Metal Allergies: A Fibromyalgia Trigger
A study published in Neuro Endocrinology Letters last November revealed that not only are metal allergies quite common in fibromyalgia patients, but they may also trigger the illness.
Study Design and Results
The study included 15 female FM patients and 10 healthy age-matched controls who were tested for metal allergies. The fibromyalgia patients then went through a process of reducing their metal exposure by replacing dental metal restorations and avoiding known sources of metal exposure. An objective health assessment was then performed five years after treatment.
The results were striking:
All of the FM patients tested positive to at least one of the metals tested.
The most frequent reactions were to nickel, followed by inorganic mercury, cadmium and lead.
Some of the healthy controls responded to inorganic mercury in vitro but most of their tests were negative.
Five years after removing sources of metal exposure, objective examination showed that 50% of the patients no longer fulfilled the FM diagnostic criteria, 20% had improved, and the remaining 30% still had FM.
All patients reported subjective health improvement.
The researchers concluded, "Metal allergy is frequent in FM patients. The reduction of metal exposure resulted in improved health in the majority of metal-sensitized patients. This suggests that metal-induced inflammation might be an important risk factor in a subset of patients with FM."
Although this was a small study, it spoke volumes to me. The fact that every single FM patient tested positive for at least one metal allergy is significant. Personally, I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to nickel because I’ve never been able to wear earrings that contain even a small amount of nickel.
Mercury is another, even larger, issue. We know that exposure to mercury can be toxic, which is why its use in glass thermometers has been banned in a number of countries and in at least 20 states in the U.S.
Because of these toxicity issues, the use of mercury in dental fillings continues to be a hotly debated subject. Dental amalgam, the most commonly used material for filling teeth, is made up of 50% mercury and an equal amount of a powder containing silver, tin, copper, zinc and other metals. Yet, despite the concerns of many, the CDC, FDA and EPA continue to insist that dental amalgam is "considered to be a safe, sound, and effective treatment for tooth decay."
On the EPA’s Mercury in Dental Amalgam website, they state, "A 2004 review of the scientific literature conducted for the U.S. Public Health Service found ‘insufficient evidence of a link between dental mercury and health problems, except in rare instances of allergic reaction.’" Given the findings from this study, I question whether an allergy to mercury really is all that "rare."
Whether or not mercury and other metals are "safe" for the average person, I think those of us with FM and/or ME/CFS have to consider the possibility that they may not be safe for us. I know I’m going to dig deeper into this subject and discuss it with both my doctor and my dentist.
Are you considering having your dental amalgams replaced? If you’ve already done so, did it make a difference in your FM symptoms? What are your thoughts about this study?
Stejskal V, et al. "Metal-induced inflammation triggers fibromyalgia in metal-allergic patients." Neuro Endocrinology Letters. 2013 Nov 2;34(6):559-565.
Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.