What About Alcohol & Nickel Allergies?

Photo by k u on Unsplash.

Who doesn’t love chilling with a cocktail when catching up with good friends or to celebrate a big accomplishment? Drinking alcohol (responsibly of course) is fun and relaxing. 

Did you know the heavy metal nickel is sometimes directly added to beer as a foaming agent? Neither did I until one of you told me! Frankly I don’t know to what extent nickel is in beer or if it’s found overwhelmingly in one particular beer style over another. There’s more research than I expected about nickel being added during the production process.

Over the last couple years I stopped drinking my favorite beer, hefeweizen. I do use a food journal and try my best to track my reactions and it seemed like every time I drank hefeweizen beer my body’s reactions worsen over time. After consuming a couple beers, the following morning I’d wake up with large eczema welts on my inner elbows and a bloated belly. 

Could a reason why there might be nickel in beer also be from how beer is stored? The majority of commercial beer is stored in stainless steel beer barrels or kegs. Stainless steel can leach nickel into the food, especially when heated, such as during the fermentation process in stainless steel conicals. 

What about nickel and other alcoholic beverages? The amount of nickel in beers and wines can range widely, yet many reliable resources about the low nickel diet, such as Penn State Hershey Dermatology – Low Nickel Diet and Dr. Ashimav Deb Sharma’s research both state beer and wine often contain high amounts of nickel. Also hard liquors and wines can contain sulfates, wheat, or nuts. In the US, labeling laws are only technically required for certain types of wines and gluten-free beers. The majority of alcoholic beverages do not have a list of ingredients on their label, making it really difficult to know exactly what you’re drinking. 

The fact that the ingredients in alcohol don’t have to be disclosed, discourages my desire to drink alcohol. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I knew exactly what was in my beverage. Hidden allergens in alcohol such as gluten, soy and nuts, which are also higher in nickel, can cause us to unknowingly react. Wine, including some cheap champagne, has always caused my body to release more histamines. Within an hour of drinking wine I can’t stop itching, especially on my neck. So I also avoid drinking wine. Occasionally I’ll enjoy an expensive bottle of champagne, with little to no sulfites. However, low sulfite wines can be tricky to find and there’s really no way for wines to technically be sulfite free.

My drink of choice is a lemon drop martini or a fruity blended margarita. I’ll enjoy an alcoholic beverage 1-2 times a month, probably more in the summer than winter. 

I love having a great time sober. My wife and I like to joke that we’re “suburban partyin” when we experiment cooking from scratch and craft on the weekends. More and more I choose to order a mocktail over a cocktail. It’s half the price and can be more fun when I don’t have to worry about my eczema.  Recently a large Canadian study has shown that women’s physical and mental health improve when they don’t drink alcohol.

Drinking alcohol isn’t worth the expense, hassle or risk of having a skin reaction the following day. What about you? Do you still drink alcohol? Does your body react when you drink alcohol? I would love to hear your experience in the comment section below.

10 comments
  1. Hi Christy,

    I have been diagnosed with nickel allergy the summer of 2019. I currently work in the drinks industry and I have to agree that, after a night out with colleagues tasting and drinking alcoholic beverages, patches on my hands and body would be notably swollen on the following day. I have noticed that the itchiness in those areas increases exponentially and therefore causing myself to scratch it uncontrollably.
    It is sad for me to say as wine and spirits are my passion, but I have noticed that wines that have a higher price, due to the high quality and less chemicals used to achieve consistency and flavour, do not create such intense reaction. I believe that the chemicals used in lower end wines contains metals and certainly nickel. Bordeaux wines, even if expensive, they have to control pests in the vineyards and they have to use a copper base pesticide that eventually will end on the final product.
    Thank you for creating this blog it helps me a lot with controlling my allergy.

    1. Hi Matteo,

      Thanks for your comment and expert knowledge about to alcohol industry. It’s always nice when others experiences validate your own. 

      It would be very challenging to be newly diagnosed and your job/passion unfortunately fuel your nickel allergy. Its nice to learn higher quality wines most likely contain higher quality ingredients. 

      However I didn’t even think about the pesticide in their growth and production process unlike when I purchase food. It’s another reminder to consider all the little things that can influence this unique allergy!

      Warm regards,
      Christy

  2. Hello Christy,

    I have contact nickel allergy but also have had chronic eczema all my life. Must stay away from beer and red wine but increasingly foods such as canned fish. Can’t believe it has taken me until 36 to work it out – so much damage… Comforting site.

    Cheers

    1. Hi Mitchell,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. It took me quite a long time to draw the connection between alcohol and my nickel allergy. My reactions have also worsened over time when I drink wine or beer, so I primarily avoid them.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  3. Hi Christy, I have no nickel allergy but I am a bartender and I want to take care of my customers. You talk about beer, but with alcohol like whiskey, for example, it is not in contact with stainless steel barrels. First there is the distillation with copper stills, and the distillation eliminates all impurities, then the product is aged in oak barrels. so I don’t think there could be nickel contamination, except in the final part if you add water to lower the alcohol content. do you find my words logical?

    1. Hi Carlo,
      Thanks for your comment and sharing your expertise as a bartender. Your comment makes sense. Whole grains are generally higher in nickel, which is why beer is probably higher in nickel than distilled alcohol. I’m not really sure about whiskey, as I rarely drink whiskey. It appears most whiskeys contain barley, corn, rye, and wheat. Generally barley contains a medium amount of nickel, both corn and rye are lower in nickel and white wheat flour is lower in nickel than whole grain wheat. So those with severe nickel allergies may be able to tolerate whiskey.
      Sometimes the glass wear can also be problematic, as many of us can’t tolerate stainless steel. It’s worse for warm/hot beverages, such as to-go containers. Also I heard some can’t tolerate and/or sip beverages from those Moscow mull mugs, as it will cause their lips to react. 
      Cheers,
      Christy

  4. Thank you for this site. I am just coming to accept that I have a nickel allergy. I knew that earrings with nickel bothered me but I didn’t realize that the food you eat could be a problem as well I don’t understand why in the last 4 years I am now being affected. I had a test done and the doctor told me that I had the allergy. I have facial breakouts and on my inner and outer arms. I am wondering though, would margaritas be high in nickel? Are all alcohol off-limits. I’m saddened to see that red wine is a problem.a

    1. Hi Judy,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. Many of us, including myself, didn’t know about how nickel allergies can become systemic and reactive when certain foods high in nickel are consumed.It is definitely a process. Using a food journal is a great tool to identifying whether you can tolerate foods or alcohol. Really it’s helpful to identify what you can or are willing to tolerate.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  5. I get the breakouts in my inner elbows too. Whats up with that? I wonder why there. I get other places but in my left elbow is uh oh what nickel did I have.

    1. Hi Stacie,
      Thanks for your comment. Many folks with the type of eczema called atopic dermatitis tend to experience rashes on the inner elbow area, behind the knees, on their hands, face, neck or other areas where they may sweat. They don’t necessarily have to be allergic to nickel either. I am not sure why these areas are most affected. The National Eczema Association might be a good resource to learn why.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

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