What do tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, tobacco and belladonna have in common? They all belong to the same family of plants: Solanaceae 

In the following article, you will learn that the nightshade family is extensive and contains dozens of spices, from the edible to the ones we should not eat, and what possible benefits they can bring.

What are nightshades?

Solanaceae scientific name, Solanaceae ) include all kinds of plants: shrubs, trees, guide plants and even lianas, presenting a varied morphology in terms of color, flowers, etc. In a single orchard or field, you could find hundreds of genera!

Note: Regarding their life cycle, they can be annual, biennial or perennial plants (plants whose life cycle is equal to or greater than 24 months, respectively). They have a distribution throughout the planet, although the greatest diversity lies in Central America and South America .

What are nightshade plants?

Now, thanks to their products, humans have given plant species various uses: psychoactive substances, food, pharmacological properties, etc. It is there where the categorization that divides these species into two large groups is born, which we will see below:

1. Edible nightshades

These plants constitute all those that are generally suitable for human consumption. In this group, we find:

  • Vegetables such as potatoes or potatoes solanum tuberosum ), eggplant Solanum melongena ) and peppers Capsicum annuum ).
  • Fruits like Solanum lycopersicum, also known as the tomato (despite being commonly known as a vegetable, tomatoes are technically fruits) and goji berries (Lycium barbarum).

2. Toxic nightshades

There is a subgroup of inedible Solanaceae, since they are highly toxic to humans and animals, such as:

  • The black henbane Hyoscyamus niger ) and the belladonna Atropa belladonna ).
  • Other species examples include tobacco nicotiana tabacum ) and Jimson weed datura stramonium ) .

It is important to note that, although the plant itself is lethal to humans, it has been possible to isolate and extract substances that it naturally produces, such as hyoscine , found in belladonna . 

You should know: Hyoscine counteracts the effects of acetylcholine , one of the main neurotransmitters of the autonomic nervous system. It is sold commercially as scopolamine .

What are the health benefits of nightshades?

Most nightshades have the same characteristic: their leaves or fruits contain substances called alkaloids . An alkaloid is a nitrogenous substance produced in the plant, whose effects can become intense, even in small doses.

Examples of these are hyoscine, hyoscyamine, atropine, solanine and capsaicin (responsible for the spiciness of chili peppers). The benefits of alkaloids towards people depends on the dose. Next, we will explain a little:

1. They strengthen the immune system

Fruits and vegetables, genera of nightshades, have a nutritional content beyond those mentioned: flavonoids; antioxidants that support immune function 

To highlight: Nightshades increase the concentrations of lymphocytes , the natural killer (cells that are part of the innate immune system, being the first lines of defense long before antibodies) and interleukins. (1)

2. They reduce the risk of chronic diseases

These include cancer, dementia, cataracts, and atherosclerosis. In fact, some studies suggest that the flavonoids found in tomato and red pepper (lycopene and capsanthin, respectively) may reduce risk by acting as antioxidants, anticancer agents, and by modulating the inflammatory state 

You should know : Studies have shown that flavonoids decrease the rate of cell differentiation and increase the death of aberrant cells. (2) (3)

3. They improve digestive functions

Do you want to improve your intestinal transit? A diet with enough fiber is a solution . In this sense, within nightshades, potatoes contain 1.2 g of fiber per 100 grams. 

Note: Fiber has an osmotic effect , drawing water and electrolytes out of the intestines, favoring firmer, more voluminous stools.

4. They promote the health of the eyes, skin and hair

Visual disturbances such as macular degeneration could be prevented with a diet rich in carotenoids and vitamin A. Nightshade species, such as the goji berry and tomato, are both a decent source of these two.

Highlights: Vitamin C, found in peppers and eggplants, is a necessary cofactor for the synthesis of collagen , an essential amino acid in animals for skin and its attachments, such as hair. Collagen is an amino acid necessary for the construction of keratin.

5. They increase physical energy

Fruits and vegetables (belonging to edible nightshades) provide calories, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals necessary for your day to day , without generating glucose or insulin spikes as processed foods such as sweets would. Not only this, they also promote glycemic control by avoiding metabolic alterations.

6. They improve the condition of muscles and bones

The nutritional content, of nightshades such as potatoes or tomatoes, in protein and amino acids are not exceptionally high, but they can help you meet your daily requirements and maintain adequate muscle mass, especially in middle-aged and older adults, where muscle loss it starts to happen.

7. They contribute to weight loss

Edible nightshades won’t help you lose weight directly, but they can be powerful allies. How?

First, they contain few calories and yet they can satisfy your appetite. They are a source of nutrients in the fruit and in its leaves, stabilize glucose levels, the lipid profile, promote circulation and reduce inflammatory states , with positive effects on the cognitive state of the person.

Note: Nightshades are versatile. They can be part of your main dishes or your snacks, replacing the empty calories that are cookies, cakes or sweets in general. Adding a bit of color to most of your dishes is a good idea.

What risks do nightshades have?

Nightshades have multiple uses, from medicinal to recreational. But everything has its “dark” side. Next, we will explain a little about the risks that have been attributed to the species of this family:

1. They can increase the symptoms of autoimmune diseases

This effect could be caused by the concentrations of alkaloids (for example, solanine) that certain members of the family have, but the studies are inconclusive. 

In animal studies, nightshades have been shown to aggravate intestinal mucosal disorders in irritable bowel syndrome , but in other studies, the results are not conclusive. (4)

Important : Consult with your preferred doctor or nutritionist about your dietary planning, to discuss which foods to include and which not.

2. They can exacerbate the symptoms of arthritis

Some people believe that eating certain nightshade plants , such as eggplants, exacerbate their arthritis and therefore remove them from their diet. The reality is that there is not enough scientific information to validate this.

Highlights : Consuming purple or yellow tomatoes may decrease inflammation with their antioxidant benefits, according to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition and the Arthritis Foundation. (5) (6) 

In fact, the possibility of dietary supplementation with anatabine , an alkaloid found in solanaceous plant species, has been studied. (7)

3. They can cause allergic reactions

Sensitivity towards these plants varies from person to person. Characteristics of an allergic reaction include hives, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, and hives 

Important: If you believe that this clinical picture is caused by intoxication or allergies to the Solanaceae genera, consult your doctor of preference .

Key Findings

  • The Solanaceae or Solanaceae is a very diverse family , with a large number of genera and species. 
  • Among these we have tomato, potato, potato, eggplant , pepper, Jimson weed, nicandra, belladonna and tobacco. 
  • The nightshade family are a rich source of nutrients (carotenoids and vitamins) and other substances, such as solanine and scopolamine.
  • Certain nutrients in these species fight chronic diseases , whether metabolic or cardiovascular, and help maintain general health.
  • There are certain contraindications in the consumption of nightshades, so we recommend going to a professional before making a critical decision about your diet.

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