Alkaloids are plentiful in nature and have been used for medicinal purposes for many thousands of years. They are especially found in plants such as herbs and in some vegetables: “more than 10,000 different alkaloids have been discovered in species from over 300 plant families…about 20-30% plant species have been found to contain them” (Bonfilius, 2014).Due to the wide diversity of alkaloids that can be found in so many places, it is important to tell between the alkaloids which have nutritional benefits and those which may be harmful to the system. They are being used a lot in pharmacology, thanks to their stimulant effects. For example, athletes might drink energy drinks and other stimulants with alkaloids in them. However, the nutritional benefits of these types of drinks can be harmful and might need to be more well-regulated for improved athletic performance (Senchina, Hallam, Kohut, Nguyen, & Perera, 2014). This is why it is so important for consumers to understand that alkaloids can be useful, but only if they are regulated wisely and with knowledgeable understanding of their most effective purposes.

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There are many uses for alkaloids in human consumption, including the therapeutic ways in which alkaloids have been used as a medicinal agent for thousands of years. “For centuries people have used plants for healing” (Raskin, Ribnicky, Komarnytsky, Ilic, Poulev, Borisjuk, … & O’Neal, 2002, p. 522). It seems to be coincidental that people stopped using alkaloids for medicine around the same time that Bayer aspirin company was formed in 1897 (Raskin et al., 2002, p. 522). There are a few possible reasons, because alkaloids can be harmful if they are not administered properly. The nutritional effects of alkaloids can be positive in the right dosages and for particular purposes, and for this reason scientists are studying certain types of alkaloids in the twenty-first century. “These alkaloids can be potent and highly selective glycosidase inhibitors and are arousing great interest as tools to study cellular recognition and as potential therapeutic agents” (Watson, Fleet, Asano, Molyneux, & Nash, 2001, p. 265). This is an interesting area of study for nutritional benefits, including the positive aspects of keeping a person comfortable physically, have a better appetite, and eat healthy foods.

There are many common foods that contain alkaloids naturally in them. The plant group of foods known as nightshades has alkaloids in them, which includes potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and many varieties of peppers. These foods have the class of alkaloids known as “steroid alkaloids” (Gigi, 2015). While these foods are safe, healthful, and nutritionally beneficial for human consumption, in some cases there can be an adverse reaction. For example, the nervous system may be affected when the alkaloids halt the work of the enzyme, cholinesterase, that is an important component of nerve cell functioning. They can also cause inflammation of the joints. Both of these effects occur only in people who have “specific sensitivity to this type of alkaloid” (Gigi, 2015). There are still no clear answers available in current research on how these interactions occur, but many naturopaths recommend that patients avoid these foods.

The health benefits of plant alkaloids consumed in the human diet include a “therapeutic effect as muscle relaxants, tranquillizers, pain killers, and antimicrobials” (Bonfilius). Plant alkaloids have been used as medicines, spices, home remedies, and in health foods for thousands of years, especially in India. Over 70% of the population in India use herbal drugs containing alkaloids for their health to this day, which is a safe and effective alternative medicinal system (Bonfilius). Alkaloids are plentiful in plants and have many positive benefits for humans when used with proper nutritional knowledge.

    References
  • Bonfilius, V. (2014). Health benefits of plant alkaloids. Bonvictor.blogspot.com. Retrieved from http://bonvictor.blogspot.com/2014/04/therapeutic-value-of-plant-alkaloids.html.
  • Gigi (2015). Shedding light on nightshades and the alkaloids they contain. Glutenfreegigi.com. Retrieved from https://www.glutenfreegigi.com/shedding-light-on-nightshades-and-the-alkaloids-they-contain/
  • Raskin, I., Ribnicky, D. M., Komarnytsky, S., Ilic, N., Poulev, A., Borisjuk, N., … & O’Neal, J. M. (2002). Plants and human health in the twenty-first century. TRENDS in Biotechnology, 20(12), 522-531.
  • Senchina, D. S., Hallam, J. E., Kohut, M. L., Nguyen, N. A., & Perera, M. (2014). Alkaloids and athlete immune function: caffeine, theophylline, gingerol, ephedrine, and their congeners. Exercise Immunology Review, 20, 68-93.
  • Watson, A. A., Fleet, G. W., Asano, N., Molyneux, R. J., & Nash, R. J. (2001). Polyhydroxylated alkaloids—natural occurrence and therapeutic applications. Phytochemistry, 56(3), 265-295.