You Say Tomato, I Say OUCH!

It happens every August.  A patient (often the same patients as last time) will come in for their regular wellness adjustment and have a concern.  The conversation usually goes like this, “Doc, I don’t know what’s going on.  I haven’t hurt myself or pushed myself but I woke up this morning feeling achy all over.  My knees, back and shoulders hurt like crazy!  I feel like an old person.”  After some discussion, we’ll uncover that indeed there was no strain, injury or unusual repetitious event.  Finally, I’ll ask if they have eaten tomatoes or potatoes lately.  The look I’m given is skeptical and confused. The response goes like this, “Well, yes!  My tomatoes are overflowing my garden. I’ve been eating them like apples!”

Hmmmm.  So here I am a chiropractor.  First of all, our patients know we don’t treat their symptoms. We help their spine align so the body can heal itself.  Patients value regular adjustments to help their body be balanced and healing optimally.  Care is about overall wellness.  Yet, they have an odd moment of discomfort.  They are asking me to fix them.  And then here I go asking about tomatoes?

I first read about nightshades (the class of “vegetables” containing tomatoes, white potatoes, red and green peppers and eggplant) over 12 years ago in the the book Food and Healing by Annemarie Colbin.  I found it interesting that this group of “vegetables” (they are actually fruits and potato is a tuber) could cause inflammation and achiness in the body.  The nightshades contain solanine which is a glycoalkaloid poison that can cause a toxic effect in susceptible people. Symptoms can include arthritis, calcium depletion, stiff joints and painful knees, ankles and wrists.  It can even cause GERD symptoms (heartburn.)

Like most nutritional information I come across, I decided to test it for myself before educating patients. I did an old fashioned “elimination diet” to test how my body reacted to nightshades.  This meant that I ate absolutely no nightshades for two weeks (even ketchup!)  After two weeks, I took one day where I ate a large amount (think eggplant Parmesan for lunch and tomato pizza for dinner.) And then I went to bed. Now remember, I was only 25 years old. I rarely had any pain in my body, and certainly no arthritis so I expected no obvious signs of nightshade sensitivity.

I woke up the next morning feeling like a 95 year old woman!  Every joint in my body seemed to ache. Lying in bed, I was amazed at the ache in my fingers.  My neck, shoulders, back and knees all felt like I had done a triathlon the previous day.  I slowly got up and showered.  By later that morning, I felt near normal again.  I was so surprised, that I retested again the next month.  The same thing happened!

It’s not that I no longer eat nightshades.  I just make sure that I don’t have too much in one day.  If I happen to wake up achy and stiff I review what I ate the day before.  I can always pin it on tomatoes or potatoes.  Over the years, I tend to go with the non-nightshade choice.  It’s not worth it.

Leading nutritional cleanses in the office, I have patients test nightshades the same way.  Not everyone has a reaction like I did, but several people in each group find that nightshades make them achy and stiff.  For some people, It’s quite depressing to know their favorite food hurts their body.  For others, it’s a huge blessing to finally find a reason for their unexplained pain.

In a study published in the Journal of the International Academy of Preventive Medicine, out of 5000 arthritis sufferers who eliminated nightshades, seventy percent reported relief from aches, pains and disfigurement.

And yet, how many people with arthritis are taking medication to ease the pain!  They have likely never been educated about nightshades.  I very rarely have a patient who has heard of the symptomatic effect of foods they eat.  Nutrition is way more important than most people realize!

Don’t get me wrong, there are definite nutritional benefits to potatoes and tomatoes (and the rest of the nightshades.)  They are very high in potassium and go well with animal foods because they aid in the digestion of fatty proteins.

My best recommendation is to test this for yourself.  Eliminate nightshades for a minimum of two weeks (by the way, tobacco and Motrin are also nightshades.) Then take a day to eat a considerable amount (good part of each meal.)  Wait and monitor how you feel.  It may take until the next day (likely the morning) to feel the effects. For many of you, you’ll feel the same and have no worries.  For others, it may explain a lot.  Then it’s up to you to decide how much to have nightshades in your diet.

For me?  Ketchup… sure! A few breakfast potatoes next to my omelet…probably!  Gnocchi (potato pasta) in a tomato sauce? No way!

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