Inflammation can negatively affect you in many ways: it feeds chronic disease, it is a suspected trigger of depression, it can cause energy disorders, and even trigger fatigue. It can surely make life difficult, if not incredibly miserable. When it comes to the important job of identifying and reducing your inflammatory burden, the power really is in your own hands (not your doctor).
What is inflammation
By definition, inflammation is “the body’s attempt at self-protection; the aim being to remove harmful stimuli, including damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens – and begin the healing process.” 
This is a natural and healthy part of your body’s immune system, and you have it to thank whenever healing occurs. Inflammation can be acute; like when you fall off of your bicycle and get injured, but it can also be chronic. Chronic inflammation happens when there is no stop to inflammation and it becomes a vicious cycle.
According to Holistic Women’s Health Psychiatrist Dr. Kelly Brogan, “Once inflammation is active, it is highly self-perpetuating. These inflammatory cytokines travel throughout the body causing oxidating stress to the fragile machinery of the tissues and mitochondria, specifically. In the brain, inflammation serves to shunt the use of tryptophan toward production of anxiety-provoking chemicals like quinolinate, instead of toward serotonin and melatonin. They produce a replicable collection of symptoms called “sickness syndrome”, noted for its overlap with “depressive” symptoms: lethargy, sleep disturbance, decreased social activity, mobility, libido, learning, anorexia, and anhedonia.” 
Inflammation begins in the gut
A gut imbalance is where internal inflammation begins, but the cause can vary. For some, inflammation stems from the overuse of antibiotics or prescription medications that disrupt the delicate environment of the digestive tract. For others, a gut imbalance stems from dieting, a slowed metabolism, liver toxicity, malnutrition, chronic stress, or nutritional deficiencies.
When you have a gut imbalance, you tend to have a greater proportion of gram-negative bacteria that contain lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or endotoxin in their cell walls. This LPS can damage the delicate lining of the gut increasing intestinal permeability and it can allow inappropriate matter to pass through into the bloodstream causing a reaction (like LPS, proteins, or toxins). Because these compounds are not supposed to leave your gut and should not be in your bloodstream, they act as an assault on your immune system. Intestinal permeability can also lead to food allergies and autoimmune conditions; it’s an early feature of the disease process.
How the foods you eat can make your gut inflammation better or worse
You’ve probably heard of food allergies, particularly the ones that involve serious reactions, such as anaphylaxis shock, celiac, etc. But what about more subtle food sensitivities that are estimated to affect up to 50% of Americans? 
True allergies usually trigger an immediate antibody reaction, where more subtle food sensitivities trigger slower responses that you may not always notice, especially if it’s a food you eat on a daily basis. Perhaps you may have become somewhat “numb” to the inflammation that a food has caused. Just because it’s a sensitivity and not a true allergy, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed, as it can still interfere with your digestion, nutrition, and health.
Nightshades and inflammation
While gluten, dairy, and processed food get all the limelight for triggering inflammation and/or perpetuating it in susceptible individuals, nightshades are often forgotten or ignored. It’s not that these foods are inherently bad, it’s just that they may not be good for you and where your body and digestive health is currently at.
Nightshades are a member of Solanaceae family of plants with strong ties to inflammatory action. They contain problematic compounds like calcitriol, solanine, nicotine and capsaicin and have been linked to chronic pain, arthritis  and an increase in intestinal permeability . Because nightshades play such a pivotal role in the standard American diet foods like pizza, pasta, salsa, and Mexican food, it can be very difficult to identify it if you’re eating these foods regularly.
What are nightshade foods?
The nightshade family includes:
- Hot peppers
- Ashwagandha (popular for adrenal support)
- Bell peppers (a.k.a. sweet peppers)
- Cape gooseberry
- Goji berries (also called wolfberry)
- Bell peppers
- Potatoes (including potato starch found in many gluten-free foods)
Why are nightshades a problem for some and not others?
One of the most confusing things about food sensitivities (but focusing on nightshades here), can be trying to understand how a “healthy” food can be great for one person and horrible for another; a variable that can make understanding human nutrition very difficult. According to Naturopathic Doctor Dr. Garret Smith, “Nutrient deficiencies certainly come into play. For example, if you don’t have enough magnesium, you will be more prone to calcinosis. Deficiency in vitamin D may exacerbate the problem. The speed at which one’s liver and kidneys detoxify these compounds plays a huge role, and this is dependent both on genetics and nutrition” .
Signs of inflammation
Often the foods you are sensitive to are also the ones you feel the most addicted to, and that you “could never give them up.” However, there are many other ways to identify food sensitivities. They are sometimes very difficult to identify, but here are some general reactions to look for:
- First, there are digestive reactions: Do you have bloating, excessive fullness, cramping, pain, diarrhea, or constipation after eating certain foods? These can all be clues you are eating a food that is exceeding your body’s current ability to digest.
- Or what about skin reactions: Do certain foods make you itchy, red, break out or give you a rash? Skin issues can tell us a lot of about what is happening in your gut.
- Then there are mood reactions: Have you ever eaten a meal that makes you feel very tired and lethargic after? Or how about feeling anxious and not at ease after eating? These can indicate a stressful response from your body.
- And finally a pulse reaction – have you ever felt your pulse race after eating? A pulse of over 90 beats per minute while seated after a meal can be a key indicator that your body’s stress response has been triggered.
If that’s not enough clues of subtle signs of inflammation caused by nightshades or other food sensitivities, here’s a more exhaustive list of common symptoms that can manifest:
- Joint pain
- Bad breath
- Puffy eyes and face
- Stubborn weight loss
- Poor memory
- Brain fog/Foggy thinking
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Blurred vision
- Sore throat
- Swelling of the hands or feet
- Urinary frequency or urgency
- Vaginal itching
- Excessive hunger or binge eating
- Panic attacks
The best way to tell if nightshades are inflaming you
Perhaps the best way to tell if nightshades are an issue for you is by simply eliminating them from your diet for several weeks and watching for a decrease in symptoms of inflammation (like those above). This is perhaps the hardest part, as inflammation manifests a bit differently in everyone. For one person, it might be a reduction in back pain, or better digestion, while for another it might be less PMS and more regular cycles. Keeping a diary while you remove nightshades from your diet can help you be more mindful about changes you experience during the elimination.
Inflammation can often be controlled or eliminated by finding the triggers in your diet and/or lifestyle, and working on your nutrition (hint: stop guessing, start testing!). If you do discover a food is causing inflammatory symptoms in your body and you need to eliminate a food from your diet for a period of time, keep in mind you will have to try harder to make sure that you are still getting enough calories and nutrients from other sources to ensure that you don’t damage your metabolism in the process.
What do you think? Are nightshades problematic for you?
 Jensen-Jarolim E et al. “Hot spices influence permeability of human intestinal epithelial monolayers.” J Nutr. 1998 Mar;128(3):577-81.
 Childers N.F., and Margoles M.S. “An Apparent Relation of Nightshades (Solanaceae) to Arthritis” Journal of Neurological and Orthopedic Medical Surgery (1993) 12:227-231
 Smith, Garret. “Nightshades.” The Weston Price Foundation. 2010. http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/nightshades/
 C. S. Tidball. “Magnesium and calcium as regulators of intestinal permeability.” American Journal of Physiology Published 1 January 1964 Vol. 206 no. 243-246 DOI:
 Mercola, Joseph. “How to Find out if You Have Food and Chemical Sensitivities.” Mercola.com. 2004. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2004/04/03/chemical-sensitivities.aspx
 Nordqvist, Christian. “Inflammation: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment.” Medical News Today.
 Brogan, Kelly. “From Gut to Brain: The Inflammation Connection.” kellybroganmd.com. 2013.
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