People can develop a meat allergy due to a condition known as alpha-gal syndrome. This condition is triggered by the consumption of red meat, particularly mammalian meat like beef, pork, and lamb. Alpha-gal syndrome is caused by an immune response to a carbohydrate called alpha-gal (galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose), which is found in the tissues of these mammals. When someone with alpha-gal syndrome consumes meat containing this carbohydrate, their immune system produces antibodies against alpha-gal.
This immune response can lead to allergic reactions, which may include symptoms such as hives, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis. The reactions tend to occur a few hours after eating red meat.
The link between tick bites and alpha-gal syndrome has been suggested, as many people who develop this allergy have a history of tick bites, particularly bites from the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum). It’s believed that tick bites can lead to sensitization to alpha-gal, causing the immune system to react to it in the future.
The exact reasons behind the rise in alpha-gal syndrome cases are not entirely clear, but it is thought that changes in tick populations and their geographical distribution, as well as increased outdoor activities in tick-prone areas, could contribute to more people being exposed to the Lone Star tick and, subsequently, developing the allergy.
It’s worth noting that while alpha-gal syndrome is a relatively rare condition, it has gained attention due to its unique connection to the consumption of red meat and its potential severity in some cases. If someone suspects they have a meat allergy or is experiencing allergic reactions after consuming meat, they should seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and management.