Surf any arthritis message board and you're likely to come across people who swear that avoiding certain foods helps them manage their symptoms. Among the flare-triggering culprits are the so-called nightshade vegetables. This group of vegetables includes potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and a handful of less common foods such as tomatillos and pimientos. So, if your arthritis is taking its toll you on you, should you give up on your nightly spuds or spurn your favorite tomato-eggplant pizza?

Foods from the nightshade plant family contain compounds called alkaloids which some health professionals believe can cause joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation in highly sensitive individuals. According to the University of Washington Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine's web site, no specific foods have been proven to aggravate arthritis. Yet at least one study claims to show that participants who eliminated nightshades from their diet saw improvement in their arthritis symptoms. Of the approximately half of the participants who said they were strict about excluding nightshades from their diet, 94 percent had substantial or complete relief from symptoms. Of the other half who admitted slipping occasionally, half had substantial or complete relief.

Is this all in people's minds? Perhaps not. One woman on an arthritis message board writes, "[Potatoes and tomatoes] cause excruciating pain in my legs and hips the following day." Another says, "I was eating the excess of neighbors' end-of-summer gardens-whole tomatoes, green peppers. My fingers became swollen, hot and itchy, painful and stiff. ...A friend suggested nightshades as the cause. I eliminated them from my diet, the symptoms went away." A third says, "I gave up all nightshade vegetables years ago, and it has made a tremendous difference in my joint pain."

One thing to point out is that if you are avoiding nightshades, make sure you compensate by eating other vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are nutritional powerhouses that provide lots of vitamins and antioxidants. If you've relied on them for years, fill the void by finding new produce to enjoy. And don't forget your vitamins.

If you're not sure whether cutting out nightshades would work for you, give it a try. Find substitutions for your favorite vegetables and see if you feel better. If you avoid nightshades for a few weeks and find that your joint pain has diminished, consider dropping them from your diet permanently. If your symptoms stay the same, perhaps you're not sensitive to nightshades. You might try avoiding dairy or gluten, which some arthritis sufferers point to as culprits. In the end, do what works best for you and not what others tell you is right for you.



University of Washington,
Arthritis Nightshades Research Foundation,,