A very informative note from a reader (published with their permission):
I just recently found your website after reading an online article about tick-related meat allergies. You may have solved a 20-year-old allergy mystery I’ve had. Although I had never previously experienced an allergic reaction to any food or medication, in approximately 1991 I began experiencing increasingly severe allergic reactions (primarily severe hives). Eventually I was able to isolate the cause to fast food hamburgers, and I was further able to determine the problem was beef of any kind. The unusual aspect of the allergic reactions was their delayed onset. Hives would begin to appear exactly 6 hours after consuming beef. And I do mean EXACTLY; I could virtually set a watch by symptom onset. Before I was able to isolate the exact cause of my allergy, the reactions became severe enough to be considered life threatening, increasing in severity with each reaction until I was experiencing severe anaphylaxis. Since isolating beef as the cause of my reactions, I was able to prevent further incidences by avoiding any food containing beef. I could eat chicken and pork without problems. Being an avid deer hunter, I also ate quite a bit of venison, without problems.
Approximately two years ago, suspecting my allergy was related to preservatives in beef products, I began testing my ability to consume “free-range” beef. I found I could eat it without reaction. I further tested my histamine system by sampling small amounts of commercial beef on up through fast food hamburgers, with no reaction. Over the last year I have been freely eating beef with no problems, until a few weeks ago when I again had a 6-hour delayed allergic reaction (hives) to a fast-food hamburger. Since that most recent reaction, I have stopped eating fast food beef.
Being an avid deer hunter, and actually working in the hunting industry (Consulting Wildlife Biologist), I am in the woods and fields of Tennessee and other Southeastern State almost daily. Through the 1980s and ‘90s, I would experience tick bites on a regular basis; easily a dozen or more per year, with literally hundreds of chigger bites. However, since the commercial availability of Permanone (Permethrin) insecticide, my tick/chigger bite numbers have declined dramatically. My work clothing is fully sprayed with Permethrin before every field day. I now probably receive only one or two tick bites and a dozen or more chigger bites per year.
We have heard from a number of people with this allergy who have sought care from complementary and alternative medical providers for help with their symptoms. Many of their providers have recommended that they take large doses of a vitamin B12 to help decrease their allergic symptoms. Based on anecdotal evidence from a very small number of people, we can say that it does seem to help some people feel better. It is possible that when some people cut out mammalian meat, they end up with low vitamin B12 levels. A little more about vitamin B12:
From Bolognia: Dermatology, 2nd edition:
Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin/hydroxocobalamin) is contained in animal products. It is involved in the synthesis of DNA. Vitamin B12 deficiency may result from inadequate intake, as in strict vegetarianism, but most cases of deficiency are due to malabsorption secondary to one of the following: a decrease in gastric intrinsic factor (pernicious anemia), removal of part or all of the stomach, surgical resection of the small intestine, or overgrowth of intestinal bacteria. Body stores of vitamin B12 are large, so a period of 3 to 6 years is required to develop deficiency states.
People who stop eating mammalian meat (and do not eat a variety of other animal products, fortified grains or supplements) could be at risk for low levels of vitamin B12. See the chart below for food sources of vitamin B12.
LEVELS OF VITAMIN B-12 IN DIFFERENT FOODS
In an assessment of the vitamin B12 levels in a variety of meat, the American Meat Institute Foundation (AMIF) found the following:
Table 2: Selected Food Sources of Vitamin B12
|Liver, beef, braised, 1 slice||48.0||800|
|Clams, cooked, breaded and fried, 3 ounces||34.2||570|
|Breakfast cereals, fortified with 100% of the DV for vitamin B12, 1 serving||6.0||100|
|Trout, rainbow, wild, cooked, 3 ounces||5.4||90|
|Salmon, sockeye, cooked, 3 ounces||4.9||80|
|Trout, rainbow, farmed, cooked, 3 ounces||4.2||50|
|Beef, top sirloin, broiled, 3 ounces||2.4||40|
|Cheeseburger, double patty and bun, 1 sandwich||1.9||30|
|Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25% of the DV for vitamin B12, 1 serving||1.5||25|
|Yogurt, plain, 1 cup||1.4||25|
|Haddock, cooked, 3 ounces||1.2||20|
|Tuna, white, 3 ounces||1.0||15|
|Milk, 1 cup||0.9||15|
|Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce||0.9||15|
|Beef taco, 1 taco||0.8||13|
|Ham, cured, roasted, 3 ounces||0.6||10|
|Egg, large, 1 whole||0.6||10|
|Chicken, roasted, ½ breast||0.3||6|
A blog reader recently wrote to ask if we knew of any connection between skin products containing lanolin or milk proteins and allergic reactions. She is alpha-gal positive and has had itching on her hands and face after using products with those ingredients. Before she became alpha-gal positive, she did not have any issues with lanolin or milk proteins on her skin. The reader recently stopped using any products with these ingredients and has not had any itching since then. It is possible that such products contain a small amount of alpha-gal. Has anyone else had this problem?
We have a new article about our research in the Journal of Clinical Immunology. You can access it on the Alpha-gal Research Links page.
We have had a number of great questions from blog readers over the past few months and wanted to share them (and our answers) with all of you:
If a patient tested 8.16 positive for galactose specific IgE, does that also mean they should avoid all mammalian meat products including dairy?
The number does not mean as much as the person’s symptoms. There are people with very low numbers who cannot have any mammalian meat or dairy without having reactions. At the same time, there are people with very high numbers who can have dairy and eat one or more type of mammalian meat without issue.
We have heard of people who are so reactive that eating something cooked on the same space as mammalian meat causes them to react. We have not heard of any kissing issues related to this allergy–it seems pretty unlikely that it would be an issue.
I have chronic pancreatitis and have to use digestive enzymes in order to digest proteins especially properly. Most of these are made of pork protein. I have changed brands a couple of times because I had allergic reactions (I thought it was something in the manufacturing process) but because I have auto-immune urticaria also I thought perhaps I was just having a “flare” instead of true allergic reactions. Do you know of anyone else with alpha-gal allergies that has found a solution to THIS dilemma?
We tested this person’s pancreatic digestive enzymes (brand name Panges CN 10) in our lab and found that they did contain alpha-gal.
I accessed your website and blog after doing online research following my initial episode of delayed anaphylactic shock last week and talking to several other people who have had this reaction. I have been bitten many times by ticks. My reaction, which followed almost exactly the typical reactions of this kind, occurred several hours after eating locally raised goat meat (which I hadn’t had prior to this for about a year). I notice that virtually every type of mammal commonly ingested, including venison and bison, is included in the list of meats causing this reaction EXCEPT for goat meat.
Goat meat does contain alpha-gal. We will add it to our list.
One of our research participants has shared with us a card that they give out at restaurants to help the staff provide them with “safe” food. They have had good success with this strategy. Feel free to print a few out and try them yourself!
An article about our research into the mammalian meat allergy just came out in the AARP Online Bulletin.