Inflammatory Foods: Nightshades

Most individuals have never heard the term “nightshades,” much less make the connection to a food group that ignites 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 affects 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. Solanine is a chemical known as an alkaloid, which can be highly toxic.

An enzyme present in the body called Cholinesterase originates in the brain where its responsible for flexibility of muscle movement. Solanine, present in nightshades, is a powerful inhibitor of cholinesterase. In other words, its presence can interfere with muscle function – the cause of stiffness experienced after consuming nightshades. All people are not sensitive to nightshades in the same degree. Research has proved that when an inflammatory condition exists, consuming nightshades is like adding “fuel to the fire”. That said, there is no scientific evidence that for those not afflicted with inflammation that nightshades will cause it.

Dr. Childers, through his research, proved that 74 – 90% of people who ache and hurt, regardless of their diagnostic “label,” have a sensitivity to nightshades.

      Potatoes, one of the nightshades, 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 the reason for the toxicity in potatoes is the presence of solanine in and around the green patches and the eyes that have sprouted.

            Nightshades – Avoid in order to decrease inflammation:       

  • Potatoes, all varieties (sweet potatoes and yams are NOT nightshades. Beware of potato starch used in many seasonings and as a thickening agent)
  • Peppers (red, green, yellow, orange, jalapeno, chili, cayenne, pimento)
  • Tomatoes, all varieties (including Tomatillos)
  • Paprika
  • Eggplant

      Foods that contain solanine although not directly in the nightshade family:

  • Blueberries & Huckleberries
  • Okra
  • Artichokes

      Other Substances to Avoid:

  • Homeopathic remedies containing Belladonna (known as deadly nightshade)
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications containing potato starch as a filler (especially prevalent in sleeping and muscle relaxing medications)
  • Edible flowers: petunia, chalice vine, day jasmine, angel and devil’s trumpets.
  • Atropine and Scopolamine, used in sleeping pills
  • Topical medications for pain and inflammation containing capsicum (in cayenne pepper)


5 Comments - Leave a Comment
  • Lindsey -

    Thank you for this wonderful article. It is important for chronic pain sufferers, like myself, to be aware of this information. I have referred to your website on my blog.

  • Felicia Serrette -

    I had bilateral hip replacements done 2007 and now by knees may be in need of the same surgery. Learning to avoid the nightshade group is very helpful to me. I am a hot sauce eater and will now avoid it as well as the other foods in this family. Thank you for this information.

  • Fern -

    Thank you for this really helpful article. I am just wondering if the foods mentioned that contain solanine but are not nightshades are still inflammatory? – I think that the article seems to imply this but I have read on other websites suggestions of artichokes being used in the place of potatoes in an anti-inflammatory diet. Any advice would be much appreciated.

    • Dr. Chase Hayden -

      There are quite a few websites that indicate that blueberries, strawberries, okra, and artichokes contain solanine, but multiple PubMed searches (scholarly articles) do not indicate that these non-nightshade foods contain solanine. According a 1998 article by the National Toxicology Program of the US government’s Department of Health and Human Services, solanine has been found in the following plants (not necessarily in the part we normally eat): Potato, Apple, Bell pepper, Eggplant, Sugar beet, Tomatoes, Jerusalem cherries, Bittersweet, Black nightshade, Ground cherries, Jimson weed, and Susumber berries.

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