What Is Alpha-Gal Syndrome?

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about disease-transmitting ticks! From Lyme disease, Powassan to Colorado Tick Fever, vector-borne diseases have more than tripled in recent years. More and more people are developing “life-threatening red meat allergies” caused by tick bites.

So what is this unique red meat allergy called? Alpha-Gal Syndrome, which is also known as mammalian meat allergy and mammalian products allergy.

Initially, this tick-borne disease remained a mystery. More and more people began developing rashes, hives and Gastrointestinal distress 3 to eight hours after consuming red meat such as beef, pork, lamb, venison - anything essentially that has hooves and walks on four legs. 

Alpha-Gal Syndrome poses a greater threat than you think! While red meat is the obvious threat, other products that contain mammalian-derived ingredients such as gelatin, milk, pharmaceuticals, vaccines and even products for your skin (i.e. cosmetics) can cause serious issues. 

Reactions to Alpha-Gal Syndrome are often severe and sometimes fatal. Scary? Absolutely! So be aware of sudden red meat allergies. There could always be a possible connection with a T-bone steak at dinner and a violent reaction at midnight.

In this ProSurvivalStrategies.com Guide, you will learn:

  • What is Alpha-Gal?
  • What tick species are responsible for transmitting Alpha-Gal Syndrome?
  • How do ticks acquire the Alpha-Gal molecule?
  • And much more!

AGS is associated with tick bites and constitutes a spreading diagnosed disease worldwide. To date, there is no cure other than avoiding red meat and products that contain mammalian-derived ingredients. 

What Is Alpha-Gal?

Alpha-Gal is short for Galactose-alpha-1,3 galactose, a sugar molecule commonly found in the cells, fluids and tissues of all mammals except apes, humans and monkeys. Thus, Alpha-Gal Syndrome (AGS) refers to the immune system response you may experience after exposure to this sugar molecule. 

Dr. Scott Commons, M.D., associate professor at the University of North Carolina states, “Unlike more traditional food allergies where consumption of an allergen produces symptoms within minutes, AGS reactions typically occur 3-8 hours after eating. Thus many patients fail to consider food as a possible trigger and many healthcare providers do not routinely recognize the characteristic delay - both issues can prolong time to reach a diagnosis.” 

Reactions to Alpha-Gal are often severe and sometimes fatal. This life- threatening reaction can occur after exposure to the following:

  • Mammalian meats, organs and blood.
  • Dairy products, gelatin and other foods derived from mammals.
  • Foods that contain mammalian byproducts.
  • Pharmaceuticals, vaccines, personal care, household and other products with mammalian ingredients.
  • Products containing carrageenan (a common food additive made from red algae that contains alpha-gal).

What Tick Species Are Associated With Alpha-Gal Syndrome?

In the U.S., the tick species commonly associated with AGS are the following:

  • Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma Americanum) is found east of the Rocky Mountains, but mostly throughout the South, East and parts of the Midwest. This extremely aggressive species is an active hunter, unlike other ticks that wait for their prey to pass by. If you stand or sit near Lone Star Ticks, they will detect your odor and rapidly travel many yards to find you. The added complication is that sometimes people sustain Lone Star tick bites, especially from the larvae or nymphs and not know it. It is being found even further north - even into some parts of Canada. This culprit is the primary vector for transmitting AGS. 

Other possible vectors that may be implicated in transmitting AGS include the following: 

  • Blacklegged Tick (Ixodes Scapularis) also known as the deer tick and the same one responsible for transmitting Lyme disease can be found all across the eastern two-thirds of the United States and into Canada. Recent research shows that alpha-gal has been isolated in its saliva
  • Cayenne Tick (Amblyomma Cajennese) species is active all year round in tropical and subtropical areas of the Caribbean and Mexico, extending southward throughout much of Central and South America. Populations within the United States are confined to Florida, Texas and coastal regions of other states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. This species is known to transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Theileria equi, (a protozoan parasite). 
  • Asian Longhorned Tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis) is native to East and Central Asia where it thrives under temperate conditions. First reported in Mercer County, New Jersey in 2013. The CDC states that, “as of October 5, 2020, this species has been found in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia”. 

This species is the primary vector for transmitting AGS in Asia. To date, it has yet to be implicated in AGS in the United States. However, its potential to transmit AGS is currently being investigated. 

  • American Dog or Wood Tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is widely distributed throughout the eastern half of the United States and along the West Coast. It is also common in Canada and can be found from Saskatchewan east to the Atlantic Provinces. 

Despite its name, “American Dog Tick” it is also a threat to humans because it transmits Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tularemia, causing serious illnesses. To date, it is a suspected vector of potentially transmitting Alpha-Gal Syndrome. 

How Do Ticks Acquire The Alpha-Gal Molecule?

So how does a tick acquire this molecule (i.e. Alpha-Gal)? It picks up the molecule by biting and feasting on mammals. When full, it drops off its host and aggressively seeks out another victim. 

If you're the next victim, it latches on and bites. The tick then ejects saliva into the bite site it creates on your skin. It’s through the saliva that the Alpha-Gal molecule enters your bloodstream. Once introduced, your body interprets it as a threat and triggers an immune response that leads to Alpha-Gal Syndrome. 

DID YOU KNOW?
Approximately 50% of people who develop a tick-borne disease do not remember being bitten by a tick. 

What Are The Symptoms Of Alpha-Gal Syndrome?

Signs and symptoms of Alpha-Gal Syndrome are often delayed compared with other food allergies. For example, most reactions to common food allergens (i.e. peanuts or shellfish) happen within minutes of exposure. 

However, Alpha-Gal Syndrome is unique because reactions are not immediate and occur 3-8 hours after ingesting red meat or products that contain mammalian-derived ingredients. Due to its unusual trigger, many people fail to even consider red meat and mammalian-derived ingredients as the source. 

This makes it difficult to identify what substance caused the reaction because an individual may not have ever had an allergic reaction to red meat or mammalian-derived ingredients.

Thus, healthcare providers do not routinely recognize what caused the reaction. So beware of sudden “red meat or mammalian byproduct allergies”. 

Signs and symptoms of Alpha-Gal Syndrome include the following:

Skin

  • Itching of the palms and soles of feet can be the initial symptom of a reaction.
  • Hives.
  • Flushing.

Swelling

  • Especially the palms and soles of feet.

Gastrointestinal 

  • Abdominal pain and cramping.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Heartburn.

Cardiovascular

  • Hypotension (low blood pressure).
  • Light-headedness / dizziness.
  • A weak and rapid pulse.
  • Feeling like you will faint.
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness.
  • Shock

Respiratory

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Wheezing.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Cough.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Difficulty breathing. 

Anaphylaxis

DID YOU KNOW?
Alpha-Gal is a leading cause of Anaphylaxis. Roughly 60% of people diagnosed with Alpha-Gal Syndrome have anaphylactic reactions and 30-40% have cardiac and respiratory symptoms.” 

Alpha-Gal is a serious condition according to Erin McGintee, M.D., who has treated over 600 patients. She states as follows

“About 90% of the patients present with skin symptoms. Most often it will start with the palms of their hands and the soles of the feet or ears. They will start with intense itching, and it will progress with hives and/or flushing that can be localized or generalized.

The next common symptom that we see is actually gastrointestinal symptoms. It is very common for patients to complain of severe abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea - you see these in at least 60% of patients.

Cardiovascular symptoms are not uncommon. 30-40% of the patients will report feeling light-headed and I definitely have a good number of patients who lose consciousness… About 30-40% of patients will report respiratory symptoms either involving the throat or involving the chest."

How Is Alpha-Gal Syndrome Diagnosed?

Alpha-Gal Syndrome is diagnosed by using a combination of your personal history and medical testing. To get the most of your appointment, be prepared to advise your treating physician of the following:

Describe your symptoms - fully inform your doctor what happened after you consumed red meat or a mammalian-derived product. How long did it take for the allergic reaction to occur and how severe was it? Describe the meat or mammalian-derived product you consumed.

Were you exposed to a tick bite - you will need to inform your physician if you spend time outdoors and how often. Most importantly, you will need to recollect if you were bitten by a tick. If you recently removed a tick and placed it into a container, show it to your doctor.

Make a list of all medications you are taking - remember, it is not uncommon for medication to contain mammalian byproducts such as gelatin capsules.

Bring a friend or family member with you - sometimes we just can’t recall all the specifics. Someone who comes with you may remember vital information to communicate to your treating physician.

If you documented the occurrence of the tick bite - fully inform your physician the date of the bite or removal of the tick, location of the bite on your body, estimated length of time the tick was attached, the type of tick if known, and how it was removed.

Two tests that may be administered to detect Alpha-Gal Syndrome include:

  • Blood test. The alpha galactose (alpha-gal) allergy blood panel measures the amount of allergen-specific IgE antibodies in your bloodstream in order to detect an allergy to alpha-gal.
  • Skin test. An allergist will prick your skin and expose you to small amounts of substances extracted from red meat. If you are allergic, you will develop a hive at the test site on your skin. 

Is There A Cure For Alpha-Gal Syndrome?

Currently, there is no known cure for Alpha-Gal Syndrome at the present time. If you have Alpha-Gal Syndrome, don’t play Russian Roulette!
Knowing you must avoid mammalian-derived products is only half the battle, as these products have found their way into every level of our life.

For example, gelatin is a protein obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments and/or bones with water. It is usually obtained from cows or pigs. It is used as a thickener and commonly found as the main ingredient in candies, marshmallows, and puddings (such as Jell-O). Yes, your Jell-O was once alive.

Individuals with Alpha-Gal Syndrome can at best manage the condition by:

  • Avoiding red meat (beef, bison, goat, lamb, mutton, pork, venison and mammalian-derived products that contain red meat extracts to prevent allergic reactions.
  • Check ingredient labels on store bought goods to make sure they don’t contain red meat, or meat-based ingredients such as beef, gelatins, lamb, meat organs and pork.
  • Check soup stock cubes, gravy packages and flavoring ingredients in prepackaged products.
  • Ask your allergists on your foods you should avoid.
  • Exercise caution when eating in restaurants and family gatherings. (Few people realize that red meat allergies exist- even a small portion of red meat can cause a severe reaction).
  • If you even believe a food source can cause an allergic reaction - don’t even try it!
  • Avoid cross contamination of food.
  • Ask your pharmacist if your medication contains a mammalian byproduct.
  • Avoid additional tick bites (especially those of the Lone Star Tick) that can exacerbate AGS allergic reactions.
  • Remember, Alpha-Gal can be found in products made from mammals including (cosmetics, gelatin medications, vaccines and milk products).

You will definitely have to adjust to a diet without red meat. Remember one bite and it may be over.

As with all serious allergies, it is extremely important to have the proper diagnoses and be prepared with how to respond in the event of an emergency. Most allergists will recommend wearing a medical alert bracelet and carrying an EpiPen and an antihistamine with you at all times.

The good news is, some people who have Alpha-Gal Syndrome are later able to tolerate red meat after several years without a tick bite. 

How To Prevent Alpha-Gal Syndrome.

The best way to prevent Alpha-Gal Syndrome is to avoid tick bites.

Here are a few quick tips on how to avoid tick bites:

For more detailed information on how to prevent tick bites, click here. If you find a tick firmly attached to your body, refrain from your immediate reaction to “squish it”. For more on how to properly remove a tick, click here.

Final Note.

So what is Alpha-Gal Syndrome? A tick-borne red meat and mammalian
byproduct allergy caused by the bite of public enemy number 1, the Lone Star Tick. While there may be other suspects, get bitten by a Lone Star tick and you can kiss your love for red meat goodbye.

However, it doesn’t just end your consumption of red meat. With more mammalian byproducts finding their way into medicines, vaccines and other products, the risk of an allergic reaction is an ongoing serious threat to your health.

Symptoms are severe and remember; roughly 60% of people diagnosed with Alpha-Gal Syndrome have anaphylactic reactions and 30-40% have cardiac and respiratory symptoms.

With no present cure in sight, managing Alpha-Gal Syndrome is not an easy task. Think of all the foods you love. How devastating would it be if you couldn’t enjoy a juicy hamburger or steak at a family gathering.

When enjoying the outdoors, always remember that one of the most dangerous animals out there is a tick. By taking the appropriate measures to avoid tick bites, your exposure to this life-threatening red meat allergy will significantly diminish.

If you have never heard of Alpha-Gal Syndrome before, let us know what you think. All comments are welcomed.

As always, wishing you guys nothing but the best! 

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