Solanine Toxicity – The Dark Side of Nightshades

Solanine Conditions and Toxicity

Nightshades Contain Solanine

While the word “nightshade” has become more common in the Paleo and Autoimmune communities, there is still a large group of my patients that are surprised to hear that they may have a sensitivity to nightshades and/or solanines.  In fact, you may have never even heard of a solanine.  This isn’t their/your fault, most of these foods are considered healthy and can have many beneficial uses if you don’t have a sensitivity to solanines.

What is a Solanine?

The main chemical component in the nightshade family that appears to be problematic is solanine.  It is a chemical that some researchers have suggested is extremely toxic nerve toxin that is toxic to both humans and animals. Historically there have been whole societies that have avoided the consumption of solanines in their diet.  This could be due to a genetic sensitivity or other dietary factors, but either way, large groups of people figured out that for their health it was best to avoid them.

What are Some Common Nightshades?

The most common night shades you will find in your diet are:

  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers (bell, sweet, chili, cayenne)
  • Pimentos
  • Tomatillos
  • Paprika
  • Tobacco
  • Gogi berries
  • Ashwagandha (supplement)

What is So Wrong with Solanines?

Some of the scientifically supported reasons to avoid solanines include that solanines have been found to kill cells in the intestines, increase gut inflammation as well as contribute to “leaky gut”.

I know you are thinking, how toxic can a potato be?  Well a good example is that eating a green or sprouting potato or even unripe tomatoes can cause cramps, diarrhea, dizziness and sleepiness.

Your overall health status will of course affect your sensitivity to these chemicals.  If you already have leaky gut, then just a small dose can be enough to aggravate your intestinal lining.  If you are completely healthy and have no history of pain, inflammation or disease, then you may not have a problem with solanines at all.  While I don’t believe in genes being a determining factor for most conditions, how fast your body detoxifies the chemical solanine and certain other metabolic functions may have a genetic component also.

Chronic Poisoning – Chronic Disease

If you are bleeding to death, you know what to do, run to the hospital.  But most people are not suffering from blood loss or any life threating condition.

Most people suffer from chronic diseases that can’t be treated with acute medicinal care. 

The true characteristic of a chronic disease is that it gets worse over time and doesn’t resolve itself.  Another sign that you are suffering from a chronic, not acute condition is that treatment works for a short period of time and then returns or you have to take something like turmeric or fish oils every day to feel well.

In the case of solanines and nightshades, if you are chronically exposed to small amounts of the neurotoxin alpha-solanine every day you eat, you will develop symptoms over time. Very rarely does someone come to my office with a specific date of when symptoms started occurring and when their fatigue, headaches or digestive problems started.  This is no different than any other chronic condition.  Most often inflammation doesn’t instantly occur, leaky guts don’t happen instantaneously and health doesn’t decline at a moment’s notice.

Getting Solanines Out – How Long?

Let’s say you decide to go on a solanine-free diet.  Daily excretion of solanines is around 5% the first day and 1-2% every day thereafter.  So in scientific terms the half-life of a solanine is 1-2 months.  Meaning that to get to half of the levels of where you are today it will take 1 to 2 months.  This means it may take a while to notice a change in your symptoms.  At 1 or 2 months you may only feel 50 percent better.

What Conditions are Associated with Solanines?

Thyroid – Solanines can directly affect the thyroid.  They can also indirectly affect the thyroid by decreasing your gut health.

Inflammation –  Solanines can cause chronic joint pain, arthritis, joint inflammation, osteoporosis and respiratory inflammation.

Leaky Gut – solanines can contribute to leaky gut as well as other conditions such as IBS, IBD and chron’s

Migraines – Any food sensitivity can lead to migraines, but solanine sensitivity is one that is rarely tested

How To Treat Solanine Toxicity

  1. Find someone who is knowledgeable about solanines, many doctors offer a free consultation.
  2. Try a solanine elimination diet for a minimum of 2 weeks. 4 weeks is better.
  3. After the elimination diet add solanines back in for 3×3. 3×3 means that you eat high amounts of solanines 3 meals a day for 3 days.  After day three continue to eat solanines at a normal frequency.  Then observe your symptoms for the next 72 hours to 1 week.

I check solanine sensitivity on any of my patients with chronic joint pain, allergies, asthma or any difficult chronic condition.