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Is Nickel a Micronutrient That We Need?

Is Nickel (or Ni) a Micronutrient? Firstly, here we will look at what a Micronutrient is.  Micronutrients are elements that cannot be synthesized by the body, with some exceptions. Therefore, they have to be ingested into the diet. Although they are only needed in very small quantities, they play a major role in many physiological processes. They are therefore indispensable for health.

The best-known micronutrients are:

– Vitamins, such as vitamins A, C, and E.

– Minerals, such as iron, copper, and magnesium.

– Trace elements, such as iodine, copper, selenium, fluoride, etc.

What is Nickel?

Macro shot of a piece of nickel metal ore isolated on a white background

Nickel occurs naturally in the earth’s crust combined with other elements, it is found in all soils and is released by volcanoes. Nickel is also the 24th most abundant element. In the environment, it is mainly found combined with oxygen or sulfur in the form of sulfides or oxides. Nickel is also found on the ocean floor, forming masses of minerals called seafloor and nodules. The core of the Earth is composed of 6% Ni. It is a hard, silvery-white metal, which has properties that make it highly desirable for combining with metals to form mixtures called alloys. Some of the metals with which Nickel is combined are iron, copper, chromium, and zinc. These alloys are used to make coins and jewelry and in the industry to make items such as heat exchangers and values. Some Nickel is used to make stainless steel. Ni also combines with many other elements such as chlorine, sulfur, and oxygen to form nickel compounds. 

Do We Need It in Our Bodies?

Nickel helps to combat some health problems

Ni is a mineral that is present in small amounts in our bodies and is vital in small amounts. Food naturally contains small amounts of Ni. In small doses, Nickel is an ally of health as it is used to combat: liver cirrhosis, diabetes, lack of calcium, high blood pressure, nervous system disorders, among others. Nickel is an essential nutrient; it is required in small quantities. It activates the transformation of glucose into glycogen, catalyzes the enzymes arginase-tripine, and carboxylase participates in producing hormones such as adrenaline, aldosterone, prolactin, and noradrenaline. It is found in the lungs, heart, ovaries, testes, and pancreas. Research estimates the requirement at around 35 μg/day (16-25 μg/1000 kcal).

Sources of Nickel

Wheat and some wholegrains in a bag with a scoop

Nickel can be consumed in chocolate, vegetables (spinach, parsley, beans), dried pulses (peas, beans, lentils), whole grains (rye, oats, brown rice, soya beans), black pepper, brewer’s yeast.

Ni Imbalance In Our Body
Nickel deficiency has been known to cause low blood glucose levels

Nickel deficiency in a pregnant woman can lead to fetal mortality. Deficiency has also been associated with low blood glucose levels, abnormal bone growth, impaired metabolism of calcium, vitamin B12, and energy nutrients, and malabsorption of ferric iron. However, an excess of Ni in the body is much more dangerous and can lead to various complications, and an excess of Nickel is more likely to occur than a deficit.

Situations such as smoking, eating vegetables from contaminated soil, or eating certain foods in excess, such as high-fat foods, chocolate, strawberries, and nuts, can raise our nickel levels above what is recommended, leading to major health problems. Firstly, it must be considered that this element can enter our organism through breathing, direct contact with the skin, or even by ingesting food contaminated with Nickel. It mainly affects the respiratory system and the renal system. Concerning the latter, the ingestion of water with a high level of Nickel causes an irregular concentration of protein in the urine. This, of course, creates an imbalance that considerably compromises the kidneys. As for the respiratory system, the greatest risk lies in being exposed to breathing in highly polluted places, especially in areas close to mines or factories where automotive activities take place. It is common that nickel particles remain in the air and enter the body through respiration. This seriously compromises the cells in the lungs, alveoli, and bronchi. This tends to trigger ailments such as chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, and even lung cancer. This, of course, puts the individual’s quality of life at great risk and can even lead to death. Intake of high amounts of Nickel has the following consequences:

  • Increased chances of developing lung, nose, larynx, and prostate cancer.
  • Dizziness after long exposure to Nickel in gas form.
  • Lung embolism
  • Respiratory failure
  • Birth defects
  • Asthma and chronic bronchitis.
  • Allergic reactions such as skin rashes, mostly from jewelry.
  • Heart disorders

The presence of heavy metals in the environment and food described above can trigger various intoxications causing irreparable damage to human and animal health, as serious as teratogenic effects, cancer, and even death. It is important to consider that high concentrations of these metals in the organism of living beings alter biochemical and physiological processes, causing various pathologies. It is also a priority for humans to become aware of the need to protect and conserve the environment from the silent enemies’ “heavy metals” before it is too late. Therefore, it is urgently necessary to reduce the quantities of heavy metals in industry, mining, agriculture, and livestock and even more so in cases where they are not of major use.

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