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Potato

Scientific Name(s): Solanum tuberosum L.
Common Name(s): Irish potato, Potato, US russet, White potato

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jul 6, 2017.

Clinical Overview

Use

Potatoes are rich in starch and may affect glycemic control and insulin levels in people with diabetes. Antioxidant effects and protease inhibitor action are being studied.

Dosing

There is no clinical evidence to support specific dosage of potato. The widespread use of the tubers as food is tempered by the occurrence of toxic alkaloids in sprouting potatoes and in foliage.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not been identified. Excessive consumption of potatoes in people with severe renal function impairment may lead to hyperkalemia.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Generally recognized as safe for use as food. Avoid excessive consumption because safety and efficacy are unproven.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Allergic reaction to raw and cooked potato has been documented and includes anaphylaxis. GI symptoms (eg, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting) are generally associated with the consumption of blighted, greening, or sprouted tubers. Case reports of fatalities exist.

Toxicology

Two primary types of toxins are associated with potatoes: acrylamide and glycoalkaloids, with levels of acrylamide dependent on the cultivar as well as on postharvesting and processing methods.

Scientific Family

  • Solanaceae (nightshade)

Botany

The potato is a weedy plant recognized for its tuberous growth and valued as a commercial food. Potatoes are propagated from the underground runners of the plant from the "eyes."1, 2

History

Potatoes have been cultivated since 500 BC; Central and South American Indians were probably among the first to select hardy cultivators of the potato as a food staple.2, 3 Despite the Spanish introduction of the plant into Europe in the late 1500s, the tubers did not become a popular food source until the 17th century because of religious and mythological concerns about the toxicity of the plant. Once accepted, potatoes were widely disseminated to Germany, other parts of Europe, and Russia.

By the 17th and 18th centuries, potatoes formed such a large part of the Irish diet that intake for adults exceeded 8 lb/day. The fungal disease known as potato blight destroyed more than 80% of the crop in the 1840s, resulting in the starvation of more than 3 million Irish and the emigration of many more.3

Raw potato has been used traditionally in poultices for arthritis, infections, boils, burns, and sore eyes; potato peel tea has been used to soothe edema or bodily swelling; and raw potato juice has been ingested to soothe gastritis or stomach disorders.4

The potato remains an important food crop, with over 200 million metric tons harvested annually worldwide, surpassed only by wheat.3 Potatoes are also used as a source of starch and in the manufacture of alcoholic beverages.5

Chemistry

Potatoes are rich in starch, with potato maltodextrin used in the preparation of commercial foods. Varying amounts of potassium, iron, riboflavin, folate, and vitamins are found primarily in the thick periderm of the skin.3, 6, 7, 8 Potatoes are a poor source of protein, with only about 2% to 10% as protein content.3, 9

The potato contains a variety of steroidal alkaloids chemically related by the cholestane ring structure. The major toxic glycoalkaloids are alpha-chaconine and alpha-solanine, with others, including the leptines and teptidine, found in the leaves of some, but not all, species.3, 9 Protease inhibitors, phenolic compounds, and lectins have also been identified.3, 10, 11 Processing can induce the toxic compound acrylamide.12, 13 Pesticide residues can be found in the skin of the potato tuber, but are largely removed by washing in water, acetic acid, or salt, as well as by peeling or frying.14

Uses and Pharmacology

Antiproliferative effect

An antiproliferative effect on human colon and liver cancer cells has been demonstrated in vitro.3, 15 Glycoalkaloids from other species have demonstrated inhibitory action on tumors in mice and human solid tumor cell lines, as well as on basal and squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas.15, 16, 17 The traditional use of potato juice for the management of dyspepsia has been supported by limited clinical trials.18, 19

Diabetes

The relationship between the consumption of potatoes and risk of type 2 diabetes is unclear. A gender-related response has been suggested.20, 21 In the Nurses' Health Study, the risk of type 2 diabetes was higher with increased potato consumption, especially among obese women.21 A study conducted among men and women with type 2 diabetes found the intake of potatoes was directly related to insulin resistance and fasting plasma glucose levels in men, but the same relationship was not found for women. An unresolved, confounding issue was that men consumed approximately 50% more potatoes per day, leading to the suggestion of a threshold effect.20

In a study conducted in 90 overweight men and women on potato consumption and weight loss, no impact on weight loss and no effect on triglycerides, glucose tolerance, insulin, or insulin sensitivity was found.22

The glycemic index of potatoes is influenced by the cultivar and the cooking method. The common US russet potato has a moderately high glycemic index (approximately 71 when baked, similar to that of white bread).23 A reduced glycemic response is obtained when potatoes are precooked and eaten cold or reheated.23, 24, 25

Lipid profile/Antioxidant action

Experiments in rats found decreased plasma cholesterol and triglyceride levels with a whole (including the skin) potato-enriched diet over a 3-week period. The plasma antioxidant capacity was also increased.26 In vitro experiments have also evaluated the antioxidant effect of potato tubers; however, equivalent clinical experiments are lacking.16, 27

Proteolytic activity

Proteins derived from potato tubers have demonstrated proteolytic activity. The elucidation of protease inhibitors from different potato species and potential clinical applications is an area of ongoing research.19, 28, 29, 30

Dosing

There is no clinical evidence to support a specific potato dosage. The widespread use of the tubers as food is tempered by the occurrence of toxic glycoalkaloids, especially in sprouting potatoes.

Excessive consumption of potatoes in people with severe renal function impairment may lead to hyperkalemia, although dicing and boiling reduces the potassium content.6, 24, 25

Studies among volunteers suggest that adverse GI symptoms result from total glycoalkaloid concentrations of 2 to 5 mg/kg body weight.3, 10 The biological half-life of alpha-solanine has been estimated to be 10.7 hours, and 19.1 hours for alpha-chaconine.9, 10 A recommended acceptable level of total glycoalkaloid concentration in commercial potato cultivars is not more than 200 mg/kg fresh potato, but the safety of this level is disputed and has not been officially adopted in the United States.3, 11

Pregnancy / Lactation

Generally recognized as safe when used as food. Avoid excessive consumption because safety and efficacy are unproven.

The contribution of potato glycoalkaloids to neural tube defects has been explored. Animal studies have shown the ability of potato glycoalkaloids to induce spina bifida, anencephalopathy, embryo toxicity, and teratogenicity. However, studies in pregnant women whose fetuses exhibited neural tube defects had lower serum levels of glycoalkaloids compared with those of unaffected women.3, 31

Interactions

None well documented.11 In experiments with rabbits, potato glycoalkaloids enhanced the neuromuscular blocking action of the anesthetic mivacurium3 and succinylcholine.32 The relevance of protease inhibitors found in potatoes is unclear.28, 30

Adverse Reactions

Case reports exist of anaphylaxis to cooked and raw potato. Allergic reactions include atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, rhinitis, and wheezing.33, 34

GI adverse effects (eg, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting) have been reported and are generally associated with the consumption of blighted, greening, or sprouted tubers.3, 10, 11

Toxicology

Acrylamide and glycoalkaloids are the two primary toxins associated with potatoes.35, 36

The highest dietary exposure to acrylamide in man comes from potatoes, cereals, and coffee.13 Acrylamide presence in foods is a consequence of a heat-induced reaction between asparagine and reducing sugars, known as the Maillard reaction. The relative levels of these precursor chemicals, which themselves are dependent on the cultivar, growing conditions, harvest time, and storage, determine the final acrylamide concentration in the potato.13 The heat intensity and cooking method are directly related to the formation of acrylamide. Boiled and baked potatoes generally have less acrylamide, whereas French fries and potato and tortilla chips have a higher acrylamide content.12, 13

A maximum acceptable exposure level has not been determined, and a direct association between dietary acrylamide and cancer has not been established, despite animal experiments demonstrating genotoxicity.12 Epidemiological studies have found no association between acrylamide consumption and breast cancer in women37, 38 and likewise no association between acrylamide intake and colorectal cancer in men.39

Glycoalkaloids have been implicated as teratogens in animal studies. In vitro experiments have shown glycoalkaloids to inhibit human serum cholinesterases, and in case studies of toxicity related to potato consumption, effective plasma cholinesterase levels were low.3, 11 Symptoms associated with this effect include weak, rapid pulse; rapid and shallow breathing; delirium; and coma. Reports of death exist, especially associated with the consumption of blighted, greening, or sprouted tubers. More commonly, GI adverse effects are reported, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.3, 10, 11 Interference by glycoalkaloids on the transport of calcium and sodium ions across cell membranes and the disruption of cholesterol-containing cell membranes has also been reported.11, 40

The glycoalkaloids solanine and chaconine are found in potatoes; however, the total glycoalkaloid content depends on the cultivar of the potato, as well as postharvesting exposure to light and heat and the processing methods for cooking and consumption.3 Boiling potatoes reduces the glycoalkaloid content by approximately 3%, microwaving by 15%, and deep frying by amounts of up to 40%. Potato fries, chips, and flakes commercially available contain variable amounts of glycoalkaloids. Concern has been raised regarding frying processes, especially with regard to the frequency with which the oil used for frying is changed. The oil can become saturated with glycoalkaloids and diffusion back into the potato can occur, increasing the glycoalkaloid level.3

References

1. Solanum tuberosum L. USDA, NRCS. 2008. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 10 November 2009). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
2. Mabberley DJ. The Plant-Book. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press; 1987.
3. Friedman M. Potato glycoalkaloids and metabolites: roles in the plant and in the diet. J Agric Food Chem. 2006;54(23):8655-8681.17090106
4. Boyd E, Shimp LA, Hackney MJ. Home Remedies and the Black Elderly: A Reference Manual for Health Care Providers. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute of Gerontology and College of Pharmacy, University of Michigan; 1984.
5. Evans WC. Trease and Evans' Pharmacognosy. 13th ed. London: Bailliére Tindall; 1989.
6. Bethke PC, Jansky SH. The effects of boiling and leaching on the content of potassium and other minerals in potatoes. J Food Sci. 2008;73(5):H80-H85.18576999
7. Hatzis CM, Bertsias GK, Linardakis M, Scott JM, Kafatos AG. Dietary and other lifestyle correlates of serum folate concentrations in a healthy adult population in Crete, Greece: a cross-sectional study. Nutr J. 2006;5:5.16472386
8. King JC, Slavin JL. White potatoes, human health, and dietary guidance. Adv Nutr. 2013;4(3):393S-401S.23674809
9. Hellenäs KE, Nyman A, Slanina P, Lööf L, Gabrielsson J. Determination of potato glycoalkaloids and their aglycone in blood serum by high-performance liquid chromatography. Application to pharmacokinetic studies in humans. J Chromatogr. 1992;573(1):69-78.1564109
10. Mensinga TT, Sips AJ, Rompelberg CJ, et al. Potato glycoalkaloids and adverse effects in humans: an ascending dose study. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2005;41(1):66-72.15649828
11. Korpan YI, Nazarenko EA, Skryshevskaya IV, Martelet C, Jaffrezic-Renault N, El'skaya AV. Potato glycoalkaloids: true safety or false sense of security? Trends Biotechnol. 2004;22(3):147-151.15036866
12. Friedman M, Levin CE. Review of methods for the reduction of dietary content and toxicity of acrylamide. J Agric Food Chem. 2008;56(15):6113-6140.18624452
13. Seal CJ, de Mul A, Eisenbrand G, et al. Risk-benefit considerations of mitigation measures on acrylamide content of foods—a case study on potatoes, cereals and coffee. Br J Nutr. 2008;99(suppl 2):S1-S46.18474145
14. Soliman KM. Changes in concentration of pesticide residues in potatoes during washing and home preparation. Food Chem Toxicol. 2001;39(8):887-891.11434996
15. Friedman M, Lee KR, Kim HJ, Lee IS, Kozukue N. Anticarcinogenic effects of glycoalkaloids from potatoes against human cervical, liver, lymphoma, and stomach cancer cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2005;53(15):6162-6169.16029012
16. Leo L, Leone A, Longo C, Lombardi DA, Raimo F, Zacheo G. Antioxidant compounds and antioxidant activity in "early potatoes". J Agric Food Chem. 2008;56(11):4154-4163.18476702
17. Shih YW, Chen PS, Wu CH, Jeng YF, Wang CJ. Alpha-chaconine-reduced metastasis involves a PI3K/Akt signaling pathway with downregulation of NF-kappaB in human lung adenocarcinoma A549 cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2007;55(26):11035-11043.18044836
18. Chrubasik S, Boyko T, Filippov Y, Torda T. Further evidence on the effectiveness of potato juice in dyspeptic complaints. Phytomedicine. 2006;13(8):596-597.16920516
19. Vlachojannis JE, Cameron M, Chrubasik S. Medicinal use of potato-derived products: a systematic review. Phytother Res. 2010;24(2):159-162.19441069
20. Ylönen SK, Virtanen SM, Groop L; Botnia Research Group. The intake of potatoes and glucose metabolism in subjects at high risk for Type 2 diabetes. Diabet Med. 2007;24(9):1049-1050.17725708
21. Halton TL, Willett WC, Liu S, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. Potato and french fry consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(2):284-290.16469985
22. Randolph JM, Edirisinghe I, Masoni AM, Kappagoda T, Burton-Freeman B. Potatoes, glycemic index, and weight loss in free-living individuals: practical implications. J Am Coll Nutr. 2014;33(5):375-384.25302575
23. Fernandes G, Velangi A, Wolever TM. Glycemic index of potatoes commonly consumed in North America. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005;105(4):557-562.15800557
24. Buyken AE, Kroke A. Glycaemic index of potatoes: myth and reality from a European perspective. Br J Nutr. 2005;94(6):1035-1037.16351783
25. Neithercott T. Virtue or vice? A closer look at five controversial foods. Diabetes Forecast. 2009;62(3):47-52.19360977
26. Robert L, Narcy A, Rock E, Demigne C, Mazur A, Remesy C. Entire potato consumption improves lipid metabolism and antioxidant status in cholesterol-fed rat. Eur J Nutr. 2006;45(5):267-274.16586150
27. Liu YW, Han CH, Lee MH, Hsu FL, Hou WC. Patatin, the tuber storage protein of potato (Solanum tuberosum L.), exhibits antioxidant activity in vitro. J Agric Food Chem. 2003;51(15):4389-4393.12848515
28. Ruseler-van Embden JG, van Lieshout LM, Smits SA, van Kessel I, Laman JD. Potato tuber proteins efficiently inhibit human faecal proteolytic activity: implications for treatment of peri-anal dermatitis. Eur J Clin Invest. 2004;34(4):303-311.15086363
29. Cesari A, Falcinelli AL, Mendieta JR, et al. Potato aspartic proteases (StAPs) exert cytotoxic activity on bovine and human spermatozoa. Fertil Steril. 2007;88(suppl 4):1248-1255.17509582
30. Kim MH, Park SC, Kim JY, et al. Purification and characterization of a heat-stable serine protease inhibitor from the tubers of new potato variety "Golden Valley". Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2006;346(3):681-686.16777063
31. Renwick JH, Claringbold WD, Earthy ME, Few JD, McLean AC. Neural-tube defects produced in Syrian hamsters by potato glycoalkaloids. Teratology. 1984;30(3):371-381.6515563
32. Bestas A, Goksu H, Erhan OL. The effect of preoperative consumption of potatoes on succinylcholine-induced block and recovery from anesthesia. J Clin Monit Comput. 2013;27(6):609-612.23700201
33. Majamaa H, Seppala U, Palosuo T, Turjanmaa K, Kalkkinen N, Reunala T. Positive skin and oral challenge responses to potato and occurrence of immunoglobulin E antibodies to patatin (Sol t 1) in infants with atopic dermatitis. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2001;12(5):283-288.11737675
34. Beausoleil JL, Spergel JM, Pawlowski NA. Anaphylaxis to raw potato. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2001;86(1):68-70.11206243
35. Barceloux DG. Potatoes, tomatoes, and solanine toxicity (Solanum tuberosum L., Solanum lycopersicum L.). Dis Mon. 2009;55(6):391-402.19446683
36. Zaheer K, Akhtar MH. Potato production, usage, and nutrition--a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2016;56(5):711-21.24925679
37. Larsson SC, Akesson A, Wolk A. Long-term dietary acrylamide intake and breast cancer risk in a prospective cohort of Swedish women. Am J Epidemiol. 2009;169(3):376-381.19015201
38. Wilson KM, Mucci LA, Cho E, Hunter DJ, Chen WY, Willett WC. Dietary acrylamide intake and risk of premenopausal breast cancer. Am J Epidemiol. 2009;169(8):954-961.19224978
39. Larsson SC, Akesson A, Bergkvist L, Wolk A. Dietary acrylamide intake and risk of colorectal cancer in a prospective cohort of men. Eur J Cancer. 2009:45(4):513-516.19121931
40. Mandimika T, Baykus H, Poortman J, Garza C, Kuiper H, Peijnenburg A. Induction of the cholesterol biosynthesis pathway in differentiated Caco-2 cells by the potato glycoalkaloid alpha-chaconine. Food Chem Toxicol. 2007;45(10):1918-1927.17560705

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