Alpha gal stands for alpha 1,3-galactosyltransferase. It is synthesized by glycolysation of a carbohydrate and is present on the tissues and cells of all lower mammals. Humans and apes do not have it due to an inactive gene product. Alpha gal allergy has made headlines recently. It started with 24 patients in Virginia and Missouri developing anaphylaxis/allergic reaction to mammalian meat. The symptoms manifested nearly 4 hours after these patients had consumed the meat. Earlier people believed that tick bite meat allergy hoax was simply that-a hoax. However, doctors are also baffled by. Today it has been proven that alpha gal allergy is very much real and does exist. That is the topic of discussion today. Here is what you should know about alpha gal.
What is alpha gal allergy? Does it ever go away?
Alpha gal allergy is caused by tick bites, especially the lone star tick. Not everyone who is bitten by one develops this allergy but some people develop sensitivity to red meat. It is believed that alpha gal allergy never really goes away and people who develop it need to follow the avoidance diet for life. Scientists also believe that additional tick bites and consumption of mammalian meat seems to aggravate the symptoms.
Symptoms of alpha gal allergy
The symptoms of alpha gal allergy vary from person to person. Many have a delayed reaction which could even be in the form of anaphylaxis shock. Symptoms may manifest anytime within 3-4 hours of eating red meat. These typically include:
- Swelling of lips, eyes, throat etc
- Watery eyes
- Increased heart rate
- Low blood pressure
Doctors are only learning more about the symptoms of alpha gal allergy now as the condition is getting greater media coverage.
Alpha gal allergy testing
Currently, there are two types of tests that prove alpha gal syndrome. The prick test is performed using lancette while intradermal testing is done with 25 gauge needle. Both tests can be conducted simultaneously on the patients in a single visit. Patients are then monitored over the next 24 hours. Many develop rashes on the back, arms and torso after eating sausages, or any other mammalian meat. Some patients also tend to show diffuse urticaria on arms nearly 4 to 5 hours after consuming pork etc. Blood test results with ratings above 15 are high and indicate positive allergy to mammalian meat.
What causes Alpha gal?
As stated above, tick bites are responsible for this syndrome. Ticks first bite another host such as a deer, infecting their blood with bacteria which they transmit to other hosts, such as humans. During feeding, ticks inject a protein from their saliva into their victim’s blood to prevent it from coagulating. This enables them to feed easily. The salivary protein contains enzymes which causes the human immune system to attack itself. Human body reacts by breaking out into an itchy rash. The immune system reacts differently in different people causing shortness of breath in some. This allergic reaction is due to alpha gal molecules. Humans and apes do not make alpha gal but it is naturally present in beef, bacon, venison etc. The human immune system is designed to attack alpha gal the moment it sees it. It sends immunoglobulin E antibodies to attack the alpha gal molecules causing various symptoms.
Alpha gal food list
The best way to prevent alpha gal symptoms is to start thinking like vegans. This means that you should ideally quit red meat, dairy, cheese, butter, casein, marshmallows, gelatin, milk and milk products, whey, yogurt etc.
Fish and poultry are okay to consume in some cases. Eggs are also well tolerated by most patients. Thankfully, many health food stores keep great vegan meat alternatives such as soy. Also, most grocery stores have vegan sections. If you eat out at restaurants, look for vegan certified places.Also make sure that your food is properly cooked always. Home cooked meals are the best as you have greater control over what you put in them.
Doctors and entomologists are cautioning people that alpha gal seems to be spreading to new locations in the United States. Earlier it was seen only around the Southeastern states but now it is spreading to the North as ticks are relocating to these areas. Many new cases of alpha gal allergies have been reported in Maine. Warmer summers and global warming are contributing to increasing numbers of Lone Star ticks making the situation worse. So people living in tick infested regions should take proper precautions. These include:
- Avoiding hikes along grassy, woody trails
- Checking for ticks after getting back from camping/hiking etc
- Bathing with soap and hot water after outdoor activities.
- Washing clothes in hot water.
- Using insecticidal sprays to repel ticks.
- Checking pets for ticks and using appropriate, vet-approved tick-repellents
Alpha galactose symptoms often come on suddenly, sometimes even during sleep after having eaten red meat hour earlier. Knowing what its symptoms are can help you seek the right medical treatment and save you a lot of time and anxiety.