Avoiding Nickel

Christy Cushing

I have a nickel food allergy. Dealing with severe eczema all over my face, neck and arms led me to visit a dermatologist in 2009, who performed a skin patch allergy test. The test identified a nickel allergy and my dermatologist recommended I try going on a low nickel diet. Limiting the number of foods I eat that are high in nickel cleared up my severe eczema cleared within 2-3 weeks. This is how I found out that my nickel food allergy causes my severe eczema. Since it is really difficult to eliminate nickel all together, the goal is to reduce my exposure to nickel.

Not all food allergies are treated equal. Even those with the same allergy, can experience allergic reactions differently. I’m lucky that my nickel food allergy doesn’t cause anaphylaxis when I eat something high in nickel. However I know that for some people, their nickel food allergy is so severe that they have unfortunately experienced anaphylaxis shock.

How I Avoid Nickel

Understanding the multitude of foods that contain high concentrations of nickel enables me to know what foods I can enjoy. When I eat out at restaurants, I must thoroughly read the menu and ask questions about the ingredients in each dish. Often I have to make substitutions or eliminate the condiments or lettuce. Similarly, I avoid eating processed foods. My best bet is to eat foods that have the fewest ingredients and don’t have ingredients that contain nickel. The more common foods that contain nickel include soy, beans, leafy greens, nuts, sesame seeds, and whole grains.

Balancing my diet with foods rich in iron and vitamin C also helps reduce the amount of nickel my body absorbs. Writing extensively about the low nickel diet, Ashimav D. Sharma argues how consuming iron and vitamin C reduces nickel absorption. Some people take supplements, whereas I try to regularly eat oranges, radishes, green peppers or beef.

A Word about Statistics

The number of people newly diagnosed with my same nickel food allergy surprises me. I don’t know how many people participate in the low nickel diet. Since the late 1970s, articles have noted the effectiveness of the low nickel diet as an effective treatment for those with severe eczema and nickel food allergies. There is scientific data all over about people allergic to foods that contain high concentrations of nickel. Countries include Sweden, India, UK, Denmark, Iceland, the US and others.

All the statistics I’ve read have said that 10% of women are allergic to nickel. Some statistics state that over 600 million people are allergic to nickel. However, it’s unclear whether or not those statistics specifically refer to people allergic to foods high in nickel and/or people allergic to nickel when they come in contact with it such a wearing cheap jewelry or rivets in jeans.

In many ways, living with a nickel food allergy is very isolating allergy because it isn’t well known or understood. Of the top known allergens (14 in the UK and 8 in the US), nickel is found in 6 of them – shellfish, whole wheat, sesame seeds, soybeans, peanuts and tree nuts. Many people don’t understand how so many “healthy” foods can be hazardous to my health. In addition, the diagnosis is typically from a dermatologist, not a food allergist or nutritionist.

I love connecting with others who also cope with a nickel food allergy. I have connected with so many across the United States, in the United Kingdom, in Australia, throughout Europe and China. It’s both unfortunate and beneficial that the number of people allergic to nickel in foods continues to grow. Perhaps the more people discover they are allergic to foods that contain nickel; the more the allergy will be researched and understood. Connecting with others with my same unique food allergy gives me hope that I am not alone and many have provided me tips as to what they do to avoid nickel and deal with a nickel food allergy.

About the Author

Working with small businesses to grow their business on the web Christy Cushing is the Marketing Director of Howe Innovative Design, a Portland, Oregon based digital marketing firm. Writing about her own nickel food allergy and eczema at http://nickelfoodallergy.com/, Christy loves learning more about food allergy and health policy. An Australian – American dual citizen, Christy loves to travel, hike, garden and tease her two cats. Connect with her on twitter @christycushing.





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