Nickel Sensitivity and Irritable Bowel Syndrome: what’s the connection?
Do you suffer from IBS and nickel sensitivity? New research shows there may be a connection. In this post, I am going to talk about the connection between IBS and nickel sensitivity and how to eat a low-nickel diet to see if this reduces your symptoms.
IBS is complex and poorly understood.
Symptoms can vary between individuals and can include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea, over-production of mucus, gas, nausea and varying degrees of anxiety or depression. It can also include non-gut-related symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, muscle aches and pains, poor sleep, skin problems and hormonal imbalances. This is because our gut health impacts every area of our health.
The causes of IBS are multi-factorial and can be different for each individual.
IBS is thought to involve an imbalance in gut bacteria (or other organisms living in the gut such as yeast or parasites), low-grade inflammation in the gut, increased sensitivity to pain, alterations in gut motility (the stretching and contracting of muscles in the G.I. tract) and a heightened response to stress (hence the connection between stress and IBS).
A recent pilot study has shown that a low nickel diet can provide improvement for gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with IBS (1). This is because, in those with nickel sensitivity, nickel ingestion causes an inflammatory response in the small intestines, just like it does on the skin. Inflammation appears to play a key role in the symptoms of IBS. So could a low-nickel diet be the answer to your IBS problems? Maybe. Especially if you are nickel sensitive. A low-nickel diet may be an important initial step in reducing inflammation and calming the gut.
Those with a nickel sensitivity come out in an uncomfortable red rash when they come into contact with nickel, which can be found in jewellery, coins, zippers on clothing, bra-straps and household objects.
It is not possible to follow a completely nickel-free diet, as most foods contain trace amounts of this metal, however, a LOW nickel diet is possible by excluding foods with more than 500mcg of nickel per kg.
The nickel content of foods
If you have IBS and eat a large quantity of the high nickel foods above, then you might benefit from reducing your intake of these foods or avoiding them altogether for a trial period of 2-3 weeks to see if symptoms subside.
Of course, the long-term solution isn’t to keep removing more and more foods from the diet. Many individuals suffering from IBS have often already cut out certain foods to improve their symptoms, such as dairy, gluten, coffee, sugar, fruit, soy, nuts, raw vegetables or high fibre foods. It’s no fun trying to avoid an ever-increasing list of foods (believe me, I know how stressful this can be!).
So the real question is:
“What is the root cause of your IBS? What’s causing inflammation in the gut in the first place? And why are you sensitive to nickel?”
Nickel sensitivity is often linked to an over-active immune response. The gut plays a central role in regulating our immune response – depending on the bacteria living in there and the structure of the gut lining (which houses some of our immune cells). There are many different things that can impair the balance of bacteria in the gut and impair the gut lining, resulting in increased inflammation, sensitivities and intolerances to food and other chemicals in our environment, such as:
- An overgrowth of bacteria or yeast in the gut
- A parasitic infection
- Poor digestion (lack of stomach acid and digestive enzymes)
- Coeliac disease
- Gluten intolerance
- Frequent use of antibiotics and other medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Chronic stress
- A poor quality diet
So my advice is: if you suffer from IBS and nickel sensitivity, reduce your intake of the high nickel foods (especially those with >500mcg/kg) and follow an anti-inflammatory diet. See how your symptoms fair. A low-nickel diet isn’t likely to completely resolve your symptoms long-term (just like the popular low-FODMAP diet isn’t either) but it may help reduce symptoms whilst you work on the underlying root cause.
How do you find the underlying root cause? Working with a qualified BANT-registered Nutritional Therapist or Functional Medicine Practitioner who will look at your unique symptoms, triggers, history, current and previous lifestyle factors, and previous infections and illnesses can help you identify the underlying cause. They can then recommend a tailored protocol for you and your individual needs, comprising of dietary adjustments and supplements to address the inflammation in the gut and any gut imbalance. This may involve some form of testing such as a comprehensive stool test to assess more accurately what is going on in the gut.
“IBS can be improved and even resolved naturally through dietary and lifestyle changes and by addressing your individual root cause, whatever that may be for you”.
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- Rizzi, A., Nucera, E., Laterza, L., Gaetani, E., Valenza, V., Corbo, G.M., Inchingolo, R., Buonomo, A., Schiavino, D. and Gasbarrini, A., 2017. Irritable bowel syndrome and nickel allergy: What is the role of the low nickel diet? Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, 23(1), pp.101–108.