Nightshades and Arthritis

Written by: SphynxCatVP
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Nightshade foods can be a surprise source of pain - in fact, many people may suffer from it without knowing what the actual cause is. The pain is systemic and widespread, affecting many joints. Some people get inflammation as well - some do not. In any case, the pain can be severe enough to be disabling, especially when nightshade foods are eaten in large amounts.

What are the nightshade foods?

Nightshade foods are agricultural crops that are part of the Solanaceae family. It's most famous member is probably "belladonna" otherwise known as Deadly Nightshade. The commonly used varities are in the "Capsicum" (paprika, chili pepper, bell peppers, etc.), "Solanum" (potato, tomato, eggplant, etc.) and "Nicotiana" (tobacco) branches of Solanaceae.

But everyone eats them, what's the big deal?

For SOME people there is no problem at all.

For others who are more sensitive to the chemicals within the plant, that's when the problem begins. Affected individuals will feel joint pain, muscle stiffness, muscle spasms and sometimes inflammation - and if it continutes for a long period of time, the symptoms can get worse. Quite often the true source of the problem goes undiagnosed for many many years, and the individual requires prescription painkillers to even function.

Why are the nightshades a problems?

The reason the nightshade foods bother some people is because they contain a chemical (whether that chemical is a glycoside or a steroid alkaloid depends on what site you read - I can't determine which is right) that mimics vitmain D's calcinogenic effects. Essentially, this chemical is responsible for telling the body to put lots and lots of free-floating calcium in the bloodstream - much much more so than what would normally happen WITHOUT nightshades - and because of the speed at which this happens, some of the calcium comes out of your bones.

Under normal conditions, the body controls how much vitamin D is made, converted and used; preventing - among other things - hypercalcemia. (Hypercalcemia is an excess of calcium in the blood and urine, with eventual damage to joints, muscles and soft tissues due to calcification - calcium deposits - but with other side effects such as muscle atrophy, muscle twitches/seizures, organ damage, and so on.)

The vitamin D-like chemical contained within the nightshade plants, somehow, completely BYPASSES this natural regulatory control system, and in sensitive individuals will create painful situations due to the excess calcium deposits where they shouldn't be that are noticeable between anywhere from hours to days after exposure, depending on the individual.

What are the symptoms of nightshade problems?

Because it pulls calcium out of the bones, it causes a degenerative condition that weakens the bones leading to conditions such as degenerative arthritis, osteoporosis, and possibly degenerative disc disease. This free-floating calcium is then deposited *everwhere* - joints, soft tissues, muscles, arteries, etc., causing calcification, muscle spasms, pain in many of the affected areas, and if it progresses long enough, damage or death of the affected tissues.

In animals, this is termed "Enzootic Calcinosis", and is a well-known effect on most - if not all - mammals who eat various nightshade plants (See the "Merck Vet" link below.) The symptoms include stiffened. painful movement and walking - especially after prolonged rest - and being visibly tired after walking more than a short distance. Heart murmurs are frequent, pulse rate is increased and calcification of blood vessels is common. Because of the long-term effects, erosion of the cartilage and joints is also present along with weakened bones.

In people, different combinations of these effects - and their resulting pain - are characteristic signs of different forms of arthritis. Osteoarthritis and Osteoporosis are commonly diagnosed due to the changes in the bone structure and joints.

You may not see a difference in your blood calcium levels on a blood test, or bone changes on xrays, for quite some time after the problem develops, especially if you have strong bones to begin with.

How is it commonly treated?

The various forms of arthritis are often treated symptomatically with a variety of painkillers. If it progresses to osteoporosis, then "bone builder" drugs (with their frequent gastric upset side effects) are often prescribed. If it leads to deposits in the areries, "cholesterol buster" (Lipitor, etc.) or anti-plaque (Plavix, etc.) drugs may be prescribed. (see Pubmed links for "Inducing Calcinosis" and "Atherosclerosis/Calcinosis" below)

(If you want non-drug methods, keep reading.)

What are other related conditions?

Some medical ailments that have calcinosis (calcium deposits) as a symptom include:

  • Calcinosis Cutis
  • Dermatomyositis
  • Glucose-6-Phosphatase Deficiency
  • Kidney disease
  • Milk-Alkili Syndrome
  • Nephrocalcinosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteomalacia
  • Osteoporosis
  • PAD / Peripheral Arterial Occlusive Disease
  • Polymyositis
  • Sclerosis

How can I prevent this?

First, remember not everyone is affected by this. And of the people that are, some are affected to a lesser degree (if they cook the nightshade foods, they won't have problems) and some to a greater degree (even cooking doesn't stop the painful effects.)

If you have been diagnosed with arthritis (any type), chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, gout, or any nerve/muscle related issue (because excess calcium can cause things like muscle spasms), it's certainly worth TRYING an elimination diet for a month - no nightshades at all - to see if your pain levels improve.

And yes, if you smoke, that means you have to NOT smoke for this time period too, because tobacco is also a nightshade. (If you cannot give up smoking for this long, then the elimination diet will not work as effectively. You MIGHT have less pain - but only might - and it won't completely go away as long as you're still smoking.)

If you don't smoke, then try to avoid smokers as much as possible for this time period, because inhaled second-hand smoke will also cause a pain reaction.

What are the nightshade foods?

The more commonly known nightshade foods are:

  • Eggplants
  • Peppers (but not peppercorns)
  • Potatoes (but not sweet potatoes/yams)
  • Tomatoes

Some of the lesser-known nightshades are:

  • Ashwagandha (used in Ayurvedic medicine; related to the tomato)
  • Cape gooseberries (but not regular gooseberries)
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Goji berries (a/k/a "wolfberries")
  • "Ground cherries" (it's a shrub with small cherry-size orange fruit)
  • Huckleberries (but not blueberries)
  • Naranjillas (related to the tomato)
  • Paprika (related to peppers)
  • Pepinos
  • Pimentos (the little red things commonly stuffed in olives)
  • Tabasco sauce (because it contains red pepper)
  • Tamarillos
  • Tobacco

In addition, starch made from potatoes makes its way into a LOT of processed foods that otherwise would not be a nightshade source - for example, shredded cheese (it's often used to prevent the shreds from sticking together), as a thickener in many sauces and dressings, and as an ingredient in some types of bread and rolls to add density.

How can I treat this without drugs?

There are a variety of natural supplements that you can try - singly or in combination - to counter the pain from the nightshades, especially if you don't want to give them up. These include, but may not be limited to:

  • Boron (Areas with boron-rich soil have a much lower incidences of arthritis)
  • Copper
  • Fish oil
  • Glucosamine Sulfate
  • Magnesium
  • Niacinimide (not niacin, not inositol, but specifically niacinimide)
  • S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)
  • Zinc