Health Dangers of Glycoalkaloids

Health Dangers of Glycoalkaloids

Health Dangers of Glycoalkaloids

health dangers of glycoalkaloidsOne of the Health Dangers of a Plant-Based Diet are neurotoxins called glycoalkaloids. They are enzyme inhibitors. The health dangers of glycoalkaloids are numerous.

The potato is a good example of glycoalkaloids and their hazards. One of the enzyme inhibitors is called an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. This blocks the breakdown of acetylcholine – a neurotransmitter.

When acetylcholine doesn’t get broken down it builds up. [r] The buildup of this neurotransmitter causes muscular paralysis and even death for many predators and pests that dare try and eat the potato.

For humans, the health dangers of glycoalkaloids are often insidious though.

Health Dangers of Glycoalkaloids – “Potato Paralysis”

A plant root, like the potato, is a carbohydrate storage organ. It’s starch that the plant uses for energy.

Humans like to steal energy from plants and use it for our nutrition. As seen with plant seeds (which have stored energy intended for the baby offspring of the plant) when we steal plant’s energy is can come with consequences.

Potato Paralysis

The glycoalkaloids in a potato function as a natural pesticide. Their bitter taste is the first signal to the predator not to eat them.

But if this is ignored, they deter pests and predators with this neurotoxin. It’s nature’s natural nerve gas. It works the same way that our man-made warfare nerve agents work.

The natural cholinesterase inhibitors in a potato prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine. [r] And since acetylcholine carries messages between nerve cells and muscle cells, these signals keep getting sent.

It’s kind of like…

For a terrible analogy – this is like someone calling you on the phone.

They tell you this important message and give you directions on what to do. You follow the directions step-by-step just as they are telling you. Everything is working great. All done. Time to stop and hang up the phone.

But right when you do, the phone rings again. You have to pick up. It’s your job. And they start repeating the same message again. In this situation, you are powerless and have to do your job which is answering the phone and carrying out the directions.

And thanks to this neurotoxin you can’t stop picking up and can’t hang up on them. You answer, listen, activate – again. And again. And again.

Health Dangers of Glycoalkaloids – Potato Problems

Ultimately, this over-stimulates the nervous system. It can cause paralysis, convulsions, and even respiratory arrest and death.

Understandably, significant glycoalkaloid consumption is linked with mental health problems like anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness. The neuropsychiatric side effects are numerous and insidious.[r]

It’s often hard to point-the-finger and pinpoint glycoalkaloids as the “root” of the problem. Because with a healthy GI tract most won’t make it into your bloodstream. Most. But those that do can take days to clear out. So when eaten regularly they can build up. And the impact can be cumulative. [rr]

With a compromised GI tract the impact can be exacerbated. And worse, they can even play a role in creating this “leaky gut.” [r]

Health Dangers of Glycoalkaloids – Solanine

Potato plants make a specific glycoalkaloid called solanine (they also make another one called chaconine). The health implications of solanine are not a secret.

The US even has a maximum legal limit to the amount of solanine a potato can have (200 mg/kg potatoes). [r] The problem is that even low doses can be toxic. And eating just 3 mg/kg body weight can be fatal. [r] I say “just” because it’s very doable. [r]

Solanine is not just in potatoes either. It’s also found in significant quantities in other nightshades like eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.

And it’s not just solanine. The potato’s other glycoalkaloid, chaconine, is considered even more toxic than solanine. [r]

Glycoalkaloid poisoning from potatoes is more likely when improperly stored, geen, or sprouting. A low dose poisoning might just cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Higher doses can lead to fever, low blood pressure and neurological problems. And as mentioned, high doses can even be fatal.

Health Dangers of Glycoalkaloids – Metabolism and Membranes

If you need more reasons to be weary of glycoalkaloids consider their ability to disrupt other enzymes and alter carbohydrate and fat metabolism. They can bind nucleic acids and interfere with protein synthesis and DNA repair. They bind strongly to cholesterol on cell membranes and can rupture cells open. [r]

Health Dangers of Glycoalkaloids – What to do?

Potatoes are the most common food behind wheat, rice, and corn. So this isn’t some minute issue.

Unfortunately boiling or frying doesn’t disarm glycoalkaloids. They survive most cooking methods. Frying can even make it worse. [r, r]

If you must eat a potato there are a few helpful precautions.

First, the highest concentration of glycoalkaloids are in the peel, so be sure to peel that off. [r]

Do not eat unripe or sprouting potatoes. If it’s green don’t eat it. Avoid regular consumption. Don’t store them in light or a warm place.

Probably just easiest not to eat them at all.

I remember the classic bodybuilding diet back in the day – steak and potatoes – but maybe it’s better to leave out that second ingredient. Yes, you can build muscle on just steak without the potatoes and without the carbs.

So beware the perils of potatoes, and recognize the miracles of meat 🙂

[NOTE: You can now access the complete “Health Dangers of a Plant-Based Diet” series here]:

3 Replies to “Health Dangers of Glycoalkaloids”

  1. I always heard green potatoes were bad, but I had to learn for myself. I ate a bean sized piece of sprout. It was tiny and I’m so big. I thought I was gonna die. Got sicker than a dog. God, did I get sick. Nothing to fool with!

  2. In one sense you are correct that it is easier to avoid eating potatoes in any form. However, different varieties of potatoes have varying amounts of glycoalkaloids, as I have recently learned. I would name some of the varieties with the highest amounts, as cited in the research I have read, but, ultimately, we cannot stop eating everything, even things we grow ourselves, because we do not have combined doctorates in biology, chemistry, neurobiology, and physics.

    But given that potatoes I have purchased are now taking over one hour to boil to some remote level of tender, and that some taste like their family of nightshades – for some reason – never before – the potato industry will have to do without this consumer, save as I will blithely eat some potato chips, and fast-food mashed potatoes, and figure that the enjoyment of both will just have to offset any potential damage.

    It is always important to provide balance. Potatoes have important nutrients with beneficial biochemical effects.

    China has switched to potato-growing and is one of the, if not the largest producers in the world.

Leave a Reply