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.
Related post: Are You Allergic To Your Wedding Ring?
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
- Vegetables: Sprouts, Brussel sprouts, Asparagus, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Corn, Mushrooms, Onions, Carrots, Avocados, Tomatoes, Rhubarb
- Fish: Herring, Mackerel, Tuna, Salmon
- Processed meats
- Baking powder
- Commercially made salad dressings
- Vitamins containing nickel
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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’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 the meal planning program visit RealPlans.