Nightshades Series 1 of 5: An Introduction
Arthritis. Nobody wants it. Everybody seems to be getting it, from the elderly to even teenagers these days.
What if it were caused by particular foods that people are eating—especially foods that “health seekers” believe in—and these foods were the major culprits behind joint degeneration (and possibly a factor in multitudes of diseases linked to the dreaded inflammation)? What if these foods had a historical association with many diseases? What if there was significant scientific evidence of multiple groups of disease-creating compounds within this class of foods? What if a huge group of people had already demonstrated that avoiding these foods helped resolve their health issues? Would it surprise you to know that these foods comprise nearly 25% of the SAD (Standard American Diet) and possibly even a higher percentage in the “health seeker” population?
This plant family is the Solanaceae (genera and species), also known as the nightshade family. Those who are familiar with my posts on the Catalyst Athletics and CrossFit forums have likely read my warnings about these plants. I have held back on explaining the mechanisms behind this recommendation until now (this will be the first of several articles on this particular topic), as I wanted to get my own personal scientific research into the matter straight. I’ve already done my own Black Box experiments with the nightshades and eliminated much of my musculoskeletal pain (yes, I do cheat on rare occasions, and yes, I do pay for it later).
While this article will be covering several members of this plant family, the major members that we are concerned with here are those that are used as human food staples: tomatoes, potatoes (not sweet potatoes or yams), peppers (bell, jalapeno, paprika, habanero, chile, etc., but not peppercorns), and eggplant. Two of the newest additions to that list are goji (wolf) berries and gooseberries. The most infamous of the nightshade family members is tobacco, a plant that may have caused more human disease and suffering than any other. Feel free to defend your right to eat them; I don’t mind. It’s exactly the same to me as folks trying to argue for their grains and dairy. Sick people (and people on their way to making themselves sick) keep me in business. To be honest, folks in pain who listen to my advice to completely stop eating the nightshades are not my patients anymore—their pain goes away!
“Common wisdom” says that these foods are good for us, right? Most of you who have read the PMenu for any length of time know that wisdom isn’t that common, and the “common wisdom” is usually dead wrong. Scientists with test tubes keep coming up with in vitro reasons why these foods are good for us; On the other hand, historical documentation, animal and human research (in vitro and in vivo), my patients’ black box results from avoidance, and Dr. Norman Childers’ multiple decades of population studies with “cooperators” tells a whole different story. Sounds chillingly like the soy fiasco to me.
My motivation to begin researching the nightshades began at a Primal Reflex Release Technique seminar, where it was mentioned by John Iams, MA, PT that if you had a patient sensitive to nightshades, “nothing you can do, short of eliminating the intake of those plants will make them better.” I was referred to the Arthritis Nightshades Research Foundation website, operated by Dr. Norman F. Childers, a PhD in Pomology, Plant Physiology, and Plant Nutrition. He has published a book entitled, Arthritis—Childers’ Diet That Stops It! , describing much of the horticultural knowledge and history of the nightshades that I will present here. Eventually, I tested the theory on myself and got positive results. My medical interest at that point was piqued to say the least, as the nightshades had comprised one whole sentence of my nutrition education while at naturopathic school—as in, “These are the nightshades... some people are sensitive to them.” So, if you wonder why you haven’t heard of them before, I can testify that even Naturopathic Physicians are not getting a proper education (should I say warning?) about them.
For those who want the hard data on nightshades and arthritis first, I’ll direct you to the two published research papers by Dr. Childers: An Apparent Relation of Nightshades (Solanaceae) to Arthritis and Childers N.F. A relationship of arthritis to the Solanaceae (nightshades). J Intern Acad Prev Med 1979; 7:31-37. Dr. Childers is the only person I know of to have done any kind of study of nightshade avoidance and arthritis—check out his Black Box results:
Of the 5000 readers canvassed, 434 returned a questionnaire (8.6%)... 68% received various degrees of relief from arthritic symptoms vs. 72% in the first survey; it was found that physicians had diagnosed arthritis in 85% of the volunteers. Of the 52% rigidly on the diet, 94% reported complete or substantial relief.
Because everyone in the US who is not actively trying to avoid the nightshades is presumably eating them (try going to restaurants and finding menu items that don’t include them!), Dr. Childers’ studies have consisted of “cooperators” who follow the nightshade restrictions and report back with their symptomology. No one that I know of besides Dr. Childers has performed any direct studies of the correlation between nightshades and arthritis (in humans)—mainly because finding a subset of people who don’t currently consume nightshades is nigh impossible these days. To add my little conspiracy note, let’s see here: 25% of the food Americans eat + Big Pharma’s profits on painkillers + addictive qualities of the nightshades = suppressed/unfunded research coupled with major denial!
A Little History
The following are historical references to health issues caused by the nightshades. These quotes come directly from Dr. Childers’ book. This could be done in more detail, however, I’m sure that readers would rather I get to the hard facts—as in scientific studies and Black Box results. If you’d like more, buy Dr. Childers’ book. [italics mine]
“The tomato came to North America (1900) long after the Peru Indians had it. The tomato was termed the “Love Apple” and grown at first only as an ornamental. It was considered poisonous and disease-producing and still is by some Europeans.”
“During a famine in 1782, Scottish Highlanders complained of dropsy when potatoes were eaten abundantly. Mrs. Alice Shore... reports that Russian prisoners of WWII were returned with advanced cases of puffiness (dropsy) due to largely living on potatoes. There was an old saying in New Hampshire shortly after the Irish brought the potato to the United States in 1719, that the white potato shortened men’s lives.”
“The eggplant... also was grown as an ornamental in the early days and was not eaten until relatively recent years. In the Mediterranean area it was thought to cause insanity if eaten daily for a month. In fact, it was called the “Mad Apple” which may have come from the Italian name, melazana, or the pre-Linnean name, Mala insana.”
Dr. Childers gives no historical references to peppers.
The Poor, Poor Animals
Many practitioners in vitalistic or “natural” medicine often look to animals to prove the effectiveness of remedies and modalities that modern medicine deems “quackery, snake oil, and placebo”. Homeopathy and other forms of energy medicine come to mind. It is theorized that if a remedy works on an animal, the placebo effect is removed from the equation and thus there is some actual curative mechanism at work. Scientists do a similar thing—test on animals to observe safety and effectiveness before moving to humans. So, the reverse should also be true. If we can watch and/ or control what animals eat and correlate it to what would be called “arthritis” in humans, it is plausible that those foods might cause human arthritis!
There are two terms that are used in nightshade research that we should cover:
Okay, get ready, because what I’m about to tell you is the exact opposite of what conventional medicine believes is the etiology (cause) of osteoarthritis:
Osteoarthritis in humans is EXACTLY the same process as calcinosis in animals. Same face, different name.
Osteoarthritis is not a problem of the cartilage “degenerating”, leaving one with no cartilage in the end. It is a process of the cartilage slowly turning into bone! Follow with me here. From the definition of Calcinosis:
“Calcinosis is calcification (deposits of calcium phosphate) that may occur in many different soft tissues. Calcium phosphate crystals have a remarkable tendency to aggregate into snowball- like clumps and are invariably associated with particular collagens. Collagens are fibrous, insoluble proteins found in the connective tissues, including skin, bone, ligaments, and cartilage. Collagen represents about 30 percent of the total body protein. Classification of the types of calcinosis generally separates these conditions into those that result from long-standing hypercalcemia [meaning an excessive amount of calcium in the blood] and/or hyperphosphatemia [meaning an excessive amount of phosphorus in the blood], and those following some local abnormality in the affected tissues.”
The first thing one needs to know about the nightshades is that they have ALL been shown to have an incredible ability to induce hypercalcemia across multiple species (see links to studies below). The “local abnormality in the affected tissues” mentioned above? As many athletes know, injuries cause minor to major joint abnormalities—perfect places for this process to take place.
So... we know that calcinosis can be induced by hypercalcemia. Hypercalcemia can lead to aggregation of calcium phosphate crystals in particular collagens, particularly those in ligaments and cartilage (i.e. joints!). Modern medicine, in all of its wisdom in chronic disease diagnosis and treatment, has then misconstrued:
- Transformation of cartilage into bony tissue as “degeneration/loss of cartilage” (it didn’t go anywhere!)
- Calcification of tendons/ligaments/joint capsule as “osteophytes”
- Hyperostosis as a “loss of joint space”
I wanted you to read this alternative presentation of osteoarthritis because to this point, I haven’t come across any animal studies on nightshades that involved the word osteoarthritis, I’ve only seen calcinosis. I’m here to tell you that they are the same thing.
Moving on. Here’s a list of different varieties of nightshades that have been studied and implicated in calcinosis in animals, and that calcinogenic factor is...the active form of Vitamin D!!! (hence why I almost never advise people to get their Vitamin D from supplements or cod liver oil):
Solanum tuberosum (white potato)
Stankiewicz JN, Evans JL. Potato diet influences on tissue mineral composition in the growing rat. J Animal Sci Abstr 1980; 51:223.
Solanum malacoxylon (South American eggplant)
- Modification by rumen of vitamin D-like activity of Solanum malacoxylon in rats
- Action of Solanum malacoxylon on calcium metabolism in the rat.
- Acute effects of Solanum malacoxylon on bone formation rates in growing rats.
- The vitamin D3 metabolite-type activity of Solanum malacoxylon.
- Cattle calcinosis in Austria. IV. Comparative experimental studies on Ca and P metabolism in guinea pig following hypervitamonosis D and poisoning with Solanum malacoxylon.
Solanum glaucophyllum (waxyleaf nightshade)
- Effects of plant-induced hypervitaminosis D on cutaneous structure, cell differentiation and cell proliferation in cattle.
Solanum sodomeum (vine of Sodom—ouch!—same genus as potato and eggplant)
- Toxicity of Solanum sodomaeum and Solanum malacoxylon to chicks.
- The effect of dried fruit of Solanum sodomaeum on Japanese quail and S.C. White Leghorn cockerel chicks.
Solanum torvum (turkey berry)
Cestrum diurnum (day jessamine)
- Studies on the 1alpha, 25-dihydroxycholecalciferol-like activity in a calcinogenic plant. Cestrum diurnum, in the chick.
There are many issues with the nightshades and health, along with nearly as many mechanisms/compounds that can affect our physiology. The purpose of this article was not to delve into the mechanisms of how the nightshades “cause” arthritis/calcinosis, as those are still under debate (the end results are not, however). This article is meant to demonstrate the significant (I’d say undeniable) amount of Black Box evidence that eating the nightshades is a major factor in causing osteoarthritis, both in humans and multiple animal species. In future articles I’ll be discussing the nightshades’ effects on cell membrane permeability, vitamin D-like activities (in a decidedly bad way), cardiovascular disease and cancer implications, osteopenia/-porosis, glycoalkaloids, birth defects, systemic calcification, cholinesterase inhibition, usage in vaccines as an adjuvant, gastrointestinal irritation, neurotoxicity, inhibition of proper healing, and probably some others I’ve missed.
To put it bluntly—if you desire a long and active life, eliminate the nightshades from your diet and get your magnesium status corrected (that’s for a future article).
One last thing—if you do your own research on nightshades, you’ll find the word sensitivity used a lot, as if some people are immune to the effects while others suffer greatly. I’m here to tell you it’s like processed sugar. Some people can get away with eating a bunch for a long time with little apparent ill effects, while others become diabetic with other symptoms very quickly. Processed sugar isn’t good for anyone. Some people can just get away with it longer (I do believe magnesium status plays a huge role here in levels of so-called sensitivity). Nightshades damage everyone who eats them. For those who feel they are immune, I can say that I have observed and questioned patients and found that arthritis has been striking earlier, generation by generation. If that’s a legacy you want to pass on to your children, that’s your choice. Someone has to pay the metabolic Piper eventually.
Here’s to pesto sauce on your pizzas!