Are You Eating Too Much Nickel?

Hands holding coins

Nickel is an essential trace mineral that is necessary for the human body.  It is a micronutrient that aids in iron absorption preventing anemia, supports hormonal activity, and is needed for lipid metabolism.  However, approximately 10-20% of the population has a sensitivity to nickel and it is the most common metal allergy.

A nickel allergy most commonly results in hand eczema.  However, eczema can also occur where direct contact with the nickel occurs (i.e.:  belly button eczema from the button of the pants), especially if there is moisture (i.e.:  sweat).   Nickel eczema can cause itchy red, swelling, scaling, or crusty lesions.  It can also cause headaches, nausea and vomiting, and shortness of breath.  

Sensitivity to nickel frequently occurs first from direct contact such as jewelry, coins, and working with automotive parts. It can develop at any age and can persist life-long.  It may be easier to avoid contact with such items that are known to contain nickel, but it is difficult to eliminate all sources of nickel since it is found in food and tap water.  For someone suffering from nickel eczema, avoiding contact with nickel and lowering the consumption of nickel from the diet is necessary.

One hypothesis of the increase in nickel sensitivity is the increase in healthy foods people are consuming. High nickel content can be found in healthy foods such as whole grains,  green tea, beans, nuts, and chocolate.  Decreasing the total dietary intake of nickel can help resolve allergy symptoms and heal the skin.  But the Low Nickel Diet (LND) is not easy, since nickel is present in most foods.  

The LND differs depending on place to place because of the variable content of nickel in the soil, from which food grows.   However, the basic diet starts with avoiding the following foods:

Nickel can not be completely avoided in the diet.  A low nickel diet (LND), for the most part, would include the following foods:

However, nickel sensitivity is much more complicated than just dietary avoidance. 

A naturopathic doctor can help a person suffering from nickel sensitivity manage their symptoms.  Naturopathic medicine works to decrease the allergic response and support the body's detoxification process naturally helping nickel eczema heal.


Dr. Minna Yoon, ND, L.Ac. is a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist located in the Inner Sunset of San Francisco, California.  
Dr. Minna Yoon, ND, L.Ac.

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