Are Nightshade Vegetables Linked to Inflammation?

Anti-inflammatory diets designed for conditions such as arthritis, autoimmune diseases and gout, often suggest avoiding nightshades. Why is this? It turns out that some of the naturally-occurring chemicals in nightshades may have harmful effects on the body.

Which vegetables are nightshades?

Nightshades are any vegetable that belongs to the plant family Solanaceae. There are over 2700 different species of plants in the nightshade family, but most of them are not eaten and some are even toxic.

The nightshades that are commonly eaten are:

  • Potatoes (this does not include yams and sweet potatoes)
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers (includes bell peppers, hot peppers, paprika, pimentos, etc., but does not include the spice black pepper)
  • Eggplants
  • Tomatillos
  • Ground cherries
  • Goji berries

How can they cause inflammation?

Nightshade vegetables contain various natural chemical compounds that can promote inflammation and other negative health effects.

Although they do not react the same for all people. Some people appear to be unaffected by eating this family of vegetables. Whereas, if someone is already diagnosed with an inflammatory condition, it seems consuming nightshades can make the condition worse.

Dr. Childers, who conducted a 20-year study on the connection between nightshades and arthritis, concluded that 74 to 90 percent of people who ache or hurt, regardless of their diagnosis, have a sensitivity to nightshades.

These are some the main compounds in nightshades that may be behind the problems.

1) Alkaloids

There are different types of alkaloids found in different nightshade vegetables, such as:

  • Solanine in all nightshades, especially potatoes and eggplants
  • Tomatine in tomatoes
  • Capsaicin in peppers

Solanine in particular is highest in potatoes that have turned green or started to sprout. Tobacco is also part of the Solanaceae family, and nicotine is another type of alkaloid. The addictive effect of some alkaloids is considered a possible reason behind addictive behaviors towards certain foods.

The alkaloids in nightshades have been shown to inhibit the enzyme cholinesterase, which helps regulate muscle flexibility. The impairment of cholinesterase may explain how the buildup of alkaloids in the body can result in muscle spasm, aches, pains, inflammation and stiffness.

Another function of cholinesterase is to break down neurotransmitters like acetylcholine. Acetylcholine stimulates nerves, muscles and glands to function properly. But high levels of acetylcholine will cause overstimulation, and toxic levels have been shown to lead to nervous system problems including anxiety, depression, behavioral disturbances and cognitive issues.

2) Calcitrol

This is a hormone that triggers the body to absorb calcium from what you eat. It’s also found in nightshades. Excessive calcitrol promotes too much calcium in the blood and can lead to atherosclerosis by depositing calcium in the blood vessels.

Also, research has shown that high levels of potato consumption can decrease the mineral content in both bones and soft tissues and lead to a decrease in body weight.

3) Saponins and Lectins

Nightshades are also high in both saponins and lectins. These substances are produced by plants as natural pesticides. Research is showing they may also have the potential to contribute to various adverse health effects, including gut inflammation and gastrointestinal damage.

Cholesterol molecules are part of all cell membranes in the body. Saponins are able to interact with cholesterol molecules and form a pore-like structure. This creates tiny holes in the cell membranes.

When saponins move through your digestive tract, there is the danger of creating cellular holes in the lining of the gut, which can allow a variety of substances found in the gut to enter the wrong cells or get into the blood stream. This is also known as leaky gut.

Lectins act in a similar way. And some research has suggested that lectins could contribute to food intolerances and inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

What can you do about it?

Many traditional and modern diets, such as macrobiotic, Ayurvedic and paleo, recommend either limiting your intake of nightshades or eliminating them altogether.

Not everyone is sensitive to nightshades, and some people may only be sensitive to one or two members of the family. If you suspect you might be sensitive, itís best to try a short-term elimination diet.

Start by eliminating all nightshades for a week or two. This includes all the obvious vegetables, as well as any spices that contain paprika, cayenne or other hot peppers. Also watch out for potato starch used as a thickener, especially in gluten-free products.

Afterwards, reintroduce one type of nightshade, such as tomatoes. Give each new vegetable three days to see if it causes any symptoms. Do this with each variety of nightshade one at a time and take note of how, or if, you react.

Personally, I had problems with wrist inflammation some years ago. I thought I was developing carpal tunnel syndrome due to jobs I had in the past that involved heavy, repetitive lifting. The strange thing was that my wrist pain would flare up sometimes, and other times my wrists felt alright.

I tried cutting nightshades completely out of my diet for two weeks. Within one week, any pain in my wrists had completely stopped. To this day, my wrists are fine as long as I avoid nightshades. But if I ever eat any, by the next day my wrists will start to hurt again.

What can you eat instead?

If you find out that you are sensitive to one or all of the nightshades, your first reaction might be panic. It seems like the majority of modern foods contain either potatoes, tomatoes or peppers. Whatís left if you cut these out?

I started by figuring out what could I replace tomato sauce with. After some experimentation, I discovered apple sauce is actually a great replacement. It makes an excellent pasta sauce and goes well in soups, stews and anywhere else you would use tomato sauce.

And there are many sauces you can explore beyond tomato sauce. An Indian-style spinach and coconut milk sauce has become a staple in my home for serving on pasta or grains.

Parsnips and other root vegetables replace potatoes well. I find they also have more flavor and nutrients. Yam fries are usually available in grocery stores and restaurants instead of potato French fries.

There are also lots of great condiments beyond ketchup. Relishes, mustards, sauerkraut, mayonnaise and other toppings and sauces all go great on burgers and wherever you would use ketchup.

13 Herbs and Spices That Can Reduce Inflammation
The Beginnerís Guide to a Low FODMAP Diet
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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago


Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen3 years ago

Thank you

Cela V.
Cela V3 years ago


Peter Keen
peter K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Fi T.
Past Member 3 years ago

Make the right choice

Ivana D.
Ivana D3 years ago


Ivana D.
Ivana D3 years ago


Ivana D.
Ivana D3 years ago


Ivana D.
Ivana D3 years ago