This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
Low Nickel Diet for IBS: New research highlights the potential benefits of dietary changes in managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms. Today we explore IBS and the link between nickel and the symptoms.
IBS and Functional Medicine
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is an illness that affects approximately twenty percent (60 million) Americans and yet is hardly recognized by mainstream medicine. With symptoms including bloating, diarrhea, cramps, gas, nausea, constipation, and pain, IBS can seriously impact the quality of life and work productivity.1
IBS is categorized as psychosomatic by allopathic doctors, who tackle symptom management with prescriptions that generally involve fiber supplements, sedatives, pain drugs, and even anti-depressants.2
This illness is addressed much differently in the functional medicine community, where the goal is to identify and address the root cause of an illness. With a functional medicine approach, IBS is often rooted in a few major ‘problems,’ including gut imbalances and food allergies.
The gut lining and proper functioning of your GI tract matter greatly regarding whole-body health. As the gatekeeper of your body, your gut decides what gets let into the bloodstream and what does not. It also comprises approximately 60% of your immune system and is the production center for various hormones, including serotonin.3-4
Stress (be it chemical, emotional, or physical) breaks down the gut lining, triggering an immune response in the brain and a host of unfavorable side effects. An imbalance of bacteria in the gut (an overgrowth of the ‘bad’ kind) known as SIBO has been linked to IBS.5
Food sensitivities are very common among IBS patients, with up to 65% of them considered to be ‘hypersensitive.6 Food hypersensitivity can be caused by pharmacologically active constituents (like caffeine in coffee) and common enzyme deficiencies (like lactose and fructose intolerance). In the general population, only about 5% report true food hypersensitivities, compared to 20-65% of those with IBS.
Milk, wheat, and eggs, as well as salicylate or amine content, are most frequently identified to cause symptom exacerbation regarding IBS and food sensitivities.6 One of the more recent and lesser-known connections between food sensitivities and IBS is the prevalence of nickel as a potential allergy.
Nickel Allergy and IBS
Nickel is a silvery-white metal, the chemical element of atomic number 28. Normally associated with money or jewelry, nickel is also present in many foods. This metal is often recognized to cause skin reactions like irritation, redness, and swelling; similarly, it can impact the body.7-8
The throat and gut lining are made of epithelial tissues that are highly sensitive and reactive to what they come in contact with. Someone who is allergic to nickel could have an internal allergic reaction to nickel-rich foods, causing an inflammatory response and IBS flare-up.9
Unlike jewelry that sits in one spot for extended periods, food passes through relatively quickly, meaning that not everyone who experiences nickel skin allergies will necessarily experience an internal reaction too.
High Nickel Foods to Avoid
A study that linked high-nickel foods and IBS found significant success by restricting dietary nickel. The metric avoided all foods considered ‘high nickel,’ with an over 100 μg/kg content. These high-nickel foods include:
- Chocolate (cacao)
- Black tea
- Nuts (peanuts, walnuts, almonds)
- Soybeans and other legumes (chickpeas, lentils)
- Canned food, in general
The study followed participants for three months, monitoring the effects of a low nickel diet on gastrointestinal symptoms control, intestinal barrier function, quality of life, and psychological status. Results highlight that a low-nickel diet improves all four of the metrics in patients with IBS.6
If dealing with IBS, an elimination diet for high-nickel foods should be non-negotiable. Unfortunately, there is no proper testing other than skin patch tests for topical nickel allergies, which are inadequate for diagnosing dietary nickel allergies.10
Removing high-nickel foods from your diet for three months and reintroducing them can give you clear insight into the relationship between nickel and your body. With studies suggesting a strong link, anyone experiencing IBS should consider this relationship part of their functional medicine, a whole-body approach to healing.
Pots and Pans: A Hidden Culprit
Do you use stainless steel pots and pans? Stainless steel is often used in pots and pans as it helps with thermal conductivity and resistance to corrosion. According to research,11 some stainless steel cookware contains approximately 8–12% nickel, and some industrial cookware can contain 10–14% nickel. Stainless steels often maintain direct and prolonged contact with food during cooking and manufacturing processes, and nickel can leach into food. The longer a tomato sauce is cooked, correlated with higher levels of nickel detected in the sauce.
These researchers concluded:
All tomato sauce samples that were cooked in the presence of stainless steel using typical cooking procedures showed significantly elevated Ni and Cr concentrations. In addition to other natural dietary sources, stainless steel cookware is an under-recognized source that can potentially contribute to overall nickel and chromium consumption.
Nickel affects stainless steel’s corrosion resistance and level of shine. The types of stainless steel pots are 18/10, 18/8, and 18/0. Each type is classified by the percent of chrome and nickel found in the steel. 18/10 stainless steel has 18% chrome and 10% nickel, hence the 18/10 classification. Likewise, 18/8 stainless steel has 18% chrome and 8% nickel. While 18/0 stainless steel has 18% chrome and 0% nickel. So although it might not be the shiniest and most expensive, from a health perspective, you would want to stick with 18/0.
What About Flatware?
In the world of stainless steel flatware, there are several different types, with similar classifications of pots and pans. But the most desirable types of flatware are actually the highest in nickel! Higher levels of nickel in flatware make them sturdier and shinier, less likely to dull and corrode. But, like with pots and pans, you want to stick with 18/0 flatware, with a less appealing appearance but best from a health perspective.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects about 20% of Americans and negatively impacts the quality of life and work productivity. Misunderstood by mainstream medicine, a functional medicine approach to healing can help address the root causes of this illness. Two main factors include gut disorders and food sensitivities. The latest science suggests a strong connection between nickel allergy and IBS, which can be explored via a nickel elimination diet of foods with a nickel content of over 100 μg/kg.
The kitchen is the best place to start when it comes to detoxing your home. You might be thinking… “I already replaced all of my toxic kitchen cleaners. What else is there!”
Unfortunately, not all appliance companies have your best interest in mind, with most nonstick cookware, contact paper, and food packaging containing toxic coatings that are linked to:
- Liver damage
- Thyroid disease
- High cholesterol
- And certain types of cancers
Recent findings from the FDA showed traces of about 5,000 different synthetic compounds in the blood of 98% of the U.S. population. The same research showed that our diets are the #1 source of these toxins. And it’s not just because you cooked this morning’s eggs in an old Teflon® pan… These toxins have leached into our food and water supply and even contaminated livestock and fertilization matter.
- Lackner, Jeffrey M et al. “The impact of physical complaints, social environment, and psychological functioning on IBS patients’ health perceptions: looking beyond GI symptom severity.” The American journal of gastroenterology vol. 109,2 (2014): 224-33. doi:10.1038/ajg.2013.410
- Klein, Kenneth B. “Controlled Treatment Trials in the Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Critique.” Gastroenterology, vol. 95, no. 1, 1988, pp. 232–241., doi:10.1016/0016-5085(88)90319-8.
- Kau, Andrew L., et al. “Human Nutrition, the Gut Microbiome, and the Immune System.” Nature, vol. 474, no. 7351, 2011, pp. 327–336., doi:10.1038/nature10213.
- Kim, Doe-Young, and Michael Camilleri. “Serotonin: a Mediator of the Brain-Gut Connection.” The American Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 95, no. 10, 2000, pp. 2698–2709., doi:10.1111/j.1572-0241.2000.03177.x.
- Sachdeva, Sanjeev, et al. “Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Frequency and Predictors.” Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, vol. 26, 2011, pp. 135–138., doi:10.1111/j.1440-1746.2011.06654.x.
- Choung, Rok Son, and Nicholas J Talley. “Food Allergy and Intolerance in IBS.” Gastroenterology & Hepatology vol. 2,10 (2006): 756-760.
- Sharma, Ashimavdeb. “Relationship between Nickel Allergy and Diet.” Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, vol. 73, no. 5, 2007, p. 307., doi:10.4103/0378-6323.35733.
- Rizzi, Angela et al. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Nickel Allergy: What Is the Role of the Low Nickel Diet?.” Journal of neurogastroenterology and motility vol. 23,1 (2017): 101-108. doi:10.5056/jnm16027
- Borghini R, Donato G, Alvaro D, Picarelli A. New insights in IBS-like disorders: Pandora’s box has been opened; a review. Gastroenterology and Hepatology From bed to Bench. 2017 ;10(2):79-89.
- Picarrelli, A, et. Al., Oral Mucosa Patch Test: A New Tool to Recognize and Study the Adverse Effects of Dietary Nickel Exposure. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2010 Mar 5.
- Kamerud, Kristin L et al. “Stainless steel leaches nickel and chromium into foods during cooking.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry vol. 61,39 (2013): 9495-501. doi:10.1021/jf402400v
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based on the opinions of The Cell Health team. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended to share knowledge and information from the research and experience of the Cell Health team. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD, for the accuracy of the information provided. Still, we encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.