Plants are not made to be eaten. Many of them produce pesticides to fend off predators. One of those is solanine.
Read more about this hidden toxin that may be poisoning you.
What is Solanine?
Chances are you’ve not heard of solanine, but you’ve probably heard of nightshades and some cautionary tales about nightshades, inflammation and gut health.
Although they aren’t the same thing, to understand the full picture of nightshades’ impact on health, you need to get to know solanine. So, let’s get to it!
What Foods Contain Solanine?
Solanine is a glycoalkaloid found in Solanaceae plants. This family of plants is also more commonly referred to as nightshades.
They are just one of the many reasons why vegetables can be bad for you.
Glycoalkaloids are part of a plant’s defense system against insects and pests; you might call them a natural bug repellent. They are also referred to as an “anti-nutrient,” quite literally a food component that interferes with proper nutrition. In high amounts, these compounds can also produce toxic effects in humans. There are over 3000 different types of nightshade plants, and most of them are not edible due to high levels of glycoalkaloids rendering them poisonous.
Many common foods you’ve undoubtedly scarfed down before contain solanine, including (*):
● Potatoes (white not sweet)
● Paprika and pepper-based spices (ex. chili powder, cayenne pepper, etc.)
Some plants that are not part of the nightshade family also contain solanine:
Solanine content varies based on the type of plant, ripeness and storage methods (*).
Solanine Can Be Toxic
Solanine can disrupt health. As mentioned, it is a natural insect repellent. This does not mean that they are universally harmful to everyone all the time. As with most toxins, the dose makes the poison. However, when it comes to our health, are we willing to have a little bit of poison? Is that the high bar we want to set for our food choices? How little poison can I withstand?
So how does it work? Glycoalkaloids may induce gastrointestinal and systemic effects throughout the body through cell membrane disruption and acetylcholinesterase inhibition (*). Acetylcholinesterase is a neurotransmitter, meaning it helps nerves throughout the body work properly. In insects and other pests, the buildup of acetylcholinesterase causes muscular paralysis and sometimes death.
There are two features of solanine that may render it more harmful to some vs. others:
- The by-products of solanine can be stored in the body, and during times of physiologic stress may be mobilized and cause harm (*). Think of physiologic stress as any time your body is doing a lot of work – surgery, pregnancy, injury recovery, etc. Not exactly the ideal time to be under attack internally, am I right?
- Certain conditions may increase sensitivity to the effects of solanine, including:
○ Digestive diseases
○ Autoimmune disease
○ Inflammatory disease
This is not surprising given that research has shown the solanine can disrupt gut health. Digestive, autoimmune and inflammatory conditions are all rooted in the gut.
This is a huge reason why the carnivore diet works so well: it is a nutritionally complete, radical elimination diet. If you’re interested in trying it out, sign up below for my 14 day guide to mastering it.
Solanine May Adversely Affect Gut Health
Did you know when it comes to your health, your gut is organ numero uno? What does the gut do, exactly?
● Protection against pathogens
● Houses the majority of the immune system.
● Synthesizes nutrients like vitamin k and biotin
The integrity of the gut is required for good health; there are no exceptions, period. So, if your gut is compromised, you would expect to see a domino effect with other areas of health, including:
● Increased food reactivity
● Nutrient deficiencies
● Digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, abdominal pain
● Skin diseases like psoriasis, acne, rosacea
● Increased susceptibility to colds and viruses
Research shows that concentrations of glycoalkaloids, including solanine, found in commonly consumed quantities of potatoes can adversely affect the mammalian intestine. Specifically, they contribute to intestinal permeability, more commonly known as, you guessed it, LEAKY GUT (*). Just in case you weren’t paying attention during 5th-grade science class, you are a mammal, so this study, while not done in humans, applies to you.
Let’s talk about intestinal permeability for a minute here. Intestinal permeability is normal in babies, which is why babies are sensitive to so many foods – their gut isn’t fully matured yet. But in the adult fully matured gut, the cells that line the intestines are nice and tightly lined up together, forming a barrier that protects the rest of your body from what you’ve eaten until it’s been fully digested and safe to absorb.
A leaky gut allows food proteins and pathogens to escape, the immune system goes crazy, and inflammation ensues. Que the digestive symptoms, pain, swelling, headaches etc. These are the warning signs of longer-term problems to come if the problem isn’t corrected.
Think of intestinal permeability as a slow erosion of your health. Not fun. And solanine isn’t the only culprit – gluten, dairy, lectins (also in nightshade plants), alcohol and stress can all contribute.
Am I Allergic to Solanine?
This is a good question. Allergies and sensitivities aren’t the same thing. Allergic reactions are immediately dangerous – think difficulty breathing, tongue swelling, etc. Sensitivity symptoms are not usually immediately dangerous to your health but should be taken as seriously.
Sensitivity symptoms may include:
● Diarrhea, gas, bloating
● Skin irritation, flushing, hives
● Brain fog
If you suspect an allergic reaction call 911 or seek medical attention immediately. If a sensitivity is more likely, avoidance of solanine containing foods should give you some relief. But remember, solanine isn’t the only food that disrupts gut health. A true elimination is going to remove all problematic foods (and behaviors).
The Bottom Line
If you are dealing with health issues or you simply want to achieve optimal health the carnivore diet cuts out many of these questionable food components so you can see for yourself.
Don’t believe me? Give it a try for 30 days, but it may not take that long to start seeing results. As Dr. Drew Pinsky says in the New York Post, “I’ll be goddamned if within three days I didn’t feel unbelievable,”*.