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Ohio Researchers: Healthier Diet Linked to Nickel Food Allergies

April 16, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Following a recent increase in the number of people developing nickel-based food allergies, Ohio researchers say they have pinpointed the cause: whole grains, oatmeal, legumes, nuts and soy. Although these foods are all recommended as part of a healthy diet, they also contain trace amounts of nickel that can add up.

Dermatologist Dr. Matthew Zirwas at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center says as people try to eat healthier, they're actually eating more nickel.

"Someone who's really tried to increase how much whole grain they were eating or started eating oatmeal on a daily basis, a few weeks later starts to break out in this rash. It might go on for years until somebody figures it out."

Symptoms include an itchy rash that can appear anywhere on the body, but is more common on the palms of the hands and the outside of the elbows. Zirwas says if a person develops a rash that they suspect might by caused by a nickel allergy, a dermatologist or allergist can do a patch test on their skin. He points out that nickel is one of the most common metals in the environment, and it is not dangerous for someone who is not allergic to it.

Zirwas says about 15 percent of people are sensitive to nickel and will develop contact rashes of the skin from jewelry, clothing and other items containing nickel. However, nickel food allergies are different and have a cumulative effect, he explains.

"If you start to eat a diet that's higher in nickel, it may be a few days or a few weeks before you start to break out, so there's not going to be any direct correlation between 'I ate this and was itchier 10 minutes later.' It is much more of a chronic problem."

Other foods known to be high in nickel include dark chocolate, canned vegetables and fruits, shellfish, ground meat and some vitamins. Besides avoiding foods high in nickel, Zirwas says those who are allergic can take vitamin C with every meal because it can help prevent the absorption of nickel.

More information is available at http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/mediaroom/releases/Pages/Nickel-Food-Allergies.aspx.

Mary Kuhlman/Mike Clifford, Public News Service - OH