New York: Researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine have claimed to found a link between an allergen found in red meat and the build-up of fats that block the heart arteries. This build-up may increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Previous research has linked red meat to an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. For long, health experts have established saturated fats found in red meat as one major cause of heart disease for people in general. The new study suggests that a subgroup of the population may be at heightened risk for a different reason – a food allergen.
According to the study, the bite of a lone star tick can cause people to develop an allergic reaction to red meat. Yet, many people who do not exhibit symptoms of the allergy are still sensitive to the allergen found in meat. The findings showed that patients sensitive to allergen had 30 percent more plaque in heart arteries than those without the sensitivity. Further, a higher percentage of the plaques had features characteristic of unstable plaques that are more likely to cause heart attacks, the study noted.
“This novel finding raises the intriguing possibility that asymptomatic allergy to red meat may be an under-recognised factor in heart disease,” said lead author Coleen McNamara, from the University of Virginia in the US.
For the study, the team looked at 118 patients and identified the allergen as alpha-Gal, a type of complex sugar found in red meat. People with the symptomatic form of the allergy can develop hives, stomach upset, have trouble breathing or exhibit other symptoms three to eight hours after consuming meat from mammals – though poultry and fish do not trigger a reaction. Other people can be sensitive to alpha-gal but not develop symptoms.
The findings suggest that doctors could develop a blood test to benefit people sensitive to the allergen.
“This work raises the possibility that in the future a blood test could help predict individuals, even those without symptoms of red meat allergy, who might benefit from avoiding red meat. However, at the moment, red meat avoidance is only indicated for those with allergic symptoms,” said Jeff Wilson from the varsity.
The researchers say that their findings are preliminary, but further research is warranted.