Food for thought: Nickel allergy

Happy belated National Nutrition Month, everyone! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Eve’s recaps of the cooking demonstrations SDA and Cal Dining held to showcase dishes college students could make that could also satisfy some individual tastes and preferences, like gluten-free or vegetarian.

For my not-really-celebratory post, I wanted to provide some food for thought about nickel. My interest in it started when I did an allergy patch test and discovered a mild reaction to nickel, which I didn’t think was such a big deal, especially if it was just a contact allergy. I didn’t wear jewelry anyway and back when I did wear a watch, I never had any problems.

But then when I did experience various outbreaks of rashes, I began to wonder whether foods containing nickel could be playing a possible role, and I did a quick Google search on it. This was one of the articles that came up describing the phenomenon:

“…As people try to eat healthier, they’re actually eating more nickel,” says Dr. Matthew Zirwas, a dermatologist at Ohio State who has seen a gradual increase in nickel food allergies over the past five years. “I’ve seen people who have had these itchy rashes for years. It can be really hard to figure out that the nickel in their diet is the source,” adds Zirwas, who has earned a reputation for being persistent in tracking down the causes of previously unknown skin allergens… “It’s cumulative. If you start eating more nickel, it slowly builds up in your body until you reach a level where your immune system starts to react, and that level is different for everybody,” says Zirwas.

So what has nickel? To me, it looked a bit like the anti-cardiac diet. Chocolate, tea, coffee, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, seafood, canned goods… even things like tomatoes cooked in stainless steel, tap water, and vitamins. The list really does go on and on, since nickel is found in soil and water. However, eating foods high in iron and vitamin C can decrease absorption of dietary nickel.

Allergies are a hard thing to pinpoint, and I know people try dairy-free, gluten-free, all-organic, vegan and more in an effort to find relief. I couldn’t say what triggers there are for me, but I began to try to limit some of the high-nickel foods after an outbreak that coincided following a week of the cardiac diet and a semester where I ate more peanut butter and walnuts than usual. Possibly, I had exceeded that tolerance level and I needed to take a break from them. That isn’t to say that I’ll only eat refined grains and avoid legumes and fish all the time, but more that I’ll skip things like nuts and seafood when possible or go light on everything when I feel more sensitive. It may or may not be paranoia, so I’ll try it for the time being and save my next nickel dose for a dark chocolate craving or some dim sum with shrimp dumplings and tea!

You can imagine that this was  a pretty depressing finding for a nutrition student! But I wanted to do this brief feature on a sensitivity or allergy that many people might not be aware of to emphasize how individualized healthy diets may need to be.

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2 responses to “Food for thought: Nickel allergy

  1. Hmm… I wonder if my hand condition is because nickel too… but no one can convince me to give up chocolate!!!! I’ll go easy on the peanut butter then…. Did you guys do the allergy patch test in one of the NST classes?

    • if you’ve never noticed any other response to nickel containing foods though your hand condition is probably more likely due to coming into contact with chemicals or soaps, washing them too often, things like that. probably no need to change your diet 🙂 nope, allergy tests are done at the doctor’s!

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