Alpha-Gal Syndrome: Red Meat Allergy
Specialists know alpha-gal syndrome to be something similar to an allergy to red meat, in addition to other animal products. In this case, the illness doesn’t just develop spontaneously or as a result of genetic alterations. It’s caused by an insect bite. Specifically, the bite from a tick may cause this condition.
The bite causes an autoimmune reaction that ends up being the syndrome in question. Once a person reaches this point, they can’t go back to eating red meat because they experience adverse side effects.
Does alpha-gal syndrome have risk factors?
The majority of cases of people with alpha-gal syndrome are in the United States, specifically the southeast region. This area is where we find the insect that’s capable of unleashing the problem with its bite.
However, gradually we’re seeing more cases in other areas of the country. Specialists have even detected cases in Europe and Asia. However, overall, the main risk factor is belonging to a geographic region with a high tick population.
Similarly, the fact that many people have experienced anaphylactic shocks after eating other products too suggests an increase in the possibility of illness. Despite that, the key here is to avoid being bitten by the tick. Without being bitten, it’s not possible to develop the problem, according to a study published in the Dutch Journal of Medicine (Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde).
Find out more: 4 Measures You Should Take to Prevent Mite Allergies
What are the symptoms of alpha-gal syndrome?
Alpha-gal syndrome produces symptoms that are similar to any kind of food allergy, although they can take longer to show. It can take up to 3 hours after being exposed to red meat for the person affected to show symptoms. The most common signs are the following:
- Stomach pain and diarrhea
- Hives with skin lesions
- Anaphylactic shock
Remember that anaphylactic shock requires specialized medical attention. Ignoring this could put the person’s life at risk, as an investigation in the Vnitr Lekarstvi journal shows. The person is at a greater risk of experiencing this if they have experienced this after eating something before.
You may also be interested in: Citrus Allergy: Symptoms, Treatments, and Recommendations
When should you consult a doctor?
If you start to notice that you’ve had a recurring and uncomfortable reaction after eating red meat or any animal-derived product, you must see a doctor. They’ll be able to carry out diagnostic tests to identify the allergy and potential alpha-gal syndrome.
If you experience the following symptoms, you must visit a doctor immediately and urgently:
- Difficulty breathing
- Increase in heart rate
- Inability to swallow
To get a diagnosis for this kind of allergy, it’s important to review your medical history. It’ll also probably be useful to have a physical exam.
Additionally, it may be helpful to undergo a test that measures your tolerance to red meat with immunoglobulins. This has been proven to be the most effective method for detecting the allergy. However, to associate the allergy with alpha-gal syndrome, it’s important that doctors also have evidence of reactions after eating red meat.
Treatment and prevention of alpha-gal syndrome
There’s only one way you can prevent alpha-gal syndrome and that’s by avoiding the areas where these insects are. If you have to visit one of these places, we recommend you use repellants so that they don’t bite you. You have to take special care if you live in a house with a garden in a region with an abundance of these insects.
When it comes to treatment, it’s worth mentioning that there’s no solution to this problem. However, you can adapt your diet to avoid consuming red meat, by eliminating these foods. You’ll have to substitute these with others with high protein content, though. Eggs are a good example.
Alpha-gal syndrome: an uncommon illness
Despite being a very interesting problem that affects the diet of the person affected, alpha-gal syndrome isn’t very common. The amount of cases depends on the population in question because living in certain areas of the United States is the only thing that puts a person at risk.
However, you should remember to take precautions to avoid being bitten so that it’s impossible to develop alpha-gal syndrome. Don’t forget that once you develop it, there’s no cure. In that case, you would have to remove all red meat and its by-products from your diet.
As a result, it would then be essential to adapt your diet to avoid protein deficiencies that can affect your health, such as eating white meat and eggs.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Berends AMA, Oude Elberink JN. Het alfa-galsyndroom, allergische reacties op vlees [The alpha-gal syndrome: an allergic reaction to mammalian meat secondary to a tick bite]. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2017
- Krčmová I, Novosad J. Anaphylactic symptoms and anaphylactic shock. Vnitr Lek. 2019 Winter;65(2):149-156.
- Iweala OI, Choudhary SK, Commins SP. Food Allergy. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2018 Apr 5;20(5):17.
- García-Paba, María Beatriz. “Anafilaxia tardía tras la ingesta de carnes rojas con sensibilización a alfa-gal. Reporte de caso.” Revista Alergia México 65 (2018): 23-23.
- Ferreira, Maurício Domingues, Luiz Piaia Neto, and Rodrigo Gil Ribeiro. “Alergia a alfa-gal: Uma revisão sistemática.” Arquivos de Asma, Alergia e Imunologia 3.6 (2015): 241-250.