Are Nightshade Allergy and Sensitivities Real? All About Nightshades

Are Nightshade Allergy and Sensitivities Real? All About Nightshades

Nightshade allergy is a type of allergy that can cause you to be miserable, from eczema and digestive issues, to joint aches or worse.  It is a frustrating condition that can take a lot of sleuthing to find! 

There is a lot of misconception out there about nightshade allergies and nightshade sensitivities.  The truth is-you are unique.   So nightshade allergies and sensitivities should not be a one-size-fits-all approach.  

Some people can eat small amounts of nightshades, even if sensitive, but it is best to wait until you can balance out your immune response to them. (Yes, you can get over some types of food sensitivities). 

You may be suffering from a nightshade allergy for years before realizing it.  In this post, learn how to identify a nightshade food allergy and the differences between an allergy and sensitivity.  Also, learn how to best eliminate so that your joint pain can finally ease up. 

Nightshade Vegetables List

The nightshade family (Solanaceae) of plants is a large class of plants with over 2700 species. Some nightshades are extremely toxic, such as belladonna, while some are not very toxic at all and considered healthy foods. 

Common nightshade foods that people eat are: 

 

  • Tomatoes
  • White potatoes, potato sprouts (all but sweet potatoes and yams) 
  • Pepper family  (bell peppers, hot peppers, banana peppers, wax peppers)
  • Paprika
  • Eggplant (aubergines)
  • Tomatillos
  • Habaneros
  • Jalapenos
  • Chili peppers
  • Smoked paprika
  • Sorrel
  • Pepino melons
  • Cayenne powder
  • Red pepper (not black pepper or white pepper)
  • Spice blends like curry powder, chili powder, 5 spice powder
  • Ground cherries (not the same as tree cherries)
  • Gooseberries
  • Goji berries

Did you know that these foods also contain nicotine just like tobacco?  While at much lower concentrations, nicotine may be why some people also react to these plants [R]. 

Alkaloids in nightshade food

Nightshade compounds that can cause food sensitivity or allergy are called alkaloids and they include nicotine, chaconine (potatoes), capsaicin, and solanine [R]. 

A fun fact is that serotonin, found in a bean called mucuna pruriens, is also an alkaloid, but not a nightshade.  

Not all alkaloid foods are nightshades. 

Nightshade foods infographic by The Healthy RD

How does solanine cause health issues?

Solanine in nightshade foods can reduce a compound called cholinesterase in the body [R]. This can result in muscle stiffness and aches in the joints, especially in people who already have inflammation in the body. 

That said, there are no large scale studies that find nightshade foods to cause arthritis.   Sensitivities are difficult to tease out in research because isolated people react, while others do not. 

Tip: some people will have more pain from solanine foods than others, but if you ache after eating potatoes or tomatoes, it may be best to avoid eating these nightshades.

Other foods containing solanine

While not technically nightshades, some foods contain solanine and may cause food sensitivities too.  

These foods are blueberries, apples, and garden huckleberries (not to be confused with mountain huckleberries) [R]. 

Solanine vegetables also include okra and artichokes, although not technically nightshades. 

Tomatoes are thought to contain a more benign alkaloid called tomatine, not solanine [R]. 

Medicines that contain nightshade:

Medications and medical herbs can be derived from nightshade plants as well as addictive substances.  They include:

  • Tobacco
  • Opiates
  • Viagra (has Belladonna in it)
  • Scopolamine
  • Ashwaghanda
  • Belladonna

Conditions that may benefit from removing nightshades

Some people are more likely to have nightshade allergies or sensitivities.  Typically, they are people with autoimmune diseases and digestive disorders such as:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Scleroderma
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Celiac disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Autoimmune thyroiditis
  • Asthma

Nightshade allergy symptoms

Unlike many allergies, symptoms of nightshade allergies can take up to 48 hours to appear, making it difficult to identify from the list of foods that you typically eat. For example, you eat a potato and react 2 days later?  Tricky!

According to Healthline, symptoms of nightshade allergy reaction can include:

  • Anaphylaxis or difficulty breathing
  • Itching and/or hives (nightshade allergy rash)
  • Rhinitis [R]
  • Eczema or dermatitis 
  • Digestive issues
  • Congestion
  • Dizziness
  • Throat swelling
  • Joint pain
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings

You should seek emergency medical help immediately or call 911 if you have severe symptoms like throat swelling or difficulty breathing. 

Tomato allergy is a common nightshade allergy and tomato allergens can be numerous [R].   

Tests for allergies include a skin prick test that measures skin reaction or a blood test for IgE antibodies.  While testing is useful, it can miss some types of allergies and misses all sensitivities. 

Nightshade intolerance

While nightshade allergies are uncommon, nightshade intolerance is very common.  Also known as nightshade sensitivity, the symptoms are often going to be more subtle than an allergy. 

This is because nightshade plants contain compounds that can be poisonous and also because people don’t digest the nightshade foods well, causing distress. 

An example many people may remember include the poison that is found in green potatoes but not at high concentration in white potatoes [R]. 

Nightshades also contain numerous types of alkaloids, which can be toxic in the body, especially in high amounts [R]. These toxins protect the plants from pests and diseases. 

You also will find lectins in nightshades, which can create inflammation in the gut in some people, also known as lectin intolerance

Nightshade sensitivity symptoms

While you may not have all the allergy symptoms above, subtle and challenging symptoms of nightshade intolerance can appear over time.  

This can mean that your body isn’t digesting the nightshade alkaloids properly, which can cause inflammation. 

You may also have an itchy mouth, itchy ears, itchy eyes, itchy lips, also known as oral allergy syndrome [R]. 

Joint pain is a common sign of nightshade allergy or even nightshade intolerance.

Elimination may help autoimmune diseases

A small study found that an autoimmune protocol diet (AIP diet), which includes an elimination of nightshades, rapidly improves symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease [R].

While this research study is small, it reveals that foods cause inflammatory diseases and that elimination can alleviate pain, allergy symptoms, and more. 

An AIP diet eliminates common food triggers including nightshades, gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and peanuts.  It also eliminates food additives, processed sugars, and junk foods. Read more about an AIP diet here. 

What to Eat? 

If you have severe nightshade allergy symptoms, you need to avoid those foods altogether. 

Some people with more mild sensitivity can eat smaller amounts of nightshades without as many problems or prepare the foods differently for better tolerance. 

You probably will feel your best if you follow an elimination diet along with the elimination of nightshades.  This is because you are likely to also be reacting to other foods in your diet as well.

The elimination diet is the gold standard for allergy identification in foods because skin prick testing and blood tests, while sometimes useful, can miss a lot of true food allergies. 

Undergoing an elimination diet is rewarding, but also can be challenging and should be done under the supervision of a functional medicine doctor or functional nutritionist. 

Nightshade food swaps

You don’t have to sacrifice flavor when giving up nightshades.  Here are some great food and herb swaps you can use instead of nightshades.

Instead of 

Tomatoes 

Potatoes 

Bell peppers

Eggplant 

Chilis, jalapenos, cayenne

Ashwagandha

Eat These

beets, butternut squash, zucchini

cauliflower, sweet potatoes, rice, plantain

celery , cucumbers, radishes, carrots

mushrooms, zucchini, spaghetti squash

black pepper, turmeric, ginger, garlic

tulsi, reishi mushrooms

 

Watch Labels

Many foods have nightshades added to them.

For example, bread may have potato starch while sausages and hot dogs have paprika.  If you are allergic to nightshades, you will need to read your ingredient label very carefully.

Better yet, avoid packaged foods as much as possible for the best health.

Reducing nightshade toxins in foods

If you are sensitive to nightshades, you may still be able to eat some if you prepare foods in the following ways. Don’t try this without medical supervision if you have a true nightshade allergy. 

  • By removing the skins and cooking foods, you can also reduce the alkaloid content of these foods. 
  • Store your potatoes in a dark place to reduce the alkaloids.  Also, eat the potatoes before they begin to sprout.  
  • Baking potatoes reduces the alkaloid content more than boiling them. 

Keep in mind, you can be sensitive to one nightshade food and not the next; it all depends on your body’s ability to digest the particular foods. 

Are Many People Allergic to Nightshades?

There is no clear answer to the total number of people who have nightshade allergy or nightshade sensitivity because very little research dollars are devoted to this or any allergy.  

Most experts who deal with allergies and sensitivities usually see other diet factors as bigger inflammatory culprits than nightshades-such as gluten.  

But, if you are one of those people who is sensitive or allergic to one or more of them, it will likely greatly benefit your health to minimize or eliminate nightshade vegetables. 

For the rest of the people, nightshade foods provide your body with a lot of health benefits. 

Health benefits of nightshades

Nightshade foods aren’t inherently bad for everyone, so elimination should be done only with great consideration.  

For example, solanine from nightshades may reduce cancer risk as shown in pancreatic cancer cell studies [R]. 

A good way to think about it is that a compound that can cause a small stressor in the body can sometimes have a positive net effect.  This is called hormetic stress

Solanine can increase oxidative stress. 

This is commonly thought to be a bad thing, except for this: oxidation can also increase immune response too, such as in the case of liver cancer cells [R].  By increasing the calcium flow inside the cell, solanines may increase cancer cell death [R]. 

Rich in Antioxidants

Most foods in the nightshade family are very rich in antioxidants, which can help fight disease in cancer in people who aren’t sensitive or allergic. 

If you are free of nightshade allergy and sensitivities, you should enjoy them for their health benefits. 

More Nightshade Resources

Many resources are out there for a nightshade-free diet and nightshade-free recipes.  

  • One resource I really like is by Dr. Amy Myers, MD.  You can find her free recipes here. 
  • Jane’s Healthy Kitchen has a lot of good AIP recipes that are free of nightshades too. 
  • Unbound Wellness has a lot of recipe swap ideas too, such as nightshade free chili and chicken enchilada casserole.
  • Southwest spice blend with nightshade free options.

Natural nightshade remedies?

Healing your gut by focusing on nutrient-rich foods while avoiding processed foods can go a long way to helping reduce allergy symptoms and sensitivity symptoms.

  • Having fermented foods daily may help dampen down an overactive immune response, as in the case of nightshade allergies.  
  • Consider adding natural antihistamine remedies-they often work as well or better than over-the-counter antihistamines. 
  • Natural antihistamines work without all the negative side effects too. 
  • Other foods that may help are bee balm, goldenseal, choline foods, and vitamin C, according to Herbiary.com. 

Personal Note

As a clinical dietitian and practitioner for many years, I have met quite a few people who experience either digestive distress, such as gas, bloating, and pain, or joint aches from nightshades.  

Often, people can eat a little tomato, but when they eat a lot, they will suffer.  With a true allergy, a little bit of nightshade can be a severe reaction. 

Suffering from food sensitivities myself, I find that elimination of more common food triggers rather than nightshades should be done first to see if the digestive tract can heal before removing nightshades. 

Frequently, I see that people can tolerate foods after healing the gut that previously caused distress.

For example, I used to think I was intolerant of flaxseeds and broccoli, but when I got to the root of the issue-gluten-I can now eat broccoli and flaxseed as much as I want.  

This is why it is so important to seek help when trying to sort out food allergies and sensitivities and I recommend a functional medicine doctor or dietitian. I recommend MFHCare.com. 

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