Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nightshades, Solanine, and Pain

I spent last weekend painting a small room: sanding, taping all the edges, and priming. Having lived with fibromyalgia and whatever autoimmune issue causes my joint pain for years, I knew I’d pay for all this bending and stretching, and I did. When I got out of bed Sunday morning, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk.

By Monday I started to feel better. My legs still hurt, but at least they functioned. At work Tuesday evening, though, I felt worse. I was puzzled, but fibromyalgia is a quirky thing, as are autoimmune conditions, and I just accepted that my recovery was going to take a while.

Tuesday night I developed a headache in my sleep. I rarely get headaches. I woke up Wednesday morning feeling awful: pounding head, pain all over, shooting nerve pains in various places, total brain fog. I felt poisoned.

Being poisoned is not new to me. I have a wicked reaction to solanine, the substance that forms under the skin of potatoes, and if I get too close to potatoes in their raw state it gets life-threatening. Potatoes belong to the nightshade family. The other nightshades—tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant—also contain solanine and cause problems for me as well, mostly in the form of joint pain. It has been exceedingly hard for me to stop acting like a passionate tomato gardener, and I still haven’t succeeded 100%. But I may after what I discovered this week.

Getting back to Wednesday, I managed to drag myself to work, driving the 25 miles without running over anyone (as far as I know). Fortunately, my tasks for that day involved sitting down for the most part. At 7:00 p.m. I heated up a mug of soup. As I took it out of the microwave and stirred, I eyed the vegetables. Okra had floated to the top. I hardly ever eat okra, but I had created a creole soup around it on Sunday and had been eating it every day since. I remembered what the plant looked like in my garden when I grew it years ago. Could okra conceivably be one of the nightshades, and somehow I’d missed this fact?

I Googled okra nightshade. No, okra wasn’t part of the nightshade family. But it contained solanine. That was startling enough, but my eye moved to the next line and stayed there. Another food that contains solanine is artichokes. The day before, Tuesday, I had cooked two artichokes. I ate one before I left to work, and I ate the other that night, when I got home. They were delicious. I love artichokes. I’ll never eat another.

I’ve been doing some reading on nightshades and solanine. Among the websites I checked out, this one explains that solanine is a powerful inhibitor of cholinesterase, an enzyme that originates in the brain and is responsible for flexibility of muscle movement.

It also talks a bit about Dr. Norman F. Childers, a former Professor of Horticulture at Rutgers, who observed livestock kneeling in pain from inflamed joints after consuming weeds containing solanine. This reinforced his own experience, as he knew first-hand the effects of nightshades on joints.

According to this website (which originates in the UK), Dr. Childers proved that the majority of people who ache, regardless of their diagnosis, have a sensitivity to nightshades.

So I'd been dosing myself with solanine for days. I expect it'll take a while for the effects to wear off. I wonder . . . how many flares have I had as a result of eating artichokes, the cause a mystery at the time? I’m passing along my experience this week on the chance that others may be unwittingly poisoning themselves, too.

25 comments:

crystal said...

I hope you're feeling better.

I've heard about members of the deadly nightshade family being bad for arthritis too. Don't know if it's true, but some people say foods with omega-3 oils are good and ones with omega-6 oils bad for joints and allergies. I remember trying to figure that out for Spot.

Indigo Bunting said...

Wow. I learned a lot from this and am going to send a couple of people a link...

Scary stuff.

Dona said...

Amazing -- I had no idea. This is very good to know.

Susan said...

Thanks--I agree, it is good to know, and I wish I'd known it sooner. Who knew one could get sick from eating a couple of artichokes and a little okra?? Well, I'm glad I found out before I ate the two more artichokes that were in my fridge.

I looked up the symptoms of solanine poisoning, and found this:

In more severe cases, neurological symptoms, including drowsiness and apathy, migraine, confusion, weakness, and vision disturbances, followed by unconsciousness and, in some cases, death have also been reported.

I had most of those. Fortunately, they were not followed by unconsciousness, etc.

Deloney said...

Christ, Suze, as if I didn't worry about you enough.

Move to Toronto and we will live on nothing but steak and kidney pie and Guinness.

Helen said...

Wow, I hope you're feeling better too Susan. I advise against any trips to the Mediterranean. Or Ireland.

crystal said...

Hey Susan,

How are you feeling now?

Susan said...

I'm feeling much better thanks. A tad tomato-deprived, but otherwise pretty good.

Adam Byrn "Adamus" Tritt said...

Interesting. For years (and many years ago, I sufered amazingly badly with fibromyalgia. Many days I could not put a shirt against my skin. Finally, and this is before my wife went to med school, herbs took case of it. Not self-prescription, though. I went to an herbalist who had studied with Susan Weed. In my experience and opinion, self-prescription is less effective and moe expensive than seeking professional assistance.

I was unaware of the solanine connection. I will send this link on to my Sweetie.

Thanks

El Corazon said...

I was told today to avoid nightshades. I have lived 3 years with undiagnosed sever pain in all my joints. It started small in my hands leading to tests of carpel tunnel and neuropathy, but nothing was found. An acupuncturist today told me to give up nightshades. They were building up in my blood, I didn't understand, but I was going to try anything. Other doctors haven't helped, I'll give this a try. I came home to google, I have read, and read, and read. Wow. I know this was written by you a long time ago, but I have only discovered this today. I love tomatoes, and the hottest peppers known to man (including habanero). Basically I have had nightshade almost every day of my adult life.

As of today, I am nightshade free. Time will tell if this is the cause. But after 3 years of growing and worsening pain, for the first time I have hope.

Thank you for this.
JJ.

Susan said...

I'm glad you found my post, JJ. I was just talking about solanine, etc., at a restaurant lunch with a couple of friends today. One of them had ordered her salad without tomatoes, and mentioned to me that tomatoes gave her joint pain.

I sympathize with your situation . . . I love tomatoes, too. And peppers! I especially miss growing tomatoes. I used to love choosing seeds from all the wonderful varieties. Now I'm learning to obsess on growing beans. :-)

Best of luck with this!

Susan

Anonymous said...

diagnosed with fibro and having debilitating pain in joints, I quit nightshades and noticed a HUGE difference in 4 days, am now almost pain free after 5 years, joint swelling gone and feel 20 years younger.
Molly

Anonymous said...

I have found that nightshade/solanine makes my restless leg syndrome much worse.

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