This is the time of year when fresh produce is at its peak.
The farmers markets and grocery stores are an abundance of nature’s glory. Fruit is literally falling off the trees. Home gardens are bursting with joyful rewards of months of labor and love.
It’s also a time of year when I see more arthritis patients – joints seem to be acting up or more troublesome. Folks often attribute this to using their hands more – in the garden, painting projects, etc. Sometimes over-work is absolutely the culprit. And sometimes it can be tied back to eating an abundance of garden booty – salsa, green chile, gazpacho or tomatoes warm from the vine.
What do these foods have in common? They are part of the nightshade, or Solanaceae, family. This group of foods is high in glycoalkaloids, especially solanine. It is theorized that these glycoalkaloids can be pro-inflammatory in some people and could be a contributor to arthritic pain. This class of foods includes potatoes, tomatoes, all peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, paprika and cayenne. The nightshade family does not include sweet potatoes, yams or black pepper.
The easiest way to know if these are foods that are causing more pain in your joints is simply to cut them out for 3-4 weeks – completely. This is one of the hardest recommendations I make in my practice because this time of year the nightshade foods are so delicious! Veggies in the nightshade family are also high in nutrients, especially vitamins C and A. However, both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can be debilitating and neither have great Western medical interventions available. The treatments that are offered often carry their own concerning side effects.
Adjusting your diet to see if certain foods are impacting you is a great way to take your health into your own hands. It doesn’t require any testing and is free! There are a couple simple guidelines that can help this be more successful for you. The first is to be diligent and not “cheat.” You must strictly eliminate the foods in question for at least 3 weeks – no exception, otherwise you’ll never know for sure. Choose a time frame that works for you – having start and end dates are essential. (It helps to know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!) Look at your calendar and plan for what you might do if you have events scheduled. Take some time to clear out the foods you’re avoiding from your kitchen and think about what you might eat instead. For example, if you love pasta, pesto would be a great alternative to red sauce. Take time each day to record the severity of your symptoms. It is impossible to remember what your pain was like 2 weeks ago and can be helpful to notice if it dropped from a 7 to a 4, as opposed to saying “it still hurts”.
Finally, connect with your deeper “why.” If you didn’t have joint pain, what would that create in your life? Write that down and keep it on your fridge, in your car and your bathroom to keep you inspired about what’s really important.
Remember, not everyone will have this reaction to nightshades. And if you notice that they impact you, play with those foods in moderation. You can also just eat one of the foods (like peppers) and see how that feels in your body – it might be that a particular food within the group is more of an issue. Either way, you’ll be more connected to you.
Nicola Dehlinger is a naturopathic doctor at Pura Vida Natural Healthcare in Durango. She can be reached at 426-1684 or www.puravidahealthcare.com.