June 14 (UPI) – Sensitivity to an allergen in red meat has been linked to heart disease, according to a study.
Although the high levels of saturated fats in red meat have been associated with the buildup of plaque in the arteries of the heart, the researchers found for the first time that some people face an increased risk due to an allergen in red meat. The new findings were published Thursday in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.
Food allergies are a frequent cause of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that can narrow the airways and lower blood pressure dangerously. In 2017, the researchers published a study in Allergy that found that the allergy is a sugar molecule called galactose-α-1,3-galactose, or alpha-gal, which is found in beef, pork, lamb and other red meats
Researchers also found that Lone Star tick bites can sensitize people with the allergen, an explanation of why allergy is more common in the southeastern United States.
Researchers estimated that 1 percent of the population in some areas may be allergic to red meat, but their presence can be as high as 20 percent when considering people without full symptoms.
Unlike other reactions to food, the reaction can take between 3 and 6 hours, instead of starting in about 30 minutes of eating. And the only trick for allergy to red meat is the strict avoidance of all kinds of red meat.
Researchers identified for the first time a specific blood marker for red meat allergy, a type of antibody that is specific to the alpha-Gal allergen – which was associated with higher levels of arterial plaque, or fat deposits in the inner lining of the arteries.
Researchers analyzed blood samples from 118 adults, finding antibodies to alpha-Gal in 26 percent of them.
By using an imaging procedure, they found that the amount of plaque was 30 percent greater in patients sensitized with alpha-Gal than in the non-sensitized patients. This, combined with the plaques are structurally unstable, suggests an increased risk of heart attack and stroke for these patients.
"This novel finding from a small group of Virginia subjects raises the intriguing possibility that red meat allergy may be a poorly recognized factor in heart disease," the study leader, Dr. Coleen McNamara, professor of medicine at the Center for Cardiovascular Research of the Health System at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "These preliminary findings underscore the need for more clinical trials in larger populations in various geographic regions and additional laboratory work."
The researchers plan to conduct detailed studies on animals and humans to confirm their initial findings.
"The more work is needed, the current work provides a possible new approach or objective to prevent or treat heart disease in a subset of people who are sensitized to red meat," said Dr. Ahmed Hasan, medical officer and director of the program in National Heart, Lung and Atherothrombosis and the Coronary Artery Disease Branch of the Blood Institute.