A Novel Allergy: The Alpha-Gal Syndrome
Recently, more and more people have developed a rare allergy to red meat. Most of those afflicted are allergic to the alpha-gal sugar (which red meat contains); as such, the condition is known as alpha-gal syndrome (AGS).
This allergy is not like others. It is induced by tick bites. In the United States, the type of tick that can affect someone is known as the Lone Star tick, a tick native to the East Coast. However, in other regions of the world, different types of ticks can cause AGS with their bites, and other types of ticks may even be responsible for cases in the U.S. The Lone Star tick and other induce AGS because their saliva contains alpha-gal. The bite of the tick induces an immune response that results in a red meat allergy.
Another strange feature of this allergy is the fact that one does not show the symptoms of the reaction until between 2 and 6 hours following the consumption of red meat. For this reason, it can be difficult to diagnose red meat as the cause of these symptoms.
Interestingly enough, alpha-gal is also found in mammal-related foods; for example, one who is afflicted by alpha-gal cannot drink cow’s milk. Cutting red meat and dairy from one’s meal can be very difficult. John Grisham, renowned author, was diagnosed with AGS. He was accustomed to eating much red meat, but had to completely cut it from his diet due to his allergy. Grisham is just one of 110,000 CDC-identified people who may have contracted AGS in the period from 2010 to 2022. However, since the conditions of many people with AGS are not reported to CDC, there may be many more; in fact, CDC has estimated that as many as 450,000 Americans may have the disease, many of whom may be unaware of their condition. If you have been displaying strange allergic symptoms long after you have eaten anything, you may want to look for a pattern of red meat or dairy consumption a few hours before these symptoms. However, of course, consult a doctor to obtain an actual diagnosis.
Lisa Mayer for the John Grisham anecdote