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What Are Nightshades And How Can They Hurt?

Virginia Eaton July 2 SNOL Nightshade belladonna-879905Written by Virginia Eaton —

Last week I talked about food allergies, food sensitivities, and the difference between the two.

The most common suspects for both allergic reactions and sensitivity that can cause chronic inflammation are corn, dairy, eggs, and soy. However, there is another category of food that is being scrutinized more closely of late – nightshades.

When you hear “nightshades” you may picture some of the flowers in your garden that add rich and bright color such as petunia, oleander, and daffodils.

All of these plants are poisonous to varying degree (which is why deer rarely eat daffodils). Belladonna and hemlock are two other nightshades commonly known as poisonous and can found in history and literature — think Macbeth doing in the Danes and Socrates being sentenced to drink hemlock.

Virginia Eaton July 2 SNOL Nightshade lycianthes-rantonnetii-10404As poisonous as these plants are, several nightshades make it into our diet on a regular basis.

Fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potato are in the nightshade family and may be causing chaos in your body when consumed regularly. Depending on your level of sensitivity, eating these vegetables can cause anything from simple heartburn to agonizing inflammation including arthritis.

Produce from the nightshade family are relatively new to Western and European diets, most appearing in the 18th century. Interestingly, when first introduced, nightshades were not considered a good choice to eat.

The eggplant was called the ‘mad apple’ and said to cause insanity; tomatoes were considered ornamental when they first made their European debut, and the potato was accused of causing ‘dropsy’ (swelling and inflammation).

In spite of the initial wisdom around these foods, they have made their way into our daily staples and may be responsible for inflammation, pain and stomach issues that cannot be otherwise explained.

There are several compounds found in nightshades that cause havoc in our bodies (calcitriol, solanine, and capsaicin). For a full description of what these substances do in our bodies, follow this link.

Virginia Eaton July 2 SNOL Nightshade tomatoes-879441The inflammation and irritation from these substances happen slowly over time, which is why most people never associate their discomfort with culprits.

The American diet is full of tomatoes, salads, sandwiches, omelets, etcetera. Peppers, including things like paprika, are not only found in most home cooking, but paprika is often used in processed foods for color and flavor.

Then, of course, there is the potato! Americans eat an enormous amount of potatoes, including in most packaged food as starch and natural flavoring.

If you already have an autoimmune disease such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Celiac’s or Shogren’s disease, to name just a few, you should probably consider avoiding or limiting how much you eat from the nightshade family.

Virginia Eaton July 2 SNOL Nightshade knee-1406964If you have never been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease but you have inflammatory symptoms (unexplained aches or pains, intestinal distress, poor wound healing, for instance) that have not been controlled by traditional approaches, you may want to take a look at how much the nightshade family play a role in your diet.

A full list of nightshades is below and is relatively short; there are also a handful of foods that are often accused of being nightshades that really aren’t – blueberries, sweet potatoes, peppercorns, artichokes, and apples — so enjoy these!

Nightshade Family





Peppers (bell peppers, banana peppers, chili peppers, etc.)

Red pepper seasonings (paprika, chili powder, cayenne, curry, etc.)




Goji berries

Ground cherries (similar to tomatoes, they have no relationship to fruit cherries)

Ashwagandha (an ayurvedic herb)


Virginia Eaton July 2 SNOL Nightshade Potato-1112017Don’t assume that body aches and pains are normal, even if blamed on aging. Much of the time, changing your diet can change your quality of your life. Be selfish with your health and ask questions of your medical and wellness community until you get some relief!

Happy 4th of July!

Read more of Virginia Eaton’s blog posts here.

Virginia Eaton is the owner of Oakhurst wellness center Class: The Body Pastiche

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