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The Nightshades and Fibromyalgia

Potatoes and tomato

What possible harm could the humble potato and the tasty tomato possibly do? Quite a lot actually - according to many authorities and researchers. Both are members of the nightshade family and along with deadly nightshade or belladonna contain toxic substances capable of producing an array of disabling symptoms and in large doses, death! 


The nightshade family of plants

The nightshade family of plants were discovered in the New World and originally used as ornamentals rather than as food as they were considered poisonous. They are thought to have been named nightshade vegetables because they grow in the shade of night rather than during the day. 

The nightshade family of vegetables or Solonaceae are very complex and comprise 90 genera containing approximately 2,000 species including:

  • The capsicum pepper genus (all sorts except peppercorns) which also includes paprika
  • The solanum genus which contains the tomato, aubergine (eggplant) and potato
  • The nicotiana genus which contains tobacco
  • Goji berries and
  • Cape gooseberries


Most parts of these plants, but especially the green parts and unripe fruit are poisonous to humans. The foliage, tubers and berries all contain the glycoalkaloid solanine which can cause convulsions and death if taken in large doses. In fact extracts from nightshades are used in some rat poisons!

One of the first people to document and publicise the detrimental effects of nightshade vegetables on human health was Dr Norman F. Childers. Dr Childers was a professor of horticulture at Rutgers University in New Jersey, U.S.A. when he suddenly contracted arthritis at 50 years of age along with undergoing 3 operations for sudden onset diverticulitis which resulted in him requiring a colostomy.

He observed that both his digestive and arthritic symptoms had worsened after adopting a routine of drinking tomato juice and when he experimented with the other nightshades, he became convinced that the nightshade vegetables had been the primary cause of his health problems.

However, he assumed this situation was peculiar to himself until the wider applications became evident and according to Dr Childers (who is now 94 years of age) we may all be dying ten, twenty or even thirty years before our time after suffering with disabling conditions - particularly arthritis - caused by our consumption of nightshade vegetables and fruit. 

The detrimental health effects of eating nightshade vegetables include:

  • Continual fatigue, wanting to sit or lie down, needing to rest and do nothing
  • Adverse effects on sight and hearing
  • Inflamed, sore, red and swollen hand(s) and/or legs
  • Stiffness when walking
  • Headaches
  • Stomach discomfort
  • An occasional cough
  • Sudden difficulty in getting up and walking.  


The effects of the nightshade family of plants on animals

Livestock grazing in fields have long been recognised to be profoundly detrimentally affected by members of the nightshade family and as a result, pastures have been treated with solonacea-specific herbicides before they can cause any harm to the animals in the field. Reports of an arthritis-like condition of animals known as calcitosis or calcinosis have been growing in recent decades from all around the world. The illness causes:

  • Hardening of the arteries
  • Elevated blood calcium levels
  • Atrophy of the parathyroid glands
  • Proliferation of the C cells in the thyroid gland (which produce calcitonin which regulates blood mineral levels)
  • Hardening of the bones
  • Osteonecrosis (bone death)
  • Copper deficiency in the liver
  • Hardening of the soft tissues and
  • Progressive lameness leading to an early death.


Does this symptom picture sound familiar? Well, it should! Arteriosclerosis, osteoporosis, arthritis, thyroid problems and stiffening of the soft tissues are all diseases that affect many millions of people causing disability and early death.

In rat experiments conducted at Rutgers University to test the effects of potato consumption several aberrations in biological markers of circulating calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and copper metabolism were noted. Whilst low levels of potato intake were associated with increased bone mineralisation possibly due to increased absorption of minerals from the intestine, high potato intake was associated with decreased bone mineral content, increased soft tissue mineralisation, and decreased body weight.


The nightshade family and arthritis

One of the major problems attributed to consumption of the nightshade family is arthritis, a disease which affects most of the population at some point in their life. About 9 million people in the UK and 46 million people in the US are estimated to suffer with arthritis.

Arthritis is actually an umbrella term encompassing over 100 rheumatic diseases, but essentially all are fundamentally inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis is thought to be caused by everyday wear and tear or trauma and rheumatoid arthritis by an autoimmune attack on the tissues of the joint causing deterioration and deformation.

Surveys of over 1,400 volunteers conducted over a 20-year period indicated that nightshades are an important causative factor in arthritis in sensitive people. It is possible that individuals have different sensitivities to these vegetables and although they may generally be toxic, some people may be able to tolerate small doses or to eat the vegetables in season rather than all year round as has become the norm.

A post card survey conducted by Dr Childers of those who had purchased his book The Nightshades and Health showed that three-quarters of respondents had found improvement in their arthritis whilst following a nightshade exclusion diet, and nearly half of those had a 'very positive response'. A later study showed that of those who rigidly followed the exclusion diet, 94% had 'complete or substantial relief' from symptoms of arthritis whilst half of those who followed it less rigorously experienced the same degree of relief of arthritic symptoms.

Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects individuals between 20 and 60 years of age, but younger people can be affected by juvenile arthritis. If you have not experienced arthritis up to age 70, then it is unlikely that you will and all these conditions affect women three times more often than men.

Other factors implicated in causing arthritis include: 

  • Lectins such as those found in lima beans, lentils and the nightshade vegetables
  • Food sensitivities - particularly to wheat and dairy products
  • Chemical sensitivities - especially to cigarette smoke (a nightshade plant)
  • Changes in barometric pressure and cold weather may trigger arthritic flare-ups.



Solonacea plants produce solanine and other related glycoalkaloids in the tubers, stems and shoots as a defense mechanism against insects, disease and predators. 

Solanine blocks the actions of the family of cholinesterase enzymes. These enzymes convert the neurotransmitter acetylcholine back to choline and acetic acid which allows the neurons that produce acetyl choline (cholinergic neurons) to return to rest after activation. 

The entire parasympathetic nervous system (the 'brakes' of the autonomic nervous system), the preganglionic sympathetic nervous system (the first part of the sympathetic nervous system which acts as the 'gas/accelerator' where it emerges from the central nervous system) and certain regions of the central nervous system and brain rely upon this means of signalling. This means that the nightshade vegetables have the potential to completely disrupt the autonomic control of the body and key functioning within the brain.

A build-up of cholinesterase inhibiting glycoalkaloids and steroids from consumption and/or use of the nightshades (tobacco) and from other sources such as caffeine and some pesticides (organophosphates and carbamates) may cause inflammation, muscle spasms, pain, and stiffness. 

Solanine is also thought to alter the cell membrane potential of the mitochondria leading to an accumulation of calcium in the cell that can cause cell damage and premature programmed cell death (apoptosis). 

The nightshade vegetables have also been shown to cause red blood cell destruction under laboratory conditions and the steroid alkanine is readily absorbed via the intestine and could be responsible for the associated nervous symptoms. 

Solanine poisoning is primarily manifested by gastrointestinal and neurological disorders. Even small doses have been shown to cause toxic symptoms with larger doses (approx 400mg solanine) proving fatal. Whilst symptoms can occur within 30 minutes of consumption, more usual is that symptoms manifest 8 to 12 hours after ingestion. 

When solanine accumulates within the body, either alone or in combination with other cholinesterase inhibitors such as caffeine or foods containing pesticides, it may induce the following temporary symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Burning of the throat
  • Disturbances in normal heart function
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle aches, pains and tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Headaches and
  • Dizziness


In severe cases of solanine poisoning the following symptoms may be evident:

  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of sensation
  • Paralysis
  • Fever
  • Jaundice
  • Dilated pupils
  • Low body temperature and
  • Death!


Up to 80% of the solanine in potatoes is close to the skin surface and when potatoes are exposed to the light they turn green and increase glycoalkaloid production as a natural defense to protect the uncovered potato from being eaten. Whilst the green colour is chlorophyll and harmless it indicates that increased level of solanine and other gylcoalkaloids may be present in these parts of the potato and should be avoided. The solanine also imparts a bitter taste and any nightshade vegetables that taste bitter should also be avoided.

Unlike other methods of cooking potatoes, deep fat frying actually reduces the amount of solanine present in the fries as the solanine passes into the cooking oil. So by some measures potato chips and French fries are the healthier potato option!


Chemical compounds found in the nightshade family of vegetables

The nightshade vegetables contain many different chemical compounds in addition to solanine that have various physiological effects. Some of which have been exploited as medicines such as scopolamine, atropine, hyoscyamine and belladonna.

Whilst some authorities claim that tomatoes contain solanine, others claim that tomatine is the primary glycoalkaloid found in tomatoes and that this is relatively benign.

Capsaicin in capsicum peppers also has been shown to inhibit the healing process and to cause irritation of the lining of the intestine in sensitive people resulting in ulcer formation, diverticulitis and the formation of polyps. After all, chilli peppers are the only foods that we eat that can actually cause us pain, and pain is usually a sign that something is not good for us!

All nightshade vegetables contain varying amounts of nicotine too, which may account for the addictive nature of these vegetables. It is now well accepted that components in tobacco cause heart and circulatory problems, lung diseases and cancer alongside a host of other health problems. Nicotine is also well recognised to profoundly inhibit healing and renewal even in small doses and this may be a factor in fibromyalgia and arthritis. 

It is also possible that osteoarthritis may be the result of long-term consumption of the nightshade vegetables which contain the active form of vitamin D3, which can result in abnormal calcium absorption and deposits in connective tissue and in excess cause the crippling and disability seen in livestock.


A nightshade exclusion diet

Some proponents suggest strictly excluding all nightshade vegetables for a month and recording any change in symptoms and then eating a lot of nightshade vegetables for a week or so and again documenting any changes in symptoms. 

During the month of exclusion avoid all nightshade vegetables including tobacco, coffee, caffeinated tea, salt, artificial colours and preservatives. Mustards, seasoning rubs and the seasonings used in sausages and bacon may contain paprika also, so eat simply and prepare all your food if possible. Meat is also thought to aggravate the symptoms of arthritis, because it is high in uric acid so reduce your meat intake. 

Another way of testing your particular response to nightshade vegetables would be to see a kinesiologist or Vega practitioner or alternatively to self-test as shown in the video about muscle testing dental crowns or the muscle testing video or as described in the Appendix of Chronic Fatigue, M.E., and Fibromyalgia: The Natural Recovery Plan.


Beneficial foods and supplements for arthritis

Suggestions include: 

  • Black cherry juice (two glasses per day diluted with half water). This dose can be decreased once the pain subsides and the darker the cherry, the better.
  • Drink juices made with parsley, broccoli, bilberry, celery, green barley juice, aloe vera juice, dandelion greens and/or alfalfa.
  • Juice or eat carrots, apples and ginger - all of which contain copper.
  • Drink pineapple juice which contains the anti-inflammatory enzyme bromelain which helps the body to breakdown protein.
  • Supplement digestive enzymes as the incomplete break-down of protein due to a poor digestion has been implicated in arthritis. 
  • Avoiding spinach and spinach juice which contain oxalic acid which can interfere with calcium absorption and exacerbate arthritic symptoms.
  • Supplement at least 3,000 milligrams of fish oil daily, and expect it to take at least 12 weeks before it begins to yield benefits then continue indefinitely.
  • Boswalia extract and the herb devil's claw are also thought to aid relief of the symptoms of arthritis.


Unfortunately, some people experience less of an improvement than might be expected even when strictly excluding the nightshade family of vegetables. This is because genetic engineers have used the naturally occurring insecticidal protection that the nightshade family have developed over millenia and transferred this Bt gene to other crops such as corn and soybeans and cotton with the intention of reducing the need to spray crops and improving crop quality.


Further resources

Further information including Dr Childers' book The Nightshades and Health is available from the Arthritis Nightshades Research Foundation at

You might also be interested in the following: 

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Food Intolerances

The Problem With Phytates

Coeliac Disease: Undiagnosed Epidemic

Gluten Intolerance


For a comprehensive approach to detoxification and diet refer to The Natural Recovery Plan book

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Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis with Natural Medicine

Reversing Rheumatoid Arthritis Naturally

The McDougall Diet for Arthritis


Or for all media use the Search facility at the top of the page


The nightshades and fibromyalgia: Article summary

This article examines the relationship between various debilitating physical symptoms and the widespread consumption of the nightshade family of vegetables including potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum peppers and nicotine.  The relationship between the effects of the chemical solanine and the symptoms of arthritis and fibromyalgia are examined. 


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The Natural Recovery Plan Ezine August 2010 Issue 8. Copyright Alison Adams 2010. All rights reserved
Dr Alison Adams Dentist, Naturopath, Author and Online Health Coach

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