If you have persistent eczema or psoriasis, you’ve probably spent lots of time trying to identify what’s causing it. Nickel often pops up on a list of common triggers for eczema, psoriasis and many other skin conditions.

If you’ve tried leaving off the nickel-plated jewelry and you’re still suffering, you might wonder if you should take it a step further.

Could nickel in your food be trigger for your eczema or psoriasis? The short answer is – maybe.

Hairdresser, a profession prone to nickel sensitization

Nickel and Skin Reactions

Nickel is the most common metal that causes an allergic reaction. (1) It’s estimated that at least 18% of the population in North America is sensitive to it. (2) Many people experience symptoms of eczema or psoriasis when they come in contact with nickel.

Nickel sensitivity tends to affect women more often than men. Certain occupations, like hairdressers, are especially prone to nickel sensitization; up to 38% develop an allergy to nickel (1) with eczema or atopic dermatitis developing on their hands.

A nickel allergy can occur after years of exposure, or after just one exposure. Unfortunately, once you’re sensitized, or you develop a reaction, the sensitivity tends to last for life. (1)

Silver owl jewelry

Nickel-Rich Foods and Eczema or Psoriasis

If you’re sensitive to nickel, you’ll react shortly after your skin comes in contact with it (known as contact dermatitis). Jewelry, cellphones, nickel-plated tools like hair scissors, and even skin care products like mud masks are common sources.

But nickel is a naturally occurring mineral that’s everywhere, including air and water – and it’s definitely in food. You’re probably eating many foods that are high in nickel, so will following a low nickel diet fix your skin?

Indeed, nickel in foods can be a trigger for both eczema and psoriasis.

In research studies, people who are sensitive to nickel contact see a flare up of eczema, most commonly on the hands, after ingesting high amounts of it. Some studies have used high doses of nickel sulfate (600-5,600 milligrams) to test for a reaction. (1)

Another small study looked at individuals suffering from Psoriasis vulgaris. Researchers discovered that the subjects had abnormally elevated mean serum nickel concentrations. (4)

In other small case studies on nickel-rich foods and eczema, people who were eating lots of nickel-rich foods saw an improvement in their dermatitis when they followed a low nickel diet for about 4 weeks. (3)

Nickel is a trace mineral. That means it’s only found in trace amounts in foods, and we only need a tiny amount from our diet.

The exact role of nickel in the body, and the amount we need isn’t well understood. It’s thought that we only need about 25-35 micrograms per day. It’s estimated that most people get 300-600 micrograms of nickel per day in their diet. (1)

Interestingly, the results of a study in which researchers measured nickel levels in people with and without psoriasis showed those with psoriasis had significantly higher levels of nickel in their blood.

The question is, do those higher levels came from the diet? Or are some people unable to metabolize nickel effectively, so it builds up? The answer, unfortunately, isn’t clear.

Garden with freshly picked vegetables and soil

Which Foods Are High in Nickel?

The problem with trying to follow a low nickel diet for eczema or psoriasis is that even though nickel is found in trace amounts, it’s very widespread in foods. It’s in air, water and soil.

That means it’s highest in plant foods, but it’s also in animal foods, if the animal eats nickel-rich plants.

The nickel content in foods can also vary depending on the season, or where they’re grown. Some places have more nickel in the soil or water, so plants grown there will have more. It’s a tricky, if not impossible thing to eliminate.

If you want to try to experiment with a low-nickel diet for eczema or psoriasis, I suggest start by cutting out the highest sources for a few weeks. If you notice an improvement in your symptoms, you can eliminate more if you need to.

Make sure you keep a detailed food and symptom journal.  After a few weeks, try adding a few high-nickel foods back and see if your symptoms return.

Chocolate and cocoa, two foods high in nickel

Foods highest in nickel: (1,4)

Chocolate or cocoa powder (bars, desserts, chocolate milk or chocolate beverages)

Tea

Tree nuts and peanuts

Legumes (lentils, split peas, kidney beans, black beans etc)

Soy (edamame, soybeans, tofu, soy nuts, soy milk, soy protein, etc)

Seeds

  • Sesame
  • Sunflower

Grains

  • Wheat bran (cereals, multigrain breads)
  • Oats (oatmeal, muesli, oat breads)
  • Millet
  • Rye
  • Brown rice

Fruit

  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Pineapple
  • Prunes
  • Raspberries

Vegetables

  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Spinach

Fish

  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Tuna

Shellfish (shrimp, mussels, etc)

Metal cookware, a hidden source of nickel

Other Hidden Sources of Nickel in Your Diet

Even if you’re not eating many high-nickel foods, it could still be sneaking into your diet.

That’s why I like to take a more mindful approach before just eliminating food right out of the gate!

Here are a few surprising ways that you could be exposed to additional nickel:

  • Check your multivitamin or other supplements to make sure it’s not added. Some herbal remedies (or even dried spices and herbs) may also have high levels of nickel. They are plants, after all.
  • How about your cookware or utensils? Stainless steel pots and pans or utensils contain nickel. It can leach out if you cook acidic foods like tomato sauce.
  • Don’t forget about cans! The can material and stainless-steel processing equipment may contribute additional nickel. Skip any canned vegetables, soups, beans, tomatoes, or any beverages in cans.

Foods high in vitamin C

Should You Try a Low Nickel Diet for Eczema or Psoriasis?

I’ve written before about elimination diets for eczema and psoriasis. There are often chemicals or compounds in foods that some people react to for various reasons.

Still, elimination diets can be difficult to do on your own, and sometimes you think you’re reacting to something only to discover it’s not what you think.

One major downside of an elimination diet is that you’re usually forced to cut out lots of healthy foods. Your immune system might end up suffering as a result, and you’ll end up feeling worse instead of better.

If you’re thinking about trying a low nickel diet for your eczema or dermatitis issues, please start by first looking at the overall quality of your current diet and your health.

How does your body feel in general? (Getting clear on your symptoms can be really helpful — HERE’S HOW)

Are there any gaps nutritionally?

Do you get enough iron and vitamin C in your diet?

Low iron intake causes your body to absorb more nickel. Vitamin C-rich foods like strawberries and sweet peppers can reduce the absorption of nickel.

I don’t have any good statistics on the effectiveness of low nickel diets for dermatitis. But, according to Dr. Peter Lio, Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology & Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, a vast majority of people don’t need to worry about nickel-rich foods and eczema.

If you haven’t listened to my Podcast with Dr. Lio on Nickel Allergy and Eczema, check it out! He has some interesting thoughts on it.

The bottom line is that we’re all different – on the outside and inside. Your food triggers for eczema are different from mine, so it’s worth it to play detective and search. You’ll never know what your body is trying to tell you unless you look.

Need somewhere to begin? Try my favorite Eczema-Soothing Smoothies that can really support your nutrition from the inside-out!

 

REFERENCES

  1. Sharma AD. Low nickel diet in dermatology. Indian J Dermatol. 2013;58(3):240. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.110846
  2. Cunningham, E. (2017). What Role Does Diet Play in the Management of Nickel Allergy?. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 117(3), 500.
  3. Zirwas MJ, Molenda MA. Dietary nickel as a cause of systemic contact dermatitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2009;2(6):39–43.
  4. Smith SA, Aamir F, Otis MP. Elevated serum nickel concentration in psoriasis vulgaris. International journal of Dermatology. 1994 Nov;33(11):783-5.
  5. Low nickel diet. Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. https://www.pennstatehershey.org/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=0888ec6e-3d2f-4766-833e-b38bd920ffcd&groupId=102184. Reviewed February 17, 2011. Accessed May 29, 2019.

Is Nickel in Your Food a Trigger for Eczema and Psoriasis?