Here’s an Allergy That May Really Tick You Off

Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with IBS or eczema. Sometimes you’re out of breath and think you might have seasonal allergies or asthma because you are wheezy. Or maybe you have regular headaches despite eliminating foods and activities that cause them. It could be that in the middle of the night, you wake up and feel really bloated and your tongue feels big or your throat is itchy. Some nights you can’t get to the bathroom fast enough.

And the doctors don’t have any answers.

If you aren’t a vegan or vegetarian, what you may have is called alpha-gal syndrome (galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose). To put it in plain language, you have an allergy to red meat. Sounds crazy, right? You’ve been tested for other allergies and it didn’t come up. Who’s ever heard of an allergy to meat? Especially since you were fine last year or six months ago. Why all of a sudden? And meat?

Well, yes. You know that walk you took on a trail with your dog last August? Or the time you went to the county park with a friend for a nice walk on a path along the lake? Or played frisbee with your kid? Or maybe you do yard work? Or simply just go outside and walk on the grass here and there. These are all how someone can develop an allergy to meat because these are all situations where you could have been bitten by a Lone Star tick. This bite transmits a sugar molecule called alpha-gal into your body and just like Lyme disease or Babeosis, a little while later, your body’s immune response creates an allergy to meat. (There is also a cancer drug, cetuximab, that contains alpha-gal molecules also can cause alpha-gal syndrome.)

Unfortunately, there’s no current treatment other than avoiding red meat.

Symptoms of an alpha-gal allergic reaction are usually delayed in comparison with other food allergies which usually happen within minutes of exposure. In alpha-gal syndrome, symptoms typically don’t appear for three to six hours after eating red meat, which is also why people don’t think to attribute their ill feelings with meat.

“Many doctors don’t know about it, so people are lost,” says Dr. Trina Poretta, an oncologist in practice in Camden and Gloucester County. “Those now affected must become their own advocates and educate others.” Fortunately, it is easily diagnosed with a simple blood test if you know what to ask having suffered with the symptoms. “A broad range of symptoms develop,” Dr. Poretta continues. “Hives, small and large; severe cramping; abdominal pain; nausea; vomiting; weight loss; fatigue; diarrhea. People even get headaches and itchy scalp from non vegan shampoo.” Which brings up another point that Dr. Poretta explained: “It’s not just the red meat you think of, but all the products that contain it. Even gelatin that is used in cake filling.”

It’s important to spread the word about this syndrome, as many people may be suffering and never know what’s going on. Please share this blog on your social media or by e-mail so we can get the word out to as many people as possible. For more detailed information, visit this Mayo Clinic site: Alpha-gal syndrome

For a more entertaining explanation, listen to this Radio Lab Podcast (one of my favorite podcasts, aside from Nourish Noshes, of course.)

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