My Story. Part 7. Systemic Nickel Allergy.

Okay, friends. I feel a little uncomfortable writing this post and I’ve been avoiding it for months. Why, you ask? Because even though this is a part of my story, I am still trying to figure it out. Let me explain…

If you haven’t read my previous post about my skin issues, you can check it out here.

Now that you’ve read that post, you are caught-up to the January 2017 version of me. I had just been diagnosed with a Systemic Nickel Allergy and my world was turned on its head in one moment. SNAS (Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome) is a pretty tricky condition to describe, but I will do my best.

You see– nickel is a metal that is found in a lot of things. Jewelry, belt buckles, jean buttons, pots and pans, doorknobs, etc. People who have a strong contact dermatitis allergy to nickel will have a reaction on their skin wherever they touch nickel. This reaction can vary from mild to severe, depending on the strength of allergy and exposure.

But there is another kind of nickel allergy… a systemic nickel allergy. This kind of allergy occurs when contact with nickel builds up in the body and produces prolonged reactions in various ways. Itchiness. Rashes and hives. Stomach pains. Vaginal eczema and burning. Migraines. Etc. A systemic nickel allergy can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms don’t usually coincide with any particular event. It’s just that as someone with SNAS goes about their life, nickel accumulates until their body can’t hold it all in anymore and reacts.

Are you still with me? Good. Cause it gets more intense.

The trickiest thing about SNAS is that nickel, along with being found in everyday items, is found in food. Yes, you read that right. Food. So not only does a person with SNAS need to be extremely diligent in what they touch, wear, cook with, etc… they also need to be extremely cautious about what they eat. To make matters more confusing, the science behind what foods contain nickel is varying. I am a researcher and generally pride myself on being able to dig into topics and find solid information when I need to. So you can just imagine my frustration when almost every website and authority on the Low Nickel Food Diet had contradicting ideas on what foods were safe to eat.

For the most comprehensive information about food lists and other SNAS-related topics, I highly recommend joining the Facebook group :: Low Nickel Diet – Eating Well with Nickel Allergy/SNAS

Other notable blogs are:

Nickely Challenged

Nickel Food Allergy

The Reluctant Health Nut

The Allergista

Living Nickel Free

Excerpt taken from The Reluctant Health Nut (to provide context):

“In order to achieve symptom reduction, it is important to avoid certain foods.  The low-nikel diet recommendations fall under 3 general categories:

  • Foods that naturally contain Nickel: beans, peas, nuts seeds chocolate, and more;
  • Foods that do not contain nickel, but that come into contact with certain processing and baking procedures : flour milling, acids (tomato products, lemon, citrus) cooked in stainless steel cookware, canned food;
  • Foods that absorb the Nickel from soil in which they are grown (dark leafy greens, root vegetables), or the waters in which they are caught or bred: the tap water that comes in contact with nickel in the plumbing pathways and pipes.


It’s easier to start with the top nickel-loaded foods – and to eliminate them right away.  And consider that most other foods will be relatively safe in a balanced diet.
Many foods (including many that are normally considered very healthy otherwise) contain traces of nickel, that contribute to, or trigger reactions for those of us who are allergic or highly intolerant, while causing no such reactions to otherwise healthy individuals.  The top nickel-loaded foods include:

  1. Chocolate and cocoa powder: these are the foods with the highest concentration of absolute Nickel, caused by the long refining processes and constant contact with steel machinery. Cocoa powder has a nickel concentration of 9.8 ug per gram!
  2. Cashews: despite their purported health benefits in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, these nuts are among the highest in Nickel and therefore must be eliminated
  3. Beans and legumes, especially lentils
  4. Green leafy vegetables:  such as spinach, lettuce, kale and certain cabbages should be avoided.
  5. Whole wheat flour and whole grainshave a high concentration of Nickel
  6. Peanuts, almonds and walnuts and seeds: flax seeds, sunflower seeds
  7. Soy: including tofu, soy sauce and soy beans
  8. Shellfish: shrimp, oysters, clams
  9. Meat and canned fish, like “tinned beef or pork” or canned tuna, salmon, herrings etc.
  10. All canned products: green peas, chickpeas, legumes in general, fruit, peeled

Other foods to avoid or reduce with a lower concentration of nickel:
Raw tomatoes, onions, carrots, beer, red wine, eggs, asparagus, parsley, peppers, potatoes, yeast.
These foods can be eaten sparingly, but it is suggested to avoid in the early stages of the low nickel diet.”

Did you catch all that? YEAH. That’s a lot. 

I studied the lists. I decided to adhere to the Low Nickel Diet as best as I could. I am a good rule follower. I learned that nickel is found in the soil, and you can grow food hydroponically (aka in only water) as a way to add more fruits and veggies to your low nickel diet. I bought the hydroponics stuff. I grew lettuces in my living room. I bought ceramic knives and took supplements and was extremely diligent while eating out. I even brought homemade dinners to restaurants. I lived this way for a year and 4 months…

but something didn’t feel right.

This goes back to my previous post about trusting your intuition. As much as I trust Dr. Summers, as much as I trust that my dermatologist wasn’t lying when they said I had a nickel allergy that could be systemic, as much as it seemed to fit my symptoms, and as much as I had seen some benefit from adhering to the Low Nickel Diet… something just didn’t feel right about it. I felt bloated all the time. I felt lethargic. I had random days of itchiness. I still had vaginal burning and pain.

And so this is why I feel weird about including SNAS as part of my story. Because in May 2018 I stopped adhering to the low nickel diet. I just felt like something wasn’t adding up and I needed to do some work to figure that out. I am still in that process. I met with an allergist recently who did some bloodwork and I have an appointment tomorrow to talk about the results. And we will see what is going on. Who knows? Maybe I won’t find any more answers and instead choose to return back to the SNAS diagnosis because it’s been the closest fit so far.

Or maybe something else will come up and SNAS will be like my Aquagenic Pruritus experience… a step in the right direction, but not the end.