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 the management of 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. 
IBS is categorized as a psychosomatic by allopathic doctors, who tackle symptom management with prescriptions that generally involve fiber supplements, sedatives, pain drugs, and even anti-depressants. 
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 when it comes to whole-body health. As the gate-keeper 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 also 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. 
Food sensitivities are very common with IBS patients, with up to 65% of them considered to be ‘hypersensitive.’  Food hypersensitivity can be caused by pharmacologically active constituents (like caffeine found in coffee) and common enzyme deficiencies (like lactose and fructose intolerances). In the general population, only about 5% report true food hypersensitivities, compared to the 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 when it comes to IBS and food sensitivities.  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– and similarly, it can have this impact inside the body. [7, 8]
The throat and gut lining is 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. 
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 was avoiding all foods considered ‘high nickel’, with a content of over 100 μg/kg. 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. 
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 not adequate for diagnosing dietary-nickel allergies. 
Removing high nickel foods from your diet for three months and then 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 as a part of their functional medicine, a whole-body approach to healing.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects about 20% of Americans and has a profoundly negative impact on 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.
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Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Daniel Pompa. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Pompa and his associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Dr. Pompa encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.