This posting begins what I hope will be a series of short articles about the new things I’m learning regarding nutrition since my injury (see Injury) When I was seeking help for my back problems, I had no idea that my healing process would so radically involve my diet. The very first thing I learned from my chiropractor/nutritionist was that inflammation was most likely a large cause of my arthritis and degenerative disc pain in my back. This was earth-shattering news to me. I had to find out more.
Inflammation is something that occurs in everyone’s body- it’s our body’s response to injury, infection, and irritation. “Acute inflammation is needed to help heal acute trauma, abrasions, broken bones, or acute invasion of a foreign substance…The body reacts immediately to acute trauma by increasing substances in the body that stimulate swelling, redness, pain, and heat.” (Black, 2006, p.12) The problem begins when inflammation becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation, which may have a variety of causes, actually harms tissues and cells by continually “attacking” them and breaking them down, even if no infection or acute trauma exists. Continued research is now showing that chronic inflammation is associated with many diseases including diabetes, bronchitis and asthma (something else I have!). In fact, “any disease ending in ‘itis’ refers to an inflammatory condition.” (Appleton, 2005, p.5). Anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used to treat such pain. Most of us are familiar with or have used NSAIDs such as Aleve, Motrin, or Tylenol. These drugs treat the symptoms and relieve pain, but they do not eliminate the source of the pain, which should be our ultimate goal. For more than a year, I had been taking a prescription NSAID to ease my arthritis back pain, thinking I was doing a good thing for my body. In fact, by not treating the cause of my back pain and only treating the symptom, I was only masking the problem. The first and easiest thing I needed to do to treat the inflammation in my body was to change my diet. One of the primary changes I was about to learn was the necessity of eliminating the consumption of nightshades.
Nightshades? I had never heard this term before. Nightshade vegetables are part of the Solanaceae family of flowering plants, some of which can be toxic. I was surprised to learn that two of my very favorite vegetables- and vegetables that are found in a large array of foods- might actually be causing me harm. These nightshade vegetables produce alkaloids such as solanine, which causes inflammation when not digested in the intestine (Appleton, 2005, p.117). Research has shown that removal of these veggies can reduce inflammation and thereby promote healing. These vegetables include:
So with a sad sigh, I bid adieu to potato chips, freshly sliced tomatoes in a light vinaigrette, and salsa, among other favorites. The Great Experiment was about to begin.
I wasn’t sure if this tactic would really work- after all, I was still recovering from my injury and still had pain every day. A couple of months later, I happened to eat some guacamole which contained chunks of tomatoes. I thought it would be OK, since the amount of tomatoes was small. But several hours later, I found myself on the throne with a gassy case of diarrhea, and the tomatoes expelled completely undigested. Sorry for the details, but it was my body’s way of saying “do not even put that in me again!” A few weeks later, while on a bike tour, I was faced with eating a breakfast egg casserole made with hash browns. I hadn’t eaten any potatoes in such a long time, and there were no other options for breakfast. I ate the casserole, and by evening I was in such pain that I broke down and took 800mg of Motrin for relief. The pain subsided, but remained mildly and persistently present for a couple of days afterward. Why did these foods affect me now, when I was eating them all the time before I got hurt with no obvious effect?
The answer is, as I’ve cleaned up my diet, my body is healing in ways that it couldn’t before. So ingesting these foods that actually have been “toxic” to me all along are more easily identifiable now. The lack of nightshades are only one way my diet is different now. As I continue to read, learn, and monitor my food intake, I’m finding other foods I am sensitive to. More on those foods and ingredients in my next post.
If you have an inflammatory condition, I recommend trying to eliminate nightshades from your diet. There is no guarantee it will work, but give it a couple of weeks and see if you notice a difference. You’ve got nothing to lose.
Appleton, N., PhD. (2005). Stopping Inflammation: Relieving the Cause of Degenerative Diseases. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers.
Black, J., N.D. (2006). The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book. Alameda, CA: Hunter House Books.