Alpha Gal – An Infectious Allergy

This article has been making the rounds on social media.  Apparently, a bite by the Lone Star Tick can give you an allergy to red meat.  The tick injects a substance into the blood – galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (“alpha-gal” for short) that is also found in the meat of non-primate mammals (e.g., cows, pigs, lamb/sheep, buffalo) – i.e., in red meat.  After the tick bite the body sees this molecule as an invader and creates antibodies.  Then when you eat red meat the body perceives the same substance and launches an immune system/histamine reaction.  What you have then is an allergy to red meat that can last years (or forever).  And weirdly, when the affected person eats red meat, the histamine response hits about 3-4 hours after eating the food – not immediately, like other Ig-E allergies (e.g, to peanuts, shellfish, etc).

I’ve done some reading on this – mostly because I’m into all things “histamine” these days, but also because I’d like to rule out that I have this issue.  I have noticed that my worst histamine reactions are to beef and pork – and in fact, since writing this post on 1/1/17 I haven’t eaten much of either one until fairly recently, due to the problematic histamine reaction I had when I ate it.  And in doing so, I felt great for a long time.  In the last 4-6 weeks or so I’ve added both pork and beef back to my diet – for variety, mostly – and I’m not feeling as good anymore – my mood is more anxious, my body itches, and my hot flashes have become angrier.  I hadn’t associated that with meat at all, but if there’s a delayed reaction of 3-4 hours, it would be easy to miss the connection to the offending allergen.

There is a test for this – you can get a blood test to look for antibodies to the “alpha gal” substance.  I can’t order it for myself anywhere though – I’d have to go through my doctor, and I get really tired of trying to convince doctors to order tests for me based on crap I’ve read on the internetz.  I’ll call and ask anyway.  In the meantime, I’m going to lay off the red meat again for a while to see if these symptoms dissipate.

For more information about Alpha Gal, listen to this very amusing and informative podcast by Radio Lab or go to the Alpha-Gal Allergy Awareness website.

3 thoughts on “Alpha Gal – An Infectious Allergy

  1. Lanie says:

    Huh….well, that’s a new one to me. I don’t eat many of the high arginine foods they list, but I’m definitely going to keep a closer eye on this. I’ve heard Lysine can be a helpful supplement and at some point bought some, but then never used it because I forgot why I got it. I just tossed it out about 2 weeks ago. I need to focus more on micronutrition anyway, so thanks for this. Have you used this information to your own benefit in some way?

  2. Toni says:

    Probably 15 years ago I learned about the balance and needed to implement as my immune system was shot. I was working with a Naturopath at the time and was told the basics and knew that dairy was helpful. I printed out a list of lysine-arginine ratios at that time and it stuck with me. The site explains it with many references that I have not seen before. Boy, it is so easy to get out of balance when you are a foodie.

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