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Nickel Allergy and Sources of Contact

By: Janice Enright
Nickel Free Life

Nickel allergy is by far the most common form of metal allergy and accounts for about half of all cases.  While most people with nickel allergy understand that living nickel free is the only solution, they may not understand all the ways nickel can enter the body.  This article attempts to give a general overview of contact sources for metal allergy with nickel as the example of choice.

In general, for metal to cause a problem it needs to be in a moist environment.  It is moisture that corrodes the metal which then gets released into the body.  Where do these moist environments and metal come together?

Your skin is one moist place that can cause a problem.  Sweat is basically salt water and is very corrosive.  Have you ever seen a car that spent many years by the beach?  Your skin is causing the same corrosive reaction with every piece of metal it comes in contact with.  Jewelry, belt buckles, zippers, buttons, utensils; the list is endless.  Once the sweat breaks down the metal it is absorbed by the skin and your body may mount an allergic response.  Part of that response is for the body to create killer attack cells called Macrophages.  The macrophage will destroy everything that it comes in contact with, including the skin itself.  This allergic response, and the resulting skin damage it causes, is the exact same response as poison ivy!

However, another very moist place is inside our bodies.  Metal gets there through the use of artificial joints, pace makers, pins, screws and orthodontics.   The inner human body is very moist and can quickly cause problems.  The macrophages that are created can attack internal tissue causing destruction of organs from which serious infection can result.  There are many documented cases of artificial joints having to be removed due to a patient’s allergic reaction to the cobalt or titanium, a metal that is often touted as “hypo-allergenic”.  Orthodontic devices have had to be removed when patients suffered severe reactions to the nickel that was used in their braces.

Another point of entry is food.  Did you know that foods can contain metal naturally?  Sometime in your life you were probably told to eat your spinach because it was high in iron.  One metal of particular concern is nickel and it can be found naturally in the foods we eat.  Foods like green beans are high in nickel.  What does eating a high nickel diet do to someone that has nickel allergy?  Studies are starting to suggest that it causes system wide issues with the most common complaint being chronic skin conditions.  For highly allergic people doctors might suggest a nickel free diet.

Not only does metal occur in foods naturally, humans also introduce metals into foods in the strangest ways.  Did you know that toothpaste is white because it is mixed with titanium dioxide, a powdered form of the metal titanium?  Titanium dioxide is also used to make bright food colorings.  Did you know the little white “M” on M&M candies is printed using titanium dioxide paint? Cookware could also cause problems for nickel allergy sufferers.  If an acidic food, such as tomato sauce, is cooked in a pot that contains nickel it is thought that the nickel can leach out into the food itself.

Many allergic reactions are over harmless substances because the body is not very good at telling the difference.  This also applies to metals that your body comes in contact with.  Nickel allergy is common and becoming more of a problem everyday, however, nickel is just one form of metal and metal is just one substance of many that can cause an allergic reaction.  When you discover what you are allergic to you can focus on finding alternatives.  Unfortunately, for nickel allergy sufferers this means learning to live a nickel free life.