Influence of dietary factors, age and nickel contact dermatitis on nickel excretion

Contact Dermatitis. 2012 Dec;67(6):351-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0536.2012.02153.x. Epub 2012 Aug 29.


Background: Nickel is a frequently detected cause of allergic contact dermatitis. Ingestion of nickel may lead to flares of nickel contact dermatitis.

Methods: We examined nickel excretion in the urine of 164 female patients with and without nickel contact dermatitis. The associations between age, atopic dermatitis, nickel contact dermatitis and nickel exposure through nutrition (e.g. dietary supplements) and by patch tests were investigated prospectively. Nickel was measured with atomic absorption spectrometry with two different standardized methods.

Results: A nickel detection limit of 0.2 µg/l was exceeded by all samples. The 95th percentiles of urine nickel concentration were 3.77 µg/l (age 18-30 years) and 3.98 µg/l (age 31-46 years). Bivariate analyses pointed to significantly increased nickel excretion with increasing age, ingestion of dietary supplements, drinking of stagnant tap water, and consumption of nickel-rich food. In the multivariate analysis, age and dietary supplements remained significant predictors of high nickel excretion. A non-significant increase in the median concentration of nickel was observed after the administration of conventional nickel patch tests. Patients with atopic eczema showed urine nickel concentrations similar to those in non-atopic controls.

Conclusions: The 95th percentile of nickel excretion in our study population markedly exceeded the actual reference value of 3 µg/l. Age and consumption of dietary supplements are the most important predictors. The use of stagnant tap water and consumption of nickel-rich food contribute to the total load. These factors should be explicitly mentioned when allergic patients on a low-nickel diet are counselled. In contrast, existing nickel contact sensitization was not more frequent in subjects with higher nickel excretion. Nickel patch testing may cause transient minor systemic nickel exposure. The findings of this study extend our understanding and management of factors associated with nickel allergy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Beverages / adverse effects
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / diagnosis
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / etiology*
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Female
  • Food Analysis
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nickel / adverse effects*
  • Nickel / urine*
  • Young Adult


  • Nickel