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My Life As A NOT Potato: Solanine And The Potato Allergy

Mrs. Potato Head by Dorrie Rifkin Watercolors on Etsy

5:00 pm

Marcy and Penelope Kitten spend the day bickering and antagonizing one another. 

They take a break and bop on into the office where Cynthia is shopping working on the computer.

Marcy:  Hey. Can we have the car keys? We’re hungry and we want McDonalds.



Cynthia (thinking she misheard):  What?

Marcy:  I want a Quarter Pounder with Cheese (no onions or pickles). And Penelope wants a hamburger Happy Meal.

penelope kitten:  yum yum.

Cynthia:  What?

Marcy:  I’ll bring you back a Filet-O-Fish. Oh wait. I forgot. You’re a veg head now. What about some fries? They’re French.

Cynthia:  What?

Marcy:  Oh wait. I forgot. You have that phantom allergy to potatoes.

Cynthia:  Hey. It’s not a phantom allergy.  It’s real.

Marcy:  Where did you find that out? The Hypochondriac Hotline?

Cynthia:  After 10 years of having this allergy, there is finally some real research into it. Check out this article called The Case Of The Poison Potato.

The author of the piece, Maggie Koerth-Baker, talks about how the potato has a naturally occurring defense mechanism called solanine to guard against pests. Solanine is that green stuff under the skin of the potato and it’s deadly to pests. And not too good for humans either.

Some people may only have a mild reaction to the solanine. But some die from it.

In my case, I get hypothermia.

Elsa from Frozen


Marcy:  What?

Cynthia:  Yeah. So, this is what happened.

It was in the middle of August in the middle of scorching hot Texas and I woke up not feeling right. I tried to get out of bed but my muscles felt like jelly and I could only crawl to the kitchen for water. I was boiling hot and freezing cold at the same time. I felt like I was falling and passing out.

Freddy took my temperature. It was 92.2.

Marcy:  Gasp. 92.2! Shouldn’t you be dead?

Cynthia:  Freddy immediately called 911. The ambulance whisked me away to the hospital where not one doctor could figure out how a healthy thirty-something could get hypothermia in 100 degree Texas heat.



Marcy:  So what’d they do?

Cynthia:  Nothing. I recovered. Then, I was sent to a cardiologist and neurologist and an endocrinologist and had a medieval torture session known as a 6 hour blood fasting test.

The doctors found nothing.

Marcy:  Nothing?

Cynthia:  Nope. But Freddy did. He googled “causes of hypothermia” and up popped one article about how solanine in potatoes can cause … hypothermia. Guess what I ate a few hours before my temperature dropped?

Marcy:  Potatoes! So after that you never ate potatoes again.

Cynthia:  Well… no.

Marcy (shaking her head):  Are you that dumb, Cindy? Really?

Cynthia:  Every single doctor and nurse I encountered during my marathon doctor visits pooh poohed our theory. In fact, I got lectured about going onto the internet for medical advice every single time.

Marcy continues to shake her head.

Cynthia:  The second time it happened was even scarier than the first. The battle to stay conscious was so epic and I got so exhausted I didn’t know how long I could hang in there.

Marcy:  Did your life pass before your eyes? Were you scared?

Cynthia:  No and no.  I only felt tremendous guilt about leaving Freddy in Texas … with two cats. I kept asking him not to be mad at me.

 You’re so dramatic.  So then what?

Cynthia:  We went to an emergency clinic. The doctor there stared at me and talked about how green and waxy I looked. I recovered and went home.



Marcy:  And then you stopped eating potatoes.

Cynthia:  Well. No.

Marcy:  Aaaaargghhhh

Cynthia:  Marcy, you don’t understand.  The consensus among all the doctors was that it was probably a virus. I mean… I believed them.

A year later, Freddy and I were traveling in northern California and ate at a Fridays Restaurant. I got nostalgic for the potato skins I ate all the time when I was kid so I ordered them.

The next day I was home alone and my temperature started to drop and drop and drop. And I got weaker and weaker and weaker.  I managed to call my stepmom who asked me what I had eaten the night before.

Marcy:  Duh. Potatoes.



Cynthia: She told me to take Benadryl immediately. Freddy came racing home with Benadryl and two hours later I felt better. At this point, we all believed that I had developed an allergy to potatoes. No matter whether any doctor agreed or not.

Marcy:  So you finally and forever stopped eating potatoes.

Cynthia doesn’t answer.

Marcy (yelling):  Cindy! No way!

Cynthia:  Well, I was offered some Mcdonalds french fries. I had just seen Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock’s documentary about McDonalds, and since their french fries were pretty much determined to be … well … not really food … I figured there was only some small remnants of potato flakes in them anyway. Not enough to count surely.


Marcy:  It did.

Cynthia:  Yes. I didn’t get as sick but it was enough so that now I will truly never eat a potato again in my life..

… and I haven’t had a hypothermia episode since.

Thank you for your article on solanine in potatoes, Maggie Koerth-Baker! I feel somewhat vindicated by it since it is further proof that my allergy is real and not a figment of my imagination – as some people and cats like to think.

penelope kitten:  changed my mind. i want chicken mcnuggets instead. yum. yum.



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  • Reply Anonymous January 22, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    Where to begin!?!? Does this mean you're a pest? 😉 The pictures are so great!! I love the green and waxy one. Also, after I watched Super Size me it made me crave McDonald's. I'm glad you were finally validated with your self/Freddy-diagnosis.

    • Reply MarcyVeryMuch January 22, 2015 at 11:00 pm

      Uh oh – you craved McDonalds after watching Super Size Me? Don't tell Morgan Spurlock that!

  • Reply Anonymous January 22, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    Does this include sweet potatoes?
    Why do doctors sneer when you discuss internet findings? Are they intimidated? They should be since you and Freddy were able to diagnose what they couldn't.

    • Reply MarcyVeryMuch January 22, 2015 at 10:58 pm

      I believe sweet potatoes are fine. No – I don't think they were intimidated. Just annoyed.

  • Reply GnomeLover January 23, 2015 at 7:31 am

    Oh my goodness! That is so scary! I would have done the same thing as you. I would have believed the doctors. And then kept getting sick. I am so glad that you figured it out! And thankfully Freddy was there for you! I imagine that he was so worried. It is good to know the signs for a potato allergy. I had not heard of it before so it is always good to be aware. Thank you so much for sharing! I am so glad you are better!


    • Reply MarcyVeryMuch January 23, 2015 at 5:49 pm

      thank you, Jenni! I was really excited when I saw that article on solanine.

  • Reply Merrie K. January 23, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    That is so weird…I've never heard of a potato allergy, but your experiences are so scary! I'm glad you are ok and hopefully won't be tempted by mcdonals' french fries any more 🙂

  • Reply withwonderandwhimsy January 23, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    So scary! It's so discouraging when doctors disregard symptoms. It took me ages to conclude that I was super allergic to grapefruit. I went to an allergist and because I seemed to be "a little allergic to everything", he thought it was just a perfect storm of elements that landed me in the ER repeatedly. Well, I kept a food diary and started to see a link to grapefruit: grapefruit juice, grapefruit cooked into recipes, grapefruit notes in perfume, etc. It's a real treat having to smell restaurant bathroom soaps to determine if I can use it. Sometime I just can't tell. But soon after, my body will tell me and my eyes and throat will start swelling up. Yay for toting Benadryl and an Epi-Pen everywhere. So I hear you. The best part is that several years after I started taking a medication and developed this strange allergy to grapefruit, the medication now reads "No Do Eat Grapefruit" on the warning label. Huh. I could have told you that four years ago! It scary how long it takes to detect those links.

    <3 Liz

    • Reply MarcyVeryMuch January 23, 2015 at 11:12 pm

      Oh my gosh! What an incredible thing to have happen. My reaction of course is – grapefruit? Which is the same reaction people give me – potatoes? When I was waitressing I used to never believe people who had allergies I had never heard of before. I assumed that they simply didn't like the certain ingredient and were making my life difficult. Now I understand. Doctors don't know everything of course but I wish that some of them would be a little more open minded.

  • Reply Gwen January 24, 2015 at 1:29 am

    How terrifying! I'm so glad Freddy found that article, but shame on those doctors for dismissing it. Sometimes, a doctor will think of themselves as some kind of god, and just ignore a patient because *they* don't think anything's wrong. Also, what a pain that you have had to give up yet another thing you like! But you know what, you should try courgette fries instead, they are so incredibly yummy and much tastier than French fries too! Maybe you could make something similar to potato skins with courgette or swede or something, too? There are so many "alternative" cookbooks and recipe blogs suggesting substitutes for just about everything.
    Anyway. I'm glad you've got this health issue under control now! Such a simple thing, but such a huge thing at the same time… And to think *I* just avoid potatoes because they make me fart… 😉

    • Reply MarcyVeryMuch January 25, 2015 at 11:08 pm

      I will try the courgette fries. Sounds yummy. Giving up potatoes was not as difficult as I thought actually. I'd be really sad if it were avocados or cheese.

  • Reply Big Momma April 15, 2018 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks for bringing awareness to this obscure allergy. It is too bad doctors dismiss us (especially women) when we do our own research.

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