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What is Solanine?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Solanine is an alkaloid toxin found in members of the nightshade family, such as eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes, and the infamous deadly nightshade or belladonna. This toxin is part of the plant's defense mechanism, and it is designed to make nightshades unappealing and deadly to animals which might attempt to eat them. Most animals, including humans, have learned the lesson and learned to leave nightshades alone. Leaves, roots, flowers, stems, and fruits can all contain solanine in varying levels.

This toxin has neurological and gastrointestinal effects. When it is ingested in large enough quantities, it can cause nausea, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, in addition to symptoms like confusion, dizziness, difficulty walking, and slurred speech. Eventually, the body will become overloaded with the toxin, causing organs to fail and eventually leading to death or severe injury. Solanine appears to affect the mitochondria of the cells as it spreads through the body.

Humans eat many members of the nightshade family, although some societies were initially suspicious of foods like potatoes and tomatoes when they were imported from the New World because of concerns about known toxins. Usually, the solanine levels in things like eggplant, potatoes, and tomatoes are too low to cause health problems. However, there are circumstances in which solanine can be elevated. Unripe tomatoes tend to have higher levels of the toxin, as do potatoes which have been damaged or exposed to the sun, because the plants form more solanine in response to perceived threats. Sprouts of potatoes and tomatoes also have high levels of the toxin.

The toxin is heat-stable, but it will eventually break down at high temperatures. Deep frying temperatures of over 170°F (about 76°C), for example, can reduce the risk of solanine toxicity, but baking or microwaving is not as effective, and boiling won't work because the toxin will leach into the water. People who are concerned about the toxin can avoid unripe tomatoes and potatoes which have started to turn green, as the green color indicates that the potato has been exposed to the sun. While the green color itself is harmless, it shows that the potato has been able to photosynthesize, which requires sun exposure.

Historically, solanine was used in the treatment of epilepsy and asthma, in controlled doses. This practice is no longer common, as there are safer and more effective ways to treat these conditions. Solanine also has fungicidal and pesticidal qualities, but extraction and processing of this toxin is so time consuming that the substance is rarely used for these purposes. Another compound found in nightshades is atropine, another alkaloid toxin which is widely used in controlled amounts for various medical applications.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon984019 — On Jan 04, 2015

Sulfates? I love potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, etc., so what foods have sulfates, just to balance the effect of eating so many foods in the solanacea family?

I read in the Middle East they eat figs after meals to calm their stomachs from all the hot spices. Is there anything that is traditionally eaten with/after solanaceas to balance everything ( a balanced diet is the best yes? ) Thanks. This has been the most useful site I have found on this topic.

By anon200441 — On Jul 27, 2011

I'm Maria from Mexico, and I've recently started a study regarding the effects of Tomato leaf extract (especially solanine) on rodents. I would like to ask on your opinions on whether this study would be successful or not.

By ellafarris — On Jul 26, 2011

Solanine toxicity can also be found in chili peppers, green bell peppers and paprika. Once any of the nightshades are digested into the stomach, they are converted into solanidine. Solanidine is easily absorbed and much less toxic.

I'm not sure exactly how it's metabolized, but research suggests that it's either by glycosylation or sulfation. Our bodies use both of these methods as a detoxification of harmful chemicals.

For people who are having problems with solanine poisoning they might consider adding more sulfate to their diet. It's only an indication that their bodies are lacking somewhere in the detoxification process.

By wizup — On Jul 26, 2011

We've started to grow our own potatoes this year in our garden and I've been picking up information every where I can about them.

I'm very glad I found this article because now I know to toss all the green potatoes I come across without hesitation.

By babylove — On Jul 26, 2011

I've been eating sliced tomatoes for years but had no idea they contained the deadly solanine toxin. I didn't even know they were a member of the nightshade family and I grew up on a farm where gardening was a part of every day life.

You learn something new every day. I'll be more careful in the future when selecting my tomatoes for ripeness from now on.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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