How to test for nickel levels in soil, water and plant based food? Allergy sufferer needs serious help.?

I have an allergy to nickel. It causes severe blisters so I must avoid it at all costs. Unfortunately, nickel is present in soil and water at varying levels and is absorbed by all plant based foods. There is some literature out there that lists which foods are worse, but are vague at best, and simply avoiding all plant based foods is not a realistic option.

I would like to know if there is a way to test soil and water for nickel and determine how much is present?

Or is there a way to test plant based foods for the nickel levels they have absorbed?

I have researched this extensively and can only find information about getting tested for metals within the body. Confirming this would not change my dilemma. I have to work diligently at avoiding any further exposure to nickel as I understand there is no way of removing this metal once it is ingested. I have seen many specialists and their help is not only expensive, but limited (due to a lack of research in this area). 

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.

If anyone needs reference material regarding nickel in soil, water and plant based food should Read This from Ohio State University.

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StephanieB385 months ago


Join this facebook group to learn more about eczema caused by nickel allergy.

Kiteman4 years ago
Soil, water and food do not contain metallic nickel, which is what you are allergic to. Instead, they contain trace amounts of nickel compounds, which your body reacts to very differently (ie not allergically - the effect is toxic or carcinogenic, depending on the actual compound). Plants which accumulate nickel compounds are inedible anyway (giant hogweed etc), so not a particular hazard.

The only data I can find on nickel accumulation in the human body is insoluble compounds accumulating in the lungs of smokers (greater than in the lungs of workers in the nickel industry). Insoluble compounds in food get passed out in faeces, and the body excretes soluble nickel compounds naturally, with a half-life of between 1 and 3 years.

If you are having an allergic reaction to food, soil or water, then you should seek proper medical attention to identify what you are actually allergic to.

Remember, free medical advice from the internet is frequently worth less than you pay for it.
canucksgirl (author)  Kiteman4 years ago
Yes, I agree. I am not specifically looking for medical opinions - just trying to explain the reason behind my question.

There is in fact research that states there is nickel found in water and soil and therefor absorbed into plant based foods. I see a Specialist in Dermatology who explained this to me, and advised that I go on a "nickel free diet", hence my research and the vague results I have found. Although he's been very helpful, he admits information is scarce and incomplete.

Here is some source material:
The specialist gave me some information, however it is currently on several pages of paper.

I appreciate your comments. Perhaps you can elaborate on the difference between "metallic nickel" and "nickel compounds". I have had allergy testing already and was simply told in writing that I have a "severe allergy to nickel". There was no differentiation made to any type.
if they said severe to nickel, again going out on a limb, but I'm guessing that's metallic nickel solid -- it's generally not very soluble in most aqueous solutions that don't involve a strong acid, so plants shouldn't absorb them.
canucksgirl (author)  frollard4 years ago
If you refer to the Ohio University link, in my comments above, it explains their research and findings. I have to admit that a lot of it reads as 'greek' to me.

I did try contacting the MD's at the University about a year ago, unfortunately my correspondence went unanswered.

I have exhausted all avenues that I can think of in this matter, and figured that I have nothing to lose in asking members here. I know there are many brilliant, educated minds at Instructables that could perhaps have some insight or suggestions.
dear canucksgirl
its very difficult for ones who dont have these physical problems to understand and often respond in an intellectual manner to a problem that is very personal to you, me and others who actually have to suffer, ive suffered with CFS most of my life . the nickel allergy was diagnosed by dermatologist in February 2012 . they also mentioned the diet link and i was searching on web to find a food test for nickel when this page came up. since feb 10th (now march 5th) i have been using the consistent info that says the healthy foods beans leafy greens nuts wholegrains red wine prunes liquorice millet quinoa citrus etc which i prided myself on eating have been removed from my diet and already i am feeling better than i was previously. however like yourself i am finding some of the info contradictory. as this is a restrictive diet it is important for me to find as much variety as possible. i do take large amounts of vitamin c--but then i always did and did not find that much relief from fatigue with that alone. an interesting web article i noted was that recent research has found that inorganic nickel has entered the cell through TLR4 please search this as my cell phone has frozen and unable to get bookmark 4 u at this time. please let me know if you know any forums. all the best cecy123
I totally agree with Cecy123. It takes a person with Nickel allergy symptoms (directly related to food) to understand this condition. I suffered eczema most of my life on 80% of my body, and when I switched to a low nickel diet it drastically subsided in a matter of days. The issue is then how to balance your diet, including using supplements and keeping your nickel intake (though diet) down to a bare minimum. Yes the lists of low nickel foods are contradictory, and people don't all react exactly the same to each food. So it's a bit trial and error working out whats best for your body. The next step is to remove the nickel from your body as it will be still stored in you, it builds up over time. This also has to be done carefully to avoid flare ups. I always thought I could never get rid of eczema and i was born to suffer with it, but removing and reducing nickel from my diet and my body is working wonders, my skin is healing fast. I even plan to write a book about it to share all the helpful tips I have learned along the way, including recipes. This is no myth... but it takes a sufferer to understand it.
You might also want to consider removing your amalgam fillings and replacing them for white ones. It depends how serious your condition is. Some amalgam fillings are mixed with nickel. As for the diet, what works best is to reduce your diet to a few safe foods only. If nickel is the issue then your symptoms will improve in a matter of days, at the very most 2 weeks. The safest foods are cucumber, celery, courgettes, white rice. Stick to this for a week..and you will soon know if nickel is the issue for you. Then gradually introduce a few more foods on the low nickel diet and see how you respond. If you have eczema the itching should stop in literally a couple of days. You have to stick to it 100% to see the results..but believe me ..if you have eczema...the lack of itching will amaze you.
canucksgirl (author)  cecy1233 years ago
Thank you cecy123. I wasn't aware of the research findings through TLR4, so I appreciate you sharing this. As a matter of fact, getting any good information on this topic has been difficult. Beyond the common sense approach of avoiding all direct and indirect contact with nickel on the skin, there isn't nearly enough to go on through diet. I suspect that with any allergy, you would experience other symptoms, such as fatigue. Although I don't have any conclusive evidence, I suspect some other "unexplained symptoms" that I have are a result of nickel exposure, and my sever allergy to it.

I have found a few forums in the past, but I found they were filled mainly with user questions and didn't seem to have any moderators or professionals who were willing to provide answers. If I do find anything useful out there, I'll post a reply here or send you a PM. Feel free to PM me as well if you have any further information to share.

Thanks again, canucksgirl
Metallic nickel is just that - metal, like you find in jewellery and watches. The reaction known as "nickel allergy" is a contact reaction, where metallic nickel causes a rash on the skin when the metal remains in contact with the skin for a significant length of time ("silver" coins contain metallic nickel - do you get blisters on your fingers when you count out your change?).

Nickel compounds are compounds that contain nickel atoms bonded to other atoms, and thus possessing very different physical and chemical properties (like water is a hydrogen compound, but is is not a gas, and it does not explode), and whilst metallic iron metal reacts with oxygen, but in haemoglobin it is an oxygen-carrier, and as ferric chloride it is dangerously corrosive.

Metallic sodium would react violently with the water of your skin, but combine it with chlorine (a toxic green gas), and it becomes sodium chloride, the salt which you sprinkle on your food and excrete in your sweat.

I would seriously question the usefulness of that "Athena Allergy" - they do not appear to know what contact dermatitis is, and claim that canned foods are a source of nickel contamination, when the food inside a modern can only comes in contact with a thin plastic film, metallic tin or, occasionally, aluminium.

The amounts of nickel in food-plants is absolutely negligible, unless those foods have been grown in industrially-contaminated ground.

All the stuff about nickel from water or cooking utensils is, as far as I can determine, scare-tactics, since the nickel compounds from them are soluble and excretable by the body. You should be more concerned about aluminium compounds from groundwater and saucepans, since aluminium compounds do accumulate in the body, especially brain tissues, and have been implicated in the onset of some forms of dementia.

canucksgirl (author)  Kiteman4 years ago
I agree that "Athena Allergy" is not the foremost authority, or the "holy grail" of information. I only added the link to Athena as they seem to present a general synopsis of the Ohio State University research. (I don't expect anyone to read the entire document from OSU, unless they wanted to.)

The OSU research echos that of the documents I have from my Specialist and I have to trust in his education. The allergy clinic I went to for my test also provided literature which specifically lists foods to avoid on the basis of their nickel content. There are variations I have been told, due to the wide array of soil conditions around the world. Nowadays we eat more imported foods, and I've experienced greater side effects at different times. The fact that there is a delay in reaction, makes the process of identifying the offending source that much more difficult. Having some ability to test for nickel (in whatever form it may be) in my opinion would be helpful.

What I can say is that I avoid all known sources of nickel in a contact dermatitis scenario, and will not handle coins unless I wear gloves; due to the fact that I will suffer from blisters as a result. That being said, I still suffer from blisters in random areas that have had NO contact with any nickel substances, (such as my knee). For that reason I was referred to a Specialist in Dermatology who explained the reason for this reaction (dietary nickel).

Have I been misled? I am very confused now.
Since it's that serious, I think you had best stick to the official advice from the trained professionals, rather than asking random strangers* on the web.

I'm not sure that you will get much benefit from testing your local soils for nickel, unless you are growing the majority of your own food.

If the nickel content of your water is important, then I would contact a professional environmental lab to get your water tested (semi-random hit from Google), and the same sort of places can test soils as well.

*And, yes, that does include me.
canucksgirl (author)  Kiteman4 years ago
oh btw, your 'semi-random hit from google' is actually quite helpful (I am reading now). They are conveniently located in a neighboring suburb to where I live. So maybe a 20 min drive from my house. - Thanks :)
You're welcome, as always.
canucksgirl (author)  Kiteman4 years ago
Well I appreciate your time and comments. Having exhausted all avenues of information that I know of, I didn't think it would hurt to ask members here as there are many educated minds at work.
Actually, the aluminium link is discounted now as well last time I looked at it.


acornkim3 years ago
I am currently writing a 'State of the Science' paper on Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome(SNAS). I am finishing grad school in Washington state to become a Nurse Practitioner. I can assure you that SNAS is a real thing and is different than a contact allergy with nickel although I haven't heard of someone having SNAS and not having the contact allergy too. The contact allergy is an immune mediated skin rash that comes from prolonged external exposure to nickel products such as jewerly. This is mediated by sensitized T-cells.
SNAS is associated with the presence of an 'allergic' antibody which is IgE. I started this project because my girlfriend suffers from SNAS and I too have been frustrated by the lack of a clear food list to avoid. However, I can understand because the concentration of nickel in soil varies widely so it is hard to pin down a specific list. The absolute avoid list includes: legumes (chocolate, beans, soy products), all nuts, dark leafy greens, any tea, whole wheat and most grains. Safe vegetables are corn, cabbage, onion. My girlfriend has found that she can eat broccoli and cauliflower without too much trouble. We also discovered that red wine caused a flare up but I suspect this may be due to aging in stainless steel barrels. I have not completed my paper but I would be happy to share it with you when I am done. I am curious to know what specific symptoms you experience - my girlfriend gets the pomphylox or hand eczema.
Hope some of this info helps.
I have had the same problem as your girlfriend for 5 years & was just diagnosed in April 2012. After changing from city water to distilled water to shampoo & bathe in, I have noticed a real change but it took about 6 weeks.Water seemed to be the only constant thing I had to go on after years of testing food, colors, dyes, etc. I was using this water on body & head every day not knowing I was causing the problem.
I also watch the nuts, choc, tea & soy products. I question watermelon & sweets. My biggest problem now is finding a filtration system to filter shower water. Activated charcoal or reverse osmosis is only for cool or cold water I'm told. I am so afraid to get back in the shower. Our water was tested & was within EPA guidelines but it's too much for me. They relaxed their requirement on nickel in the 90's thinking it was just not a problem. It's almost impossible to find a home test kit for this.
Any suggestions that anyone might have would be highly appreciated. This allergy is a nightmare for me because I don't immediately react until a few days later after exposure.
The main thing right now is finding a bath method. HELP!!!!!!! & Thanks
canucksgirl (author)  Wendygra3 years ago
I'm certain that water is a major factor. When I visit my family out of town (on a completely different water system), I have worse skin problems.

You might want to look into a water softening system. From what I understand, the units are suppose to remove the calcium, magnesium (and I think iron) from the water (hard water), but I'm not sure if it also removes other minerals in the process. Its worth researching, as it may be the solution you're after for your whole house (and not just the shower).
Yes I agree with this as well. Water definitely aggravates it. It is possibly all the chemicals and chlorine as well that irritate the skin. I have a water filter on my shower head, and I take one with me when I am travelling as well. My back up plan if i haven't got a shower filter with me, is to throw bottle of mineral water over me...it's cold ..but it's better than tap water, and it will save your skin.
Hi Acornkim, I would love to read your paper! I have begun a nickel free diet this month and have seen extraordinary improvements . BUT
if i have a glass of wine - not even red wine I pay for it big time the next day with fatigue and with bizzare muscle pain. I am sure that I have been suffering with this allergy for many years. I gave up my costume jewelry long ago. I have hashimotos and think that this is an immune issue related in some way to that. But i am an animator not a medical person. Please post your paper or let readers know where they can purchase it.
my best debra
If you're willing to share with other people, I too would love to see a copy of this paper when you're done. I have had a contact allergy to metal since I got my ears pierced in the 5th grade (1989) and in the intervening years my allergy has intensified significantly. Eating high nickel food leads to eczema outbreaks (on my wrists, inside my elbow, and on my eyelids) but for me the bigger problem is that it causes gastrointestinal problems. (These issues started right around the time I graduated from high school and like the dermatitis have only intensified since.)

As you've noticed, medical science is only just starting to accept that ingesting nickel can lead to eczema outbreaks and I've been frustrated to find that they're pretty resistant to the idea that it can cause GI issues. (I met with an allergy specialist just this morning and he admitted to me that while he believes in the dermatological effects, he doesn't yet believe in the GI issues. Fortunately he was willing to keep an open mind so he has referred me to a nutritionist who has experience with dermatological nickel allergies and I am hoping that that will help as I am at my wits end with regard to figuring out what to eat.)

Over the last year (since discovering that nickel is the culprit) I've been slowly compiling a list of what I can and can't eat and figuring out how I have to cook things to make them "safe". There are definitely days when I feel like a complete freak as a result of this allergy and I too would love some sort of test that I could perform on my food prior to eating. I'm going to keep an eye on this thread in hopes that someone, someday will have a better answer.

canucksgirl (author)  acornkim3 years ago
I appreciate your feedback and would be interested in reading your paper when you are done. I haven't actually heard the term SNAS, but I've been living with it, and my symptoms are mainly contained to my hands (but I've had it in other areas when it was really, really bad at one point). I do understand that the information can be difficult to assess as far as foods are concerned, but it makes living with this condition a challenge. I strictly avoid jewelry and contact with metal (including coins) as much as possible to limit my contact allergy, so it stands to reason that the cause is through water and/or food (and is confirmed in some studies). When I eat foods that I presume had a high content of nickel, I will break out in hundreds if not thousands of tiny blisters (mainly on my hands). They of course itch and become inflamed and sore. I was originally told it was eczema and then psoriasis. To me, the name doesn't matter as much as the treatment and/or cure. Thus far, taking an oral steroid like prednisone, or using a topical cortisone are about the only options, but the side effects are undesirable at the dosages needed to make any difference, or are just an inconvenience to use.

Any information you can share would be great. Thanks again.
You mentioned Athena Allergy, so I am guessing you've already seen the nickel test kit they're selling.
Looking at the MSDS for that
reveals that it's based on some compound called dimethylglyoxime,
and it looks like that gets abbreviated as DMG, probably because "dimethylglyoxime" is hard to spell/pronounce/remember.

The long and short of this is that you can use these words(DMG, dimethylglyoxime)  to search for other vendors selling the same thing:

So that way if you really want to test water, or whatever, for nickel, you can at least find a source of DMG that's cheapest/closest.
canucksgirl (author)  Jack A Lopez4 years ago
Yes I had seen the product they sell. Being that its mainly used to test for nickel in jewelry I hadn't connected the dots to the chemical compound being a source to search for in other such products that may test other materials and perhaps water.

So pointing this out was a big help. (Sometimes you need a fresh set of eyes on a subject).

I really would like to be able to test water (and other things). I have considered going to bottle water, but I don't want the expense if the water is no better than what comes out of the tap.

Thanks very much for the additional help. I really do appreciate it.
More vitamin C might help.  That's just a guess.  And maybe you've heard this one before.

The last section of the Wikipedia artile on nickel, the section labeled "Toxicity",
contained this enigmatic statement:

"Reports also showed that both the nickel-induced activation of hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF-1) and the up-regulation of hypoxia-inducible genes are due to depleted intracellular ascorbate levels. The addition of ascorbate to the culture medium increased the intracellular ascorbate level and reversed both the metal-induced stabilization of HIF-1- and HIF-1α-dependent gene expression."

and even after reading that several times, I still don't know clearly what it means. Except that "ascorbate" is the oxidized form of vitamin C. The Wiki article links to a pdf copy of the article that statement came from
And the section of that article, where the quote came from, is labeled "Antioxidant defense against nickel toxicity", and that section says something about the role of vitamin C, and maybe vitamin E, in combating the stress caused by nickel.

To continue with the guesswork, I think the body has ways of dealing with nickel ions. 

The other thing, the thing I already knew, is that nickel is present in a lot of things, so many things that I think trying to avoid it is going to be an exercise in paranoid insanity.  It'd be like trying to trying to avoid dirt.

So that's basically my whole strategy right there: More vitamin C, and try to stop worrying about nickel.  Or if you can't stop worrying about nickel, then tell yourself the vitamin C is defending your body against the nickel.  You know, just have a little faith in your body's ability to defend itself.
canucksgirl (author)  Jack A Lopez4 years ago
Since no one else has commented, and the question has dropped out of page one, i'll conclude this here and assume the answer is no...

Thanks Jack A Lopez, your answer was the most useful overall and therefor I give you best answer.

canucksgirl (author)  Jack A Lopez4 years ago
Thanks for your comments. I read and then re-read the statement as well, coming up with the same uncertainty of its meaning... I will however look over the pdf for more information. Incidentally, I have read some information about vitamin C, but thus far, they always lack clear data on quantity to take, etc. - Vitamin E is a new one however.

Thankfully I don't spend my time obsessing over this, but I always dread the visit to my parents house for Christmas, only for the fact that their water makes my skin itch. (I suspect nickel, but have no way to confirm this, hence the question posted here.) Unfortunately, from the first glass of water, or shower I itch like I am wearing a body suit made of steel wool. (ya...)

Thanks again for the info.
You can as far as I know take as much VIT C as you like - the body will pass any extra it can't use.
canucksgirl (author)  rickharris4 years ago
good to know. :)