What is Alpha-gal Syndrome (Red Meat Allergy) and How Do I Prevent It?

What is Alpha-gal Syndrome?

What Causes Alpha-gal Syndrome?

What Triggers Alpha-gal Allergic Reactions?

While the most common food triggers are mammalian meats, other foods such as dairy, gelatin, and other mammalian byproducts can also cause reactions when ingested. Medical products that can trigger reactions include medications, vaccines, and many others. Personal care and household products can also trigger reactions.

You might be wondering, if all "red" meat - beef, lamb, pork, etc.- has the alpha-gal sugar in it, why doesn't everyone have an allergic reaction when they eat meat unless they are exposed to alpha-gal through a tick bite? 

Here's why: "A tick bite triggers your immune system to react to alpha-gal as a defense mechanism. The antibodies that your body makes to protect you from the tick bite remain in your system. These antibodies will then combat alpha-gal when you eat meat that contains it." (source: Healthline.com)

What are the Symptoms of Alpha-gal Syndrome?

The signs of alpha-gal syndrome are varied and can be different for different people. This makes alpha-gal difficult to diagnose. Unlike other food allergies such as peanut or shellfish allergies, where reactions happen right away, symptoms of alpha-gal may happen quickly, but usually they are delayed.

For someone with alpha-gal, anaphylactic reactions to meat byproducts in injected drugs can be immediate and life-threatening. But reactions to mammalian meat eaten as part of a meal - like pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, and venison - are usually delayed from 2 to 10 hours. Doctors and other medical professionals may not think of testing for a meat allergy when the signs don't show up at the time the meat is eaten!

Signs and symptoms of Alpha-gal meat allergy:

What Is the Best Way to Treat Alpha-gal Syndrome?

At the moment, there is no cure or specific treatment for alpha-gal syndrome. People with AGS need to avoid foods and other products containing the alpha-gal sugar in order to prevent allergic reactions. It's important to note that, like reactions to bee stings and shellfish, additional tick bites can make reactions worse over time. Avoiding tick bites may help keep reactions from getting worse or more severe.

Does Alpha-gal Syndrome Get Worse Over Time?

Unfortunately, in some cases, when people suffering from AGS get additional tick bites, their symptoms get worse: allergic reactions result in more serious symptoms, such as anaphylactic shock or extreme abdominal pain. In other cases, people with alphagal can become sensitive to more foods and different kinds of meat byproducts. For instance someone who has experienced an allergic reaction to meat may begin having an allergic reaction to milk and other dairy products. 

Over time, when exposure to tick bites doesn't happen, people with alpha-gal have actually experienced weaker or fewer allergic reactions. Some of them have actually seen their allergic reactions stop after a number of years. But there is little evidence to suggest that alpha-gal syndrome will always go away.

How Do I Prevent Tick Bites?

Shop tick repellent clothing

Additional Alpha-gal Resources

Help Prevent Tick Bites with Permethrin-Treated Clothing