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Journal of Neurological and Orthopedic Medical Surgery (1993) 12:227-231

An Apparent Relation of Nightshades (Solanaceae) to Arthritis

N.F. Childers, Ph.D.1,2, and M.S. Margoles, M.D.3
1Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08903, USA, 2Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA, and 3Arthritis Nightshades Research Foundation, 177 San  Ramon Drive, San Jose, CA 95111-3615, USA.

Table of Contents: 

Diet appears to be a factor in the etiology of arthritis based on surveys of over 1400 volunteers during a 20-year period. Plants in the drug family, Solanaceae (nightshades) are an important causative factor in arthritis in sensitive people. This family includes potato (Solanum tuberosum L.), tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum L.), eggplant (Solanum melongena L.), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.), and peppers (Capsicum sp.) of all kinds except the black pepper (family, Piperaceae). A buildup of cholinesterase inhibiting glycoalkaloids and steroids from consumption and/or use (tobacco) of the nightshades and from other sources such as caffeine and some pesticides (organophosphates and carbamates) may cause inflammation, muscle spasms, pain, and stiffness. Osteoarthritis appears to be a result of long-term consumption and/or use of the Solanaceae which contain naturally the active metabolite, vitamin D3, which in excess causes crippling and early disability (as seen in livestock). Rigid omission of Solanaceae, with other minor diet adjustments, has resulted in positive to marked improvement in arthritis and general health.

Previous studies [1] have established the relation of arthritis to a family of food plants and tobacco, the Solanaceae, or nightshades. This study is based on surveys of over a thousand volunteers who omitted from daily usage these crops and their culprit chemicals in other foods.
There are over 90 genera and some 2000 species in this family of staple food plants [1,2,3,4], among which are the potato (Solanum tuberosum L), the tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum L.), eggplant (Solanum melongena L.), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.), and peppers (Capsicum sp.) of all kinds except the black pepper (family, Piperaceae). The nightshade tobacco (Nicotina tabacum L.) is closely related to the food nightshades and has a documented record of causing heart, lung, and circulatory problems as well as cancer and other health problems [5,6]. The flowers, fruit, and foliage of the Solanaceae contain glycoalkaloids and steroidal drugs (e.g. the stimulating capsaicin in peppers, the tranquilizing nicotine in tobacco, solanine in potato and eggplant, and the tomatine in tomato). Some drugs from the Solanaceae are widely used in medicine, such as scopolamine, atropine, hyoscyamine, and belladonna [7]. Several solanaceous plants and products are highly poisonous, such as deadly black nightshade, Atropa belladonna L., and Jimsonweed, Atropa stramonium L. [4,8].

The author became interested in arthritis when diagnosed personal symptoms appeared at age 50, along with diverticulitis and a three-phase colostomy operation. The cause of diverticulitis is unknown, but "hot foods" (Capsicum sp.) were suspected [2]. The author had been drinking a spiced tomato juice with fresh tomatoes in season. All solanaceous foods and tobacco were stopped with a permanent disappearance of the colon and arthritic discomforts. Little was said of this apparent anecdotal relationship for several years, assuming a limited personal allergy. Eventually, others who were avoiding food nightshades to control their arthritis began asking, "Why don't you do something about this to help others?" Consequently, announcements were placed in the horticultural media; these drew over 400 interested volunteers, most of whom reported various degrees of success in controlling their arthritis. A book was published in 1977 [2] as (1) a possible aid to other arthritics and (2) a survey of the literature of adverse effects of the Solanaceae; and (3) as an attempt to recruit additional volunteers.
In 1979, a post-card-return survey of 2453 book holders was made [1] with 763 (30%) volunteers responding: there was a 72.7% positive response to the "No Nightshades" Diet (
Table 1). The replies varied from a positive (44%) to a marked positive (28%) response: immobile joints became mobile, and canes, walkers, and wheelchairs were discarded. About 20% of the volunteers were judged as being not on the diet, based on indefinite replies, not fully understanding the diet, or inability to avoid completely the addicting foods and/or tobacco. There were 7.5% negative replies.
In 1985-1986, another survey was made of over 5000 new book (1981) holders with a detailed 4-page questionnaire that drew only 434 (8.6%) replies, but did provide broader information [10]. The survey of over 5000 new diet book (1981) holders canvassed provided the following information:

  • Of the 5000 readers canvassed, 434 returned a questionnaire (8.6%);
  • Arthritis had been diagnosed by a physician in 85% of respondents;
  • 79% had been treated with drugs, with 80% receiving some degree of temporary relief;
  • 52% indicated they were rigidly on the diet, 48% had "slipped" occasionally;
  • Rigidly on the diet, 94% had complete or substantial relief from symptoms;
  • Of dieters with an occasional "slip" 50% had complete or substantial relief;
  • Overall, 68% had complete or substantial relief
  • Tobacco inquiry was inadvertently omitted from questionnaire, which could have had some impact on data.

While 68% received various degrees of relief from arthritic symptoms vs. 72% in the first survey, it was found that physicians had diagnosed arthritis in 85% of the volunteers. Of the 52% rigidly on the diet, 94% reported complete or substantial relief. Of the 48% who "slipped" occasionally and partook of a nightshade, 50% reported complete or substantial relief from arthritic symptoms.
Sherman [11] circulated a detailed questionnaire in the late 1970's to over 3000 arthritis sufferers who were trying to avoid the nightshades in their diet [11]. Only 290 replied (9.7%). They varied in age from 20s to 80s and were suffering from different kinds of arthritis. Twelve percent reported no response. About 87% reported positive response. Fifteen percent reported over 85% recovery. Major reductions were experienced in pain, joint tenderness, and muscle spasms, with appreciable gains in motion and endurance.
While the total number of volunteers replying to these questionnaires was over 1400, the percentage of replies of people contacted was generally low. One reason for a low percentage reply could be that the diet is very difficult to follow. Nightshades are mixed (hidden) among dozens of other foods (fresh and processed). It is often difficult to avoid these readily available and more or less addictive foods and tobacco. Volunteers usually must be strongly motivated to be rigidly conscientious about the diet.

Rat Study
Two feeding experiments were conducted by Stankiewicz and Evans [12,13] at Rutgers University to determine if the white potato (Solanum tuberosum), as in the case of Solanum malacoxylon[14], can naturally produce vitamin D3 and cause pathology in rats [15] as in livestock [16]. In trial 1, rats were fed diets containing 0, 5, 15, 25, or 35% whole dried potato with and without added vitamin D3. In trial 2, whole dried potato at levels of 0 or 50% was substituted for the vitamin D3. Mineral levels and vitamin D3 were adjusted in the rations to standard requirements, as the percentage levels of whole dried potato and/or potato peel were varied. Increasing levels of whole dried potato caused (1) femur Ca, Mg, and P to increase, and (2) serum hydroxyproline (Hp) to be lowered with the higher levels of the whole dried potato; soft tissue mineralization was virtually absent. However, liver Zn and Cu increased linearly as whole dried potato increased. In trial 2, increasing the level of dried potato peel caused (1) femur Hp to increase, (2) femur Ca and P to trend upward, while (3) serum Hp declined. Soft tissue mineralization was absent while body weight gains declined only when dried potato peel exceeded 20% in the diet. An interaction between whole dried potato and dried potato peel caused (1) a linear decline in femur Hp (
Fig. 1) and femur Ca and P, while (2) serum Hp, kidney Ca and Mg, and heart Ca were elevated, with (3) a decline in body weight-gain (Fig. 2). In like manner, vitamin D3 interacted with whole dried potato to (1) decrease femur Mg and Ca, (2) increase kidney Mg, and (3) decrease liver Zn and Cu. In conclusion, low levels of potato increased bone mineralization due to a hypothesized increase in the intestinal absorption of Ca, P, and Mg. Conversely, a high intake of potato resulted in (1) decreased bone mineral content, (2) soft tissue mineralization, and (3) a decrease in body weight gain. The overall effect indicated the potato does have vitamin D-like activity.

Animal Implications
Livestock researchers since the early 1900's have reported a disease of livestock resembling arthritis. The disease is chronic, crippling, and debilitating; it results in arteriosclerosis, hypercalcemia, parathyroid atrophy, C cell hyperplasia, osteopetrosis, osteonecrosis, soft tissue calcinosis, and early death (
Fig. 3). Countries and researchers include: Argentina [17,18], USA [19,20,21,22], Brazil [23,24], Hawaii [18,25], Jamaica [26], Australia [27], and Europe [28,29]. The principal culprits have been identified in the plant family Solanaceae, including Solanum malacoxylon, and Solanum sodomeum, (same genus as potato and eggplant), Cestrum diurnum, and Nierembergia veitchii. A forage grass in the German Alps, Trisetum flavescens [16], has been associated with the disease. Farmers have long been aware of sickness and death of livestock, particularly the young, when feeding inadvertently on pasture nightshades. Literature for almost a century contains reports of sickness and death when nightshades, including the potato, are consumed under certain conditions [6,30,31,32]. Based on livestock research, vitamin D3 found naturally in the nightshades is now being used as a highly effective rat poison at 0.075% [33].
The Solanaceae cause at least two known health problems. They contain cholinesterase inhibiting glycoalkaloids and steroids [6,34,35,36] including, among others, the drugs solanine in potato and eggplant, tomatine in tomato, nicotine in tobacco, and capsaicin in garden peppers. When these inhibitors accumulate in the body, alone or with other cholinesterase inhibitors such as caffeine or food impurities containing systemic cholinesterase inhibiting pesticides, the result may be a paralytic-like muscle spasm, aches, pains, tenderness, inflammation, and stiff body movements [2]. These symptoms may dissipate in a few hours or days if ingestion is stopped; people vary in sensitivity. The second problem is the ability of the Solanaceae (those species analyzed) to develop naturally the very active metabolite of vitamin D3 (1a25 dihydroxycholecalciferol) that results in calcinosis of soft tissues, ligaments, and tendons, mineralization in walls of major arteries and veins, and osteopetrosis and related pathology [10,14,16,17,18,19,20,28,37] in livestock (Fig. 3). In time, there is progressive lameness and extended uselessness, with eventual death of livestock. Copper deficiency in the liver and other tissues associated with arthritic-like symptoms has also been diagnosed with the livestock disease [18].
There could be other factors such as a saponic-like glycoalkaloid [8], possibly capsaicin [6], causing irritation of the walls of the digestive tract after extended usage by sensitive people, resulting in an ulcer, diverticula, and polyps [2]. The nightshades can cause red blood cell destruction in vitro [8], and the steroid alkanine is readily absorbed by the intestine; this could be responsible for associated nervous symptoms [6,8].

Conclusions Davis [18] stated [14] that
"The demonstration that the active form of vitamin D (D3) is present in at least three species of three (now four [24]) different genera of plants, raises many questions regarding the possible role of diet and calcium and phosphorous metabolism. Are there many other plants common to human diets, as well as in animal feeds, that contain significant if small quantities of the active form of vitamin D? Can the presence of such a compound be used advantageously to protect against the occurrence of osteomalacia? Is it possible that the presence of the active form of vitamin D may result in abnormal calcium absorption and deposits in connective tissue with resultant pathology [38,39]? Obviously, the discovery that plants can form the active vitamin D3 opens a vast new area of research with potentially far reaching importance for human and animal health."
Kingsbury [8] stated that "Despite the ancient and general reputation of the nightshades as poisonous plants, very few feeding experiments have been performed with any of the toxic species... begging experimentation." Further research with the food nightshades, which has been done with tobacco, may also be fruitful in helping solve the problems of heart, circulatory, cancer, and related diseases.


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