light on nightshade vegetables
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Asana’s work from the outside of the body into the inside of the body, pranayama works from the inside, the core, to the outside of the body. Both work on all aspects of the body mind, from the gross to the subtle. Pratyahara works from the senses and the mind. Dharana works with the mind. Meditation is beyond the mind and works with the subtle energies within the body mind. Substances, compounds, toxins etc work on molecular level, they can do their work from the inside of the cell, and penetrate the cell from the outside. Creating disharmony within the body mind. This is happening on a daily basis, and yoga is a way to counteract these effects and restore harmony to the body mind. “Health” ,can be defined merely by not being sick, not having any pains, it can also be defined as being in complete harmony, from body mind to everything that is happening around you, tapping into an unlimited source of energy.
The nightshade (as they grow at night) vegetable is a large family of plants including the well known;
Potato (but not sweet potato neither yams), eggplant (aubergine), hot peppers like chilli, cayenne (tabasco sauce and other hot pepper sauces), paprika (bell pepper), tomato, tomatillo’s, ground cherries, tamarillos, garden huckleberry and naranjillas, pepinos and pimentos.
Not considered to be a vegetable but part of the family is the tobacco plant. There are over 2,800 species of plants that are classified as nightshades – all belonging to a scientific order called Polemoniales, and to a scientific family called Solanaceae. All nightshades contain alkaloids – a group of substances that has been scientifically proven to adversely impact both the digestive system and the nerve-muscle function of our bodies. The alkaloids in nightshades are naturally formed by the plants themselves, primarily to defend themselves from insects (natural pesticides in a way). There are several types of alkaloids found in nightshade plants. One basic type found in most nightshade foods – including potatoes and tomatoes – is known as the steroid alkaloids. These alkaloids (primarily solanine (a neuro-toxin) and chaonine) have been studied for their effects on the nervous system and joint health.
Steroid alkaloids have the ability to cause cholinesterase inhibition – or to block activity of the cholintesterase enzyme in nerve cells. When cholintesterase is severely blocked, our nervous system and muscle movement becomes disrupted – causing muscle twitching, trembling and even restricted breathing. While the steroid alkaloid in potatoes has indisputably been shown to block cholinesterase activity, the blockage does not usually appear to be severe enough to produce noticeable nerve-muscle disruptions such as twitching or trembling.
Steroid alkaloids have been studied for their potential damage to the joints caused by inflammation and altered mineral status. The research is not conclusive, but some researchers speculate that these alkaloids contribute to excessive calcium loss from bone and excessive calcium deposit in soft tissue. Accordingly, many doctors encourage those suffering from joint conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other joint problems to avoid all nightshades from their diets.
Nightshades contain at least 6 other neuro-toxins, including atropine and nicotine. One of them is scopolamine which depresses the central nervous system and is used as a sedative. Nicotine causes a short-term increase in blood pressure, heart rate and the flow of blood from the heart. And it also causes the arteries to narrow. Nicotine is extremely addictive. Another neuro-toxin in nightshades is atropine, a blocker preventing nerve transmission. The others are acetyl cholinesterase inhibitors that prevent the breakdown of neurotransmitters needed for proper nerve function. Which means the neurotransmitters get stuck in the synapse, preventing nerve transmission and function.
In general it seems that nightshades;
dehydrate the joints and worsen arthritis.
worsen acidity, sciatica, and kidney, gallstones disorders and nervous system disorders.
The effects can be;
short term; like cramps, diarrhea, dizziness and sleepiness. For many people these short term effects are even more intense, such as chronic migraine headaches, dizziness, intestinal disturbance, and ‘food poisoning’ like symptoms.
long term; like joint pain, appendicitis, birth defects (including spina bifida), depression, endocrine suppression, especially thyroid, arthritis in all its forms, increased intestinal permeability, migraines, osteoporosis, arteriosclerosis, and interference in the absorption of calcium (up to 80%), iron, and vitamin D.
Even though the solanine in one single potato isn’t strong enough to cause such a huge effect, it turns out that it builds up in our tissues over time and the body is very slow to break it down. It’s not water soluble, and is not destroyed by cooking. It takes the body 1 to 2 1/2 months to get rid of the solanine from just one potato. It usually builds up in the smooth muscles and organs such as the intestines, heart, lungs, and endocrine system, mostly in the thyroid. Harmful effects may take years and years to appear.
From a yogi/ayurvedic perspective nightshades are generally considered rajasic foods – in that they stimulate, aggravate and agitate the inner-workings of the mind, which in turn affects the body. From a doshic or body/mind constitution perspective, nightshades are Pitta aggravating as they are heating and acidic. (Potatoes can also be kapha aggravating, as they are heavy, starchy and can be difficult to digest.)
Nightshades have pungent or sour post digestive effect (vipaka). Vipaka is the way the food affects you when completely absorbed and assimilated. In the case of nightshades your colon is experiencing sour and pungent taste. It can be irritating for all three doshas. Sour is heating and irritates Pitta. Pungent is heating and drying and affects both vata and pitta. Kapha can tolerate them in small amounts once or twice a month.
Other facts about the nightshade’s;
- Some of the other more famous members is the deadly nightshade; “belladonna” and mandrake (which were thought to contain evil spirits).
- Tomatoes, green peppers, eggplant and potatoes were only ornaments and not thought of as edibles until the 1800’s.
- Eggplant was actually called “The Mad Apple”. In the Mediterranean area eggplant was thought to cause insanity if eaten daily for a month. A few spoonfuls of eggplant contain the same amount of nicotine as sitting in a closed room with a light smoker for three hours!
- The nightshade plants, when found in pastures, are ruinous to livestock. If a cow were to graze in a field of nightshades, in a short time they wouldn’t be able to walk anymore.
Cooking will help to diminish the harmful effects, try not to eat any member of the Nightshades raw. If you need to eat tomatoes raw, the more green they are, more of the harmful components (esp. solanine) will be still present. For potatoes, be sure to take out the green spots or sprouting on potatoes as these usually correspond to an increased alkaloid content.
Yoga, Ayurveda and Nightshades.
The ancient yogi’s seemed to avoid Nightshades, and today’s science seems to give some interesting evidence to support there ways. It is definitely worth a little experimenting on your own. Are you eating nightshades out of habit or are you eating them because they are beneficial to your body/mind? If you suffer of arthritis, acidity, sciatica, kidney and gallstones disorders or osteoporosis you may want to conduct your own research and gather more information. When yoga is part of your daily life, and your health important to you may want to consider eliminating the nightshades at least out of your daily diet. If you have a strenuous yoga asana practice with a lot of vinyasa, arm balances and working the edge of the body’s mobility, it could add new insight to your practice and body/mind when leaving the nightshades totally out of your diet.
Ahimsaka’s personal experience after eliminating all nightshades out of his total diet was remarkable (and for that reason sharing his experience);
short term; within a week, the body felt much more open, less defensive.Both body and mind seemed to have found a new kind of openness, the feeling of “struggle” felt away. The lethargic feeling in the muscles and joints that would appear 2 hours after a yoga asana practice completely disappeared. Tiredness in general disappeared and the body felt more vitalized and energized.
mid term; in between a week up to 4 months, mobility increased. Especially with back-bends, were mobility would maybe increase a millimeter or less in a week or so. Often mobility would decrease a bit with out, as it seemed, any particular reasons (but those would be the times more nightshades had been consumed). Now the spine, and connecting joints seemed to open up rapidly, with a progress of 6 cm in Kapotasana. Time necessary for sleep became less, it took 2 hours of Ahimsaka’s sleeping time. No tiredness appeared during the day, and even more fresh when waking up. Numbness disappeared and more subtle body awareness trickled in.
long term; 4 months and beyond, the “problem” body parts, the parts with a lot of tightness, and prone to getting tighter, containing a lot of “conditioning” and tension seem to let go more and more. Openness is settling in, and what have been set in motion within the first 4 months keeps on going to a lesser extend.
Looking from different angles some of these vegetables are “known” to be good, especially when having a yoga practice.
Eggplant is rich in fiber and contains a lot of minerals and helps in reducing weight.
Boiled tomatoes increase the amount of lycopene which is a highly effective anti-oxidant. (it does decrease the vitamin C content), and helps lowering high blood pressure and high cholesterol. (lycopene, in lesser content is also found in papaya, guava, pink grapefruit, watermelon and apricots). It could help fight inflammation (with that muscle repair) and some researches state cancer too.
Raw tomatoes are a good source of vitamin A, C, E, potassium and folic acid.
The nightshades are easily substituted in your diet if you are cooking your own food (from a health perspective not from a sense-pleasure stimulating experience). When you are dependent on out-sourced/processed food, it gets difficult. Finding the middle path may be challenging, though not impossible. If you do make the effort to experiment; try to eliminated all the nightshades for at least a month from your diet and observe the effects according truth and non-violence.
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