Metal Toxicity: Health Dangers of Nickel

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on , Last Updated on

NickelNickel is a metal, commonly used to make coins, magnets, jewelry, stainless steel, electronics, and components of industrial machines. Most people are familiar with the attractive mirror-finish that can be achieved by nickel plating. However, despite the beautiful appearance, nickel exposure, especially in industrial and occupational settings, can present significant health hazards.

Effects of Nickel Exposure

Nickel is one of many carcinogenic metals known to be an environmental and occupational pollutant. The New York University School of Medicine warns that chronic exposure has been connected with increased risk of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological deficits, developmental deficits in childhood, and high blood pressure. [1]

Nickel exposure introduces free radicals which lead to oxidative damage and may also affect the kidneys and liver. [2] In 2012, Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture administered liver function tests to 25 nickel-plating workers. Results showed they overwhelmingly suffered from compromised liver function. [3]

Researchers at Dominican University of California have linked nickel exposure to breast cancer. How? Well, nickel is believed to bind to estrogen receptors and mimic the actions of estrogen. It is well established that lifetime estrogen exposure is a breast cancer risk factor, and, unfortunately, even this “imposter estrogen” contributes to the risk. [4]

Additionally, nickel has been identified as a toxin that severely damages reproductive health and can lead to infertility, miscarriage, birth defects, and nervous system defects. [5] [6]

Why is Nickel Toxic?

Having toxic metals in your body is like having sugar in your gas tank. It’s simply not built to process the material and severe mechanical problems are going to result. No, they don’t just “pass right through.” According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, metals are not inert, they have biological activity. [7]

Nickel toxicity, specifically, was evaluated by researcheres at Michigan State University who found it presented a multi-tiered toxic attack. First, nickel causes essential metal imbalances. It severely disrupts enzyme action and regulation. Finally, it causes and contributes to a high amount of oxidative stress. [8]

Occupational Exposure to Nickel

Nickel is widely used in industry, primarily refining, electroplating, and welding. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health warns that workers who inhale nickel laced dust and fumes are at an increased risk for lung cancer and fibrosis. [9]

The increasingly common use of nanoparticles has introduced a new generation of health concerns… with good reason. South Africa’s National Institute for Occupational Health recently attributed the death of a 38-year-old man to respiratory distress caused by inhaling nickel nanoparticles during an industrial manufacturing process. [10]

Casual Exposure to Nickel

Did you know orthodontics (braces) may contain nickel? Because they are in contact with saliva, acidic fluids, and temperature changes, the United Kingdom’s Bristol Dental Hospital warns that corrosion and subsequent ingestion may be an item for concern. [11]

Additionally, people like shiny things and nickel is shiny, which is why a lot of jewelry contains nickel. Perhaps you have seen some jewelry selections that are “nickel free?” This supply exists to serve the 10-20% of the population who are sensitive to nickel and experience a rash when it touches their skin.

Mitigating Nickel Exposure

Tests can be performed to determine the presence of nickel in the body but the resulting adverse health effects cannot be predicted. Minimizing your exposure risks is a solid course of action. Most people can simply avoid jewelry that contains nickel but but if you work in an affected industry, you may want to seriously consider your potential health hazards.

There is one positive item to mention. A study out of Saudi Arabia confirmed the toxic effects of nickel nanoparticles on the airway and lungs. More interesting, however, is that researchers reported a reduction in toxicity and oxidative stress when curcumin was introduced. [12]

References (12)
  1. Chervona Y, Arita A, Costa M. Carcinogenic metals and the epigenome: understanding the effect of nickel, arsenic, and chromium. Metallomics. 2012 Jul;4(7):619-27. doi: 10.1039/c2mt20033c. Epub 2012 Apr 3. Review.
  2. Das KK, Das SN, Dhundasi SA. Nickel, its adverse health effects & oxidative stress. Indian J Med Res. 2008 Oct;128(4):412-25. Review.
  3. El-Shafei HM. Assessment of liver function among nickel-plating workers in Egypt. East Mediterr Health J. 2011 Jun;17(6):490-4.
  4. Aquino NB, Sevigny MB, Sabangan J, Louie MC. The role of cadmium and nickel in estrogen receptor signaling and breast cancer: metalloestrogens or not? J Environ Sci Health C Environ Carcinog Ecotoxicol Rev. 2012;30(3):189-224. doi: 10.1080/10590501.2012.705159. Review.
  5. Forgacs Z, Massányi P, Lukac N, Somosy Z. Reproductive toxicology of nickel - review. J Environ Sci Health A Tox Hazard Subst Environ Eng. 2012;47(9):1249-60. doi: 10.1080/10934529.2012.672114. Review.
  6. Apostoli P, Catalani S. Metal ions affecting reproduction and development. Met Ions Life Sci. 2011;8:263-303.
  7. Tokar EJ, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Waalkes MP. Metal ions in human cancer development. Met Ions Life Sci. 2011;8:375-401.
  8. Macomber L, Hausinger RP. Mechanisms of nickel toxicity in microorganisms. Metallomics. 2011 Nov;3(11):1153-62. doi: 10.1039/c1mt00063b. Epub 2011 Jul 28.
  9. Zhao J, Shi X, Castranova V, Ding M. Occupational toxicology of nickel and nickel compounds. J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol. 2009;28(3):177-208. Review.
  10. Phillips JI, Green FY, Davies JC, Murray J. Pulmonary and systemic toxicity following exposure to nickel nanoparticles. Am J Ind Med. 2010 Aug;53(8):763-7. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20855.
  11. House K, Sernetz F, Dymock D, Sandy JR, Ireland AJ. Corrosion of orthodontic appliances--should we care? Am J Orthod Dentofacial Orthop. 2008 Apr;133(4):584-92. doi: 10.1016/j.ajodo.2007.03.021. Review.
  12. Siddiqui MA, Ahamed M, Ahmad J, Majeed Khan MA, Musarrat J, Al-Khedhairy AA, Alrokayan SA. Nickel oxide nanoparticles induce cytotoxicity, oxidative stress and apoptosis in cultured human cells that is abrogated by the dietary antioxidant curcumin. Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Mar;50(3-4):641-7. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.01.017. Epub 2012 Jan 18.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

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  • Christina

    Interesting! I had a permanent medical implant that contained nickel (ESSURE, a birth control device) and it caused a whole host of problems about 3 yrs. after insertion (auto immune disease in an eye called P.I.C. and Fibro, among others). Im 8 months post-removal, and am slowly starting to feel better physically. I started taking a powerful curcumin supplement a few weeks ago, and have found my brain fog is reduced and physical pain from Fibromyalgia has decreased dramatically.

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  • Bunny

    ►”The company agreed to pay $25 million to resolve the case.◄

    So WHO is receiving the $25 million?? Cause it’s certainly not the consumers!

  • Amanda Horn

    I’m glad I read this. I was thinking of buying an immersion heater to heat water and possibly save energy. They are nickel-plated and I’d hate to ingest that water several times a day. If I remember, they made water taste funny.

  • Rachel Sparks

    Christina, I too had ESSURE. I had it removed April 2015 & believe I have nickel poisoning from having it in my body for 7 years.

  • disqus_T1h3qaynhS

    I have a vintage safety razor, brass, plated with nickel…. would just holding this while shaving be a hazard? Thank you for all the information you supply us with.

  • DoubtingThomas

    It probably depends if you’re allergic to nickel or not. I heard just holding Mac products was enough to trigger a reaction in some people. I personally wouldn’t worry if it’s not causing you harm, outside the occasional nick when shaving.

  • disqus_T1h3qaynhS

    Thank you.

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  • Rica

    I have one metal crown covered with porcelain. I also feel pressure in my ovary and side of my abdomen. I’m afraid, can this cause cancer?

  • Okc Dave

    The article mentions sugar in your gas tank but that is an urban myth, bad example. Sugar does not dissolve in gasoline. The fuel pickup tube in a tank has a sock filter but even if that were damaged the sugar would remain crystalline and be stopped by the fuel filter.

    IF an extreme amount of sugar made its way to the fuel filter, that could reduce fuel flow and the engine would misfire during acceleration, but even then, it merely needs the fuel filter replaced.

    It might still be prudent to get the sugar out of the tank as sloshing around in there for years might wear away at the tank linking and cause rust and eventual tank failure, but that’s about as bad as it gets.

  • Okc Dave

    No. Remember, even many coins are nickel plated. Just don’t eat your razor, that’s never a good idea no matter what it’s made out of.

  • Okc Dave

    You’re sure they’re nickel plated and not stainless instead?

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