Features and Occasionals

Inglorious Nightshades

By Lucy Beale

Every once in a while, without warning, my joints and muscles would get stiff and ache once in a while. When that happened, I would stumble around for a few days and then the pain would go away. But in a couple days or a week, it would return. I was totally baffled. How could a person have intermittent arthritis? No, I wasn’t diagnosed. According to the Arthritis Foundation, any presumed correlation between nightshades and joint pain is unverified folk medicine; the foundation promotes pharmaceuticals instead.

But after many decades of paying attention, I’m aware of how foods can affect the body. I experimented, eliminating gluten from my diet. Dairy. Sugar. Chocolate. Caffeinated tea. These weren’t culprits. The intermittent pain continued.

When avoiding favorite foods as a pain management strategy didn’t ease my movements, I started looking carefully at my lifestyle choices. Perhaps the hot yoga was doing something bad. I stop attending. Alex, the owner of Mountain Yoga, phoned to ask what was wrong. He offered to save my unused class passes, should I find the cause of my discomforts.

Yoga was not the culprit. Joints still hurt off and on.

I scoured the Internet. After hours and days of searching, I happened onto yet another possibility. While some folks find relief for arthritis from capsaicin, others find more pain. Capsaicin is the hot compound in chili peppers, which belong to the nightshade family.

Turns out all the nightshade plants—red and green peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and white potatoes—can cause what’s hypothesized to be calcification of soft tissue around the joints. This means it can turn cartilage into bone, thus causing hardening of the joints, increasing stiffness and immobility and, eventually, full-time osteoarthritis. Holistically oriented websites say avoidance is the only “cure.”

I stopped eating those luscious marinara sauces, delectable Mexican food, baked potatoes and most ethnic foods. I even got squeamish about cayenne pepper which adds color and tang to virtually all restaurant and prepared foods. The intermittent pain stopped. Gone. Relief. Tears of joy. My search was over. Or so I thought.

For me, tomatoes and peppers cause the strongest reaction. Since eggplant isn’t part of my diet, I don’t know how it affects me. White potatoes seem to be fine. For me. A friend who just had a hip replacement is similarly sensitive to nightshades and has found that she reacts most strongly to potatoes. She wonders if the root cause of her need for a hip replacement was eating potatoes, but she’ll never know for sure.

It might sound as if this is an “old folks” problem. But it’s not. Most often, the intermittent pain shows up gradually after many meals that include nightshades. This could mean a year, years, or decades. I think it started for me after two years of intensely eating very spicy foods in my early 40s.

Shortly after excluding chilies from my diet, we spent a week in Sedona, Arizona where it’s virtually impossible to avoid chilies and peppers. Those folks down there put chili in their chocolate, on scrambled eggs, on steak. They may even put it in coffee and iced tea…. Ouch! It wasn’t our daily hikes through gorgeous red rock cliffs that hurt my joints—it was the unavoidable chilies.

It’s hard to live in the real world and, at the same time, avoid nightshades. Restaurant servers often have no clue as to what ingredients are in the food. Finding out can be tedious (and especially exasperating to dinner companions).

I kept wondering if there wasn’t a way to eat nightshades now and again and not induce calcification. More hours of Internet research found this encouraging information:

Several bloggers swore that taking two capsules of Full Spectrum Vitamin K (by Nutricology) right before a “nightshade” meal prevented the pain, the idea being that this specific formulation of vitamin K prevents calcification. In essence, vitamin K halts the calcification effects of the nightshades on joints. I’m not here to promote a particular brand but, to date, this formulation is the only one that contains both vitamin K1 and two forms of vitamin K2. The specific Ks are 1000 mcg vitamin K1 phytonadione, 3000 mcg K2 menoquinone-4, and 50 mcg vitamin K2 menoquinone-7.

Amazon shipped the product to my door. That night we ate at our favorite Mexican restaurant. I took two vitamin K caps and savored every bite. Nothing bad happened. I bounded out of bed the next morning. Tears of joy.

Today, at home, I avoid preparing meals that include nightshades. It doesn’t seem wise for me to challenge my good fortune. But a couple times a week at a restaurant seems fine.

Another possible remedy is to use homeopathic remedies for solanine and calcitrol, the trigger components in nightshades. I have not personally vetted this approach, but could be an alternative solution.

It’s been over six months since I found Full Spectrum Vitamin K. The intermittent arthritis is gone.

A full year later, my hot yoga passes were waiting for me. Yoga feels so good now.

Lucy Beale is the author of 12 books on wellness and weight loss for The Complete Idiot’s Guide series. She is a watercolor artist and sewist. She avidly studies natural healing and wellbeing.

This article was originally published on July 31, 2015.