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Will Potatoes Slow Your Recovery from Surgery?

Eggplants, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes all can block acetylcholinesterase. This might slow recovery from surgery in which muscle relaxants are used.
Cc0 from https://pixabay.com/en/surgery-action-hospital-doctor-1822458/

Have you ever gone into the hospital for a planned surgery? If so, you’ve probably been offered some materials that explain the procedure and tell you what to expect, when to arrive and how long you should fast beforehand. A reader recently reported reading that eating potatoes or tomatoes could interfere with a quick recovery from surgery. You may not be told that, but it could be worth remembering.

How Could Vegetables Affect Your Recovery from Surgery? 

Q. When I had surgery, the head of anesthesiology came by and talked with me beforehand. I mentioned an article I had read. It advised avoiding potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant several days before surgery. These foods cause problems clearing the effects of drugs used during surgery. She responded that in 22 years in the field, she’d never heard that.

After my surgery, the anesthesiologist came back to see me and was impressed with my recovery from surgery. That inspired her to search the article I’d mentioned, and she found a study from the University of Chicago around 1998.

The surgeon also was impressed by how well I was doing after anesthesia. Others might appreciate knowing this, since it can be difficult to clear anesthesia from our systems.

What Do Potatoes Do?

A. We too were unaware of the impact of solanaceous vegetables such as potatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos or tomatoes. These foods impact an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase which is important in clearing muscle relaxants similar to curare (Anesthesiology, Aug. 2000).  Such medications are often used during surgery, especially abdominal surgery.

We found only a few research articles related to this topic, so it is not surprising that your anesthesiologist was unaware of this potential reaction. Tobacco is also a member of this nightshade family, although you should avoid tobacco for lots of reasons, not just recovery from surgery. Some botanicals from other plant families also inhibit cholinesterase (Pharmacognosy Reviews, July 2013). In theory, they too could interfere with quick recovery from muscle relaxants.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • McGehee DS et al, "Cholinesterase inhibition by potato glycoalkaloids slows mivacurium metabolism." Anesthesiology, Aug. 2000. DOI: 10.1097/00000542-200008000-00031
  • Ahmed F et al, "Cholinesterase inhibitors from botanicals." Pharmacognosy Reviews, July 2013. DOI: 10.4103/0973-7847.120511
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My question is this: would that article imply that those foods are similar to anticholinergics, which have been implicated in dementia?

How does the consumption of these things effect Alzheimer’s? Acetylcholinesterase is a major issue. If my wife is taking Choline will eating tomatoes block the effect? Some of this doesn’t make sense. If Sardinians have lower incidents of Alzheimer’s what is the effect of tomato consumption?

We just really don’t have the research to answer these questions. It’s a very new field of inquiry.

I am a healthy 72 year old woman.

In 2016 I had autologous breast reconstruction after having had a former mastectomy. The autologous reconstruction was a 5-hour procedure. I had never had problems recovering from surgery. After this procedure, I was plagued with chronic diarrhea for the following full year. No doctor could explain why or how to help me.

I had not avoided foods from the nightshade family before or after the surgery. In fact, home grown tomatoes are usually included in our daily vegetable salad. I don’t know if that was the cause or not.

I also avoid nightshades because they cause my arthritis to flare up.

There should be more research on nightshades. I was advised to remove them from my diet to help with my arthritis and inflammation. I have tested having a nightshade-free diet vs one with nightshades several times over the last ten years. My arthritis flares up whenever I eat nightshades.

The only way to know for sure for each person is to strictly eliminate nightshades from the diet for a month or two and then reintroduce them. It is very hard because there are hidden nightshades in many unlikely foods. Paprika and potato starch are the two to keep an eye out for when reading ingredient lists. Crumbled bleu cheese often has potato starch as a binder, for example.

I was not aware of the effect post-surgery. Thank you for highlighting that.

Many pesticides are strong acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.

WOW, these are the same foods which are to be avoided when following the anti-arthritis “no deadly nightshades” diet.

I’ve been following that avoidance advise for about 35 years since I first had arthritis symptoms and, truly, the signs of arthritis in my joints are surprisingly minimal, although they do exist.

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