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Your Nickel Rash Could Become Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome

By Mary Herrington (bio below)

Before November, 2015 I had never heard of Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome. I had been experiencing allergic rashes to jewelry for years. and couldn’t wear anything but yellow gold. What I didn’t know was that a simple nickel allergic reaction on the outside of my body could also cause systemic issues inside my body. Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome (SNAS) causes not only a rash from nickel on one’s hands, eyelids, inner elbows, knees and buttock but can also involve the respiratory system, neurological system and gastrointestinal system.SNAS can cause rhinitis and bronchial asthma, brain fog and hallucinations and even Celiac-like symptoms.

It took over 40 years for me to get the correct diagnosis. After over a decade of suffering from gastrointestinal issues (severe pain upon eating, bloating, gas, weight loss of over 40 pounds, bleeding gums, blisters in my mouth, inability to eat solids for weeks at a time), and visiting the top Gastroenterologists in the United States, no one could figure out what I was suffering from. I visited allergists, who said food allergies don’t present issues in the gastrointestinal tract. I went to dermatologists who gave me creams for the nickel rash, insisted it was a contact dermatitis, and didn’t believe me when I said the rashes occurred after I ate specific foods (even after I showed them my food diary!). I went to homeopathic MD’s, natural-paths, nutritionists, and dietitians. I even had food sensitivity tests run.

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Related post: Are You Allergic To Your Wedding Ring?

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My tests came back negative for Celiac markers and Chrone’s markers, yet I had the exact symptoms. They diagnosed me with IBS and when I followed the IBS diet, I discovered IBS was NOT  my issue. I was diagnosed with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity and DID see a huge positive result going gluten-free, but it didn’t stop the pain 100%, the blisters or the bloating. I was told it was in my head. I was anxious. I was in need of anti-anxiety meds. I tried those. I was anxious because eating hurt. I ended up with my body revolting against the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI) and it almost killed me after one dose.

Diagnosed by an Immunologist: Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome

In an act of desperation, I went to an immunologist. She looked at my nickel rash, which at that time was not only on my hand (the common place where a Systemic Nickel Allergy begins without a contact reaction), but also on my eyelids, inner elbows, behind my knees and my buttocks. I shared with her my food diary, my food sensitivity testing and asked for every immunological test under the sun to be run.

She listened carefully to me. She took notes. After her inspection, she returned with a packet labeled: Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome and explained to me that I had to further limit what I ate.

Foods Naturally High in Nickel

I was already down to only 50 foods, out of the 250 I was tested for. What else would I possibly have to eliminate???

The list of high nickel foods is as follows:

  • All canned goods
  • All nuts (cashews, pecans, pistachios, almonds, etc.)
  • All seeds (sunflower, chia, flax, poppy, etc.)
  • All soy (soy flour, edamame, soy in processed foods)
  • All legumes (peanut butter, peanuts, kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, lentils etc.)
  • All chocolate
  • All red wine
  • All pork
  • All green leafy vegetables
  • Oatmeal, buckwheat, flax meal
  • Flour (wheat – we were already gluten-free though)
  • All black tea and green tea
  • Fruit: Pineapple, Pears, Bananas
  • Dried Fruits like raisins
  • Coconut
  • Vegetables: Sprouts, Brussel sprouts, Asparagus, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Corn, Mushrooms, Onions, Carrots, Avocados, Tomatoes, Rhubarb
  • Shellfish
  • Fish: Herring, Mackerel, Tuna, Salmon
  • Processed meats
  • Baking powder
  • Marzipan
  • Gelatin
  • Margarine
  • Commercially made salad dressings
  • Vitamins containing  nickel
  • Water

Post Diagnosis, Next Steps

After a weekend of being in shock, depressed and angry I decided I had to pick myself up and find a solution. I researched SNAS world-wide. I spoke with experts in the United States, Denmark, India and Europe. I began to come up a plan to grow my own vegetables with as little nickel as possible. The concept of the carnation flower experiment kept occurring to me: when a white carnation is placed in colored water, the colored water is drawn up to the leaves and changes the color in the leaves. That is what happens in plants with nickel.

Since nickel is a micro-nutrient found in the air, water and soil it is impossible to live a nickel free lifestyle but it HAD to be possible to grow food without as much nickel exposure. I began looking into hydroponics. I scheduled meetings, and met with, the head of botany programs in North Carolina. I learned all I could about growing food without soil and in an environment I could control.

In the end, this is how I decided to handle my diagnosis:

  1. The aeroponic option of growing food is what will work best for me. I purchased a Tower Garden, designed by the expert at Disney’s Epcot. It is 2.5′ x 5′ and sits perfectly in my dining room. In the dead of the winter, I will be picking fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and strawberries from the comfort of inside my home.
  2. I buy all my eggs and meat directly from the farmer. I am blessed to live 5 miles from an organic 200+ year old farm. I have seen the chickens free roaming on the farm and met the cows as they head out to pasture. There is minimal processing and the feed they are given is not high in nickel. The chickens scratch and peck for grubs and insects, the way nature intended them to eat and the cows eat only grass from the pasture.
  3. I buy Gerber Pure or Nestle Pure Life water. It is the only water which is nickel free and I use that water for my aeroponic tower.
  4. I replaced all my stainless steel kitchen cookware with Cornings Vision glassware and all my stainless steel bake-ware with silicon (whisks and tongs included).nickel free corning vision cookware
  5. I am taking Juice Plus supplements in order to have the nutrients I need from fruits and vegetables I otherwise cannot get. The protein structure is removed from the fruits and vegetables during the dehydration process, therefore no reaction can be triggered in my body.juice plus for nickel allergy

Yes, it is difficult at first, but I have gotten the hang of it and now are working on recreating over 500 published gluten free recipes to be low-nickel recipes. In doing so, I have also joined with the meal planning company RealPlans (read more about it here) to bring more gluten free, low nickel recipes to the public in 2016.

Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome is not rare, it is just rarely diagnosed. If you suffer from any of the symptoms above, please contact an immunologist and speak with them about your symptoms. Do not-self diagnose. The low-nickel diet, when not done properly, can be extremely nutrient deficient.

 

Do you suffer from or suspect a nickel allergy or Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome? How do YOU cope?

 

mary herrington nickel allergy 1

Mary’s Bio: Eating gluten-free was born out of necessity to help Mary, and her family, realize a healthier lifestyle. After years of helping friends who were recently diagnosed or whose children were recently diagnosed with issues concerning wheat, dairy and corn, she decided to put that knowledge into a way to help others. For more information about her journey, the meal planning program RealPlans or the Tower Garden, please visit her blog at www.happinellas.com.

30 Comments Post a comment
  1. My immunologist diagnosed me with
    Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome
    – I see you list pork as an off limits food-
    Where did you find it was to be avoided ?
    Your list of must avoid foods is very comprehnsive a closest to what I have read in the literature . Please post about pork ?
    Thanks !

    Like

    April 9, 2017
  2. Lora #

    Hello everyone. I recently went to the dermatologist to figure out why/how my whole body broke out in hives/rashes. Turned out I am sereverly allergic to nickel (and other things too unfortunatley. I’ve read nickel and colbalt allergies kinda go hand in hand). I am still to to all of this and have been researching online for something more solid when it comes to what to avoid eating. For example, one website claims it’s fine to eat spinach, asparagus, potatoes and the other refers to them as “avoid at all costs”. I’m just confused on what is true and what isn’t. I understand that everyone reacts differently. But I’m a bit afraid to test it out myself in fear of breaking out all over again. I hope I’m not alone on this… I’m concerned of my health now that I need to avoid a lot of products that are nutritious and healthy. Does anyone have an accurate list of veggies and fruits that we ARE allowed to eat? Please and thank you!!!
    -Itchy&Hungry

    Like

    March 29, 2017
  3. Craig #

    Firstly thanks for the article. I suspected my condition a few weeks ago and only finally come to the realisation that i have found whats wrong with me. I tried all the doctors, diets and creams in the world. I even went vegan but now i see why it didn’t work for me. I want to live a healthy nutritious life but i need help finding how. I’m very hesitant of taking vitamin supplement because they are processed in a way and there are no requirements to state nickel content. Any experience and help on this matter woud be appreciated. I don’t have space and time to grow my own veg. Are organic vegetables better? Any help appreciated. Thanks

    Like

    March 9, 2017
    • Hi Craig – I don’t believe there are any differences with organic vs conventional produce in terms of nickel contamination.

      Like

      March 13, 2017
    • Hi Craig. I, too, tried going vegan to get my symptoms under control before I knew it was Nickel related. That was a true mess!

      You should be hesitant about supplements. Anything that is processed is done with stainless steel and therefore risks cross contamination.

      Join the Facebook group Eating with Nickel Allergy Syndrome (I think that’s what it is called-I’m on my phone sorry) . It is a great group!

      Organic or not may not matter in regards to nickel. What’s more important is the soil the food was grown in. Is it serpentine soil (high in meteoroid activity)? That’s the key.

      Like

      March 13, 2017
  4. Heather #

    Hi,
    I am also allergic to nickle. I have been trying to reduce my nickle. I heard about detoxing the body with infrared saunas. It detoxes the body of many metals including nickle. I am going to try it. Also a special program called NAET. A special trained accupunturest can treat all types of allergies. look into it.

    Like

    February 24, 2017
  5. Anna Carolinna Macedo #

    Hi! Thank you for the informations. I was diagnosed with nickel allergy and I have fought a fight against it.
    Would like to know about some things …
    I’m from Brazil and here we consume lots of cassava or tapioca flour. Do you have any knowledge if it influences the low nickel diet?
    Sugars like brown and high carbohydrate fruits like bananas too?
    I am very difficult to get out of the crisis despite not being consumed grains, dark green vegetables and oilseeds. I cook in pots of ceramics and aluminum, I do not know where else to go …
    If you can help me, I’m very grateful!

    Like

    January 22, 2017
    • tara #

      I avoid using aluminum and aluminum foil. I believe the cooking vessels made of aluminum also contain nickle. Same with stainless steel.

      Like

      January 23, 2017
      • That is true. I don’t use aluminum foil either. So much cross contamination around us.

        Like

        January 25, 2017
    • Hi Anna. It’s Mary. I wrote the article.
      First of all, welcome to the world of low nickel living.
      Second, good news is cassava/tapioca are generally low in nickel. Sugar and bananas should also be fine. For me, personally, I cannot handle foods which are processed when I am in the middle of a flare because foods are processed in stainless steel (industry wide), so when I am flaring, I can only eat whole foods. The aluminum pans could also be causing some issues. Are you eating with stainless steel utensils? That can cross contaminate your food also. Take a look at my website for more information. It is based solely on Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome. Go through the articles. There is a ton of information on it. 🙂

      Like

      January 23, 2017
  6. Marsha Spain #

    This site is very helpful. I was diagnosed with a systemic nickel allergy over six months ago by a dermatologist. I am still having a hard time giving up some foods that are on the list on this site. I have been following the list the dermatologist gave me but still having symptoms of itchy eyelids and patches of eczema on my neck. Being a vegetarian for years has made this change very hard. I really want to try to start a hydroponic garden so I can eat more veggies. I can no longer garden outside because I itch even if I cover all my skin. I am gluten free and try to avoid high carb foods like rice so I have been using coconut flour. I have also been putting coconut cream in my coffee every morning. After reading the information above I realized I need to get rid of the coconut. This diet is no fun, but I know it’s no the end of the world.

    So glad to find blogs like this!

    Like

    October 17, 2016
    • maryherrington0401 #

      Marsha,
      I am glad you are finding help on this site and with the article. I would be happy to share my experience with a hydroponic tower and how to do low nickel dirt gardens. I was raw vegan for a long time, so boy do I understand how hard it is to not eat beans and soy!!
      Please visit my website to schedule a 1:1 if you’d like. It is done best via the Free Essential Oil pop up or link. http://Www.happinellas.com

      Like

      October 28, 2016
    • maryherrington0401 #

      Hi Marsha. Just checking in to see how you’re doing. I’d love to hear an update after removing coconut.

      Like

      January 12, 2017
  7. Karen Mariosa #

    This is the most helpful article I have read .I have been diagnosed with a systematic allergy to nickel after months of having the inside of my mouth and tongue so swollen that I could not swallow and a rash of blisters on my legs and back .I am now in the 3rd month of my diet ,as I am also allergic to wheat ,eggs and milk ,and have lost more than 20kg but am a lot better. My mouth swells still but not like before . I live in Rome and have been told that There is a vaccine for nickel allergies I am still waiting for information regarding this .

    Like

    September 3, 2016
    • maryherrington0401 #

      Hi Karen. I am glad you like the article. I understand those mouth blisters! I get them myself. I would love to hear more about the nickel vaccine. I have heard it is available only in Europe. Here in the U.S. we are no where near that. Please let me know how you’re doing.

      Like

      January 12, 2017
  8. Wendy #

    I have a question about gluten free… Most of it has soy and brown rice flour. What do you do for bread?

    Like

    August 13, 2016
    • Yes, you’re right – could you make it yourselves or skip it entirely?

      Like

      August 25, 2016
    • maryherrington0401 #

      I have started to use Cassava flour and find I am not reacting to it. I make a Brazilian roll which I found on Pinterest with success. Mostly, though, I don’t eat gf bread. Even when I make it. I have to use cassava, rice flour and tapioca starch. I make it for my family and don’t eat it myself.

      Like

      September 7, 2016
    • Taylor #

      I make my own using a really simple recipe I found on Pinterest. More often, I just go without bread or I whip up some fresh white flour tortillas because they’re significantly easier than bread. Buttermilk biscuits are also an easy to make alternative to store-bought bread.

      Like

      September 20, 2016
  9. Thank you for this very informative post regarding nickel allergies! My name is Doug, and I am a researcher from Loma Linda University School of Medicine doing research with Dr. Sharon Jacob on nickel allergies. Our goal is to assess the number of people in the United States confirmed to be allergic to nickel. We intend to use this information to encourage policy makers to establish safer use guidelines for nickel in common items like earring posts, keys, door handles and electronics. This academic survey is completely anonymous, and you have a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card upon completion of the survey. Thank you!

    http://goo.gl/forms/ZuSjwUHWeI9sey6D2

    -The LLU Nickel Team

    Like

    June 15, 2016
  10. maryherrington0401 #

    Honestly, Rita, I am still finding a Fish Oil I don’t react to. Currently, I am using one from Costco which doesn’t cause me any issues. The capsules are huge but so far they work. I am always on the look out for things that make my system go crazy and the ability to track it down.

    Like

    April 13, 2016
  11. Tammi #

    Great article! I have a question for you about your recommending Juice Plus products. As I understand it,some of the ingredients are on the “do not eat” list. How is it possible that Juice Plus removes the nickel? Or is nickel in such small amounts it does not cause you to have a reaction? I really need a vitamin/food source like JP but am concerned about these products also causing problems (plus they’re expensive!). Thoughts greatly appreciated. Thanks again for posting this article; very helpful.

    Like

    March 23, 2016
    • maryherrington0401 #

      Tammi,
      I dealt with the same question when I first started. Great question! I did react at first to the “green” ones, I was nauseated. They are very potent and many people react regardless of nickel allergy. After 3 days, I was fine. I just had to take 1/2 the dose at first then slowly work my way up to the full dose. Yes, the are “expensive” when you look only at the cost of the product, but when you look at what it costs you in your health (doctor visits, pain, etc.) then they aren’t that expensive. 🙂 They generally cost less, per day, than going out to coffee. I also find growing my own greens in the Tower Garden is wonderful. Yes, it is more “expensive” in the beginning, but after 2 months, i was able to eat more than baby spinach and mixed greens. Yesterday, I had some fennel I grew and it was delicious and I had no reaction!!!
      Mary

      Like

      April 13, 2016
  12. This piece is very valuable!. I knew very little about nickel allergies and am trying to learn more due to a family member with a nickel allergy and to be able to suggest better product review items. This was incredibly eye opening. I have guilt for pushing the red wine over the holidays to our family member.

    Thanks for the good work! Please keep it up!

    Like

    February 26, 2016
    • maryherrington0401 #

      Thank you Caroline. I hope you have had a wonderful year.

      Like

      January 12, 2017
  13. rita #

    I’ve been following this diet for 3 months and it has made a tremendous help. My list of high nickle foods is from Penn State, and does not mention many foods on your list. Where is your list from? Also, I had some chocolate recently and had a serious flare up. It’s discouraging that so little is known about this condition.

    Like

    February 12, 2016
    • Hi Rita – The list is from cross checking different countries dept of agriculture lists (US, Denmark, India, Australia) as well as the list from an allergist. The list also contains info based on individual nickel properties for all foods from a database containing all minerals and nutrients – not a site specifically dedicated to nickel allergies.

      Like

      March 11, 2016
      • rita #

        thanks for your reply, Jennifer. It’s weird that our lists are so different. Cabbage and potatoes are allowed on mine and seem to be okay for me. Do you know of any clinics where oral nickle desenstiization is available? I can’t believe I have this horrible condition with so little medical support. I recently had a horrible flare which apparently was due to the mackerel in the fish oil capsules I started taking. It took me weeks to get it under control. I am worried about developing a deficiency due to such a limited diet. How do you get your Omega 3?

        Like

        March 11, 2016
    • Amanda #

      Rita, if your budget is not too tight, you can get your omega-3 from pasture-raised products (eggs, dairy and/or meat). They have more omega-3 than factory-farmed/grocery store, and have a healthy omega-3:omega-6 ratio, which again factory-farmed products do not. (also since making the switch and having eggs every day for breakfast my good cholesterol went up and my bad cholestorol went down, with my overall cholesterol down).
      Yes, its frustrating how few resources there are for SNAS and how very much on our own we are… But its better than it used to be! 10 years ago there wasnt even a name for it! And my doctor only knew about it causing my eczema. I’m the one who thought my headaches and fatigue were related, but had no info on that.
      Has anyone else had a swollen lymph node (mine was calcified and the dr. insisted on removing it, sure it was cancer but turned out it wasn’t) that they could not determine the cause? It would get problems coinciting with a nickel flare-up, so I’m convinced that was the cause.

      Like

      September 21, 2016
      • Oral desensitization is only available in Europe. 😦

        Like

        January 23, 2017

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