalkaloids don’t differentiate between cancerous cells and healthy cells, and cause the same disruption in both.
In fact, they can disrupt and burst open red blood cells and may be linked to fissures in the lining of the gut, leading to “leaky gut” syndrome. We’ve spent a lot of Wellness Wednesdays talking about gut health and the dangers of “leaky gut,” including microbes and toxins entering the bloodstream and compromising the immune system. Research suggests that nightshades are an important contributor to these problems.
What we end up with is a potpourri of medical conditions that seem unrelated but are all branches off of one main trunk: inflammation. When the body senses a toxic invader, it releases armies of defense cells to neutralize and eliminate the invader. Usually, the whole process takes under an hour. But when the immune system is depleted or exposed to an unrelenting barrage of toxins, the body moves into a chronic state of battle called “inflammation.”
Common forms of chronic (or ongoing) inflammation include:
- Crohn’s Disease
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Celiac Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Mental and Cognitive Disorders
This last item is particularly interesting to me because of the exploding incidence of neurological disorders here in Naples, where so much of the population is retirement age. I think there might be an overlooked opportunity here concerning cognitive impairment. Follow my thinking here for a minute:
Acetylcholine is the chemical that nerve impulses run on. It’s produced by an enzyme that is naturally generated by the body. Solanine and Tomatine from tomatoes interfere with this enzyme, so the production of acetylcholine declines. The nerve endings have to work harder to communicate without adequate acetylcholine and deteriorate over time.
It might be time to take tomatoes off the menu.
Who Suffers The Most From Nightshade Sensitivity?
If you look back at European history, you won’t see any reference to nightshade foods until about 1650. when Spanish explorers brought them back from the New World. For 200 years, tomatoes were treated with suspicion, as they were linked to a number of illnesses. Peppers skipped over to the Middle East and India. The potato gained popularity in England and France because you could feed your peasants potatoes from a quarter as much land as traditional grains. In England, Irish slaves were fed little else, so the potato famines of the 1800s were catastrophic for a generation of Irish families. And don’t get me started on tobacco.
Think of your favorite Italian foods. Tomatoes, which today are the centerpiece of all things Italian, weren’t introduced to Italy until the late 1600s and weren’t accepted into regular use until 1800. It was the advent of canning foods that brought nightshades like tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers to the fore of our diet.
With all that said, Europeans have only had a few hundred years to adapt nightshades into their diet, so they are at the greatest risk of having a toxic sensitivity to them. Native Americans and South Americans have been exposed to them for thousands of years and have built up a capacity for them. And that’s what we tend to see in my office.
Question: Now, in a culture that has banned peanut products from elementary school classrooms, and has created a multi-billion-dollar industry around gluten-free food, why don’t we see a similar reaction against nightshades?
Part of the problem in identifying nightshades as a weapon of mass digestion is that the symptoms can take days, weeks, or months to manifest, and when they do, then tend to overlap with other sensitivities, like gluten and dairy. You may be sensitive to peppers and not even know it because you think you are reacting to something else.
So, we have identified the culprits, their weapons, their methods, their backstory, their alibi, and their favorite victims, there’s just one more question: how do we lock them up for good?
The Problem With Removing Nightshades
The difficulty we find with neutralizing the nightshade problem is that it’s difficult to find an American meal that doesn’t include them. Think about the most common menu combinations:
- Steak and baked potatoes
- Cheeseburger and fries
- Pizza with cheese, meat, peppers, and tomato sauce
- Fried chicken and macaroni
If you add a sugar to these combinations (like Coke, or a sweet dessert), you are creating a digestive firestorm that leeches calcium from your bones over time. Now, consider the national epidemics of tooth decay, osteoporosis and arthritis.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
I think part of the issue is that our bodies crave balance. Meat and potatoes create a kind of yin and yang. Animal protein is salty and heavy, and potatoes create a perfect digestive balance. Cheese is greasy and salty, and acidic tomatoes balance it out. Now, it’s important to remember that extremes in balance are still extremes, and if this is your diet, like it is for most Americans, your body will pay the price over time.
How Can I Tell If I Am Sensitive to or Intolerant of Nightshades?
Stop eating them for a week and see if you feel better.
I know that’s easier said than done, especially if you love pizza, salsa, french fries with ketchup, potatoes, or even salad with tomatoes and peppers on top, but it could save your gut, your brain, and maybe your life.
I can’t overstate this; it’s a big deal. Lock them up and throw away the key.
If you are experiencing any kind of physical pain, try it. Get the nightshades out of your diet for a week and let me know how different you feel. If you find after a week or so that you are feeling better, then it’s fair to say that you have at least a sensitivity to nightshades, maybe a full-blown intolerance.
Would it be worth it to have that information?
If leaving out a handful of foods from your diet could save you tens of thousands of dollars in prescription medications, doctor visits, and lost productivity, would it be worth it?
If it could lengthen your healthy life, would that appeal to you?
Don’t get me wrong, you may be able to return those foods to your diet IN MODERATION after a few months. You might not ever be able to eat them again. Is it worth having a longer, healthier life to spend doing the things you want to do?
Think about that.
If you’ve made the decision to remove nightshades from your diet and have seen some positive results, please share your story in the comments on Facebook. We’re building a Fundamental Facebook Family there, where we encourage each other to live happy, healthy lives. We’d love to see you there. Take a few seconds to share it online, too. I bet you have friends on Facebook who don’t know anything about this. You might transform their health, or even save a life. Or, you might just wow your friends at the water cooler with your new-found knowledge.
I’ll see you tomorrow for “Think Right Thursday.”
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas