Pork, beef, and lamb are popular – not only when grilling. However, consumption can have dangerous consequences if a meat allergy occurs.
The first symptoms are usually hives and swelling of the lips and eyes, sometimes the tongue. The skin begins to itch all over the body, and is red and covered with wheals. As the disease progresses, you may feel unwell or even lose consciousness. However, a few of those affected only react with gastrointestinal complaints.
Meat allergy: Symptoms after three to six hours
A meat allergy can develop suddenly, even if you have never had problems with meat before. Unlike other allergies, the reactions do not appear within 20 to 30 minutes but are delayed by three to six hours. It is not uncommon for the complaints to come in the middle of the night.
Allergic reaction to sugar molecule Alpha-Gal
A special substance in mammalian meat is responsible for the allergic reaction: galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal). The body does not react to a protein molecule like in allergies to grass or nuts, but to sugar molecules on proteins.
Scientists have unmasked the bites of certain types of ticks as the cause of meat allergies. According to a study, Alpha-Gal enters the human bloodstream with the saliva of the tick. Upon first contact, the immune system becomes aware of the molecule and prepares itself for future confrontations. Now, when alpha-gal enters the body through trafficking red meat, the immune system views the substance as an enemy and produces antibodies designed to knock out the sugar molecule. An allergic reaction occurs: the blood vessels dilate, and liquid penetrates the skin and forms itchy wheals. Over time, the allergic reaction usually gets worse. The longer an affected person consumes meat, the smaller amounts of it trigger increasingly severe symptoms. At some point, sweets containing gelatine from bovine bones are enough to trigger a severe allergic reaction.
Offal contains a lot of allergens
Alpha-gal is not found in humans but is found in the flesh of other mammals. Some types of meat contain a particularly large amount of alpha-gal, for example, offal such as pork kidneys, sweetbreads, or liver. They are particularly dangerous for people with meat allergies.
Alpha-Gal Syndrome: Detection only with a blood test
A meat allergy cannot be detected with the conventional prick test on the skin. A special blood test is required for this. Those who suffer from the allergy will have to refrain from eating red meat in the future. Fish and poultry are also allowed because they do not contain any alpha-gal – and of course vegetables. Anyone who is already allergic to gelatine can stick to foods labeled as vegan – they do not contain any substances of animal origin, i.e. no gelatine either. However, alpha-gal allergy sufferers who consistently avoid meat and offal from mammals have a relatively good chance that their bodies will eventually tolerate at least small amounts of alpha-gal again.