An individual without food allergies enjoys a lovely steak dinner one evening and then wakes up almost six hours later suffering from hives and/or anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that could potentially lead to death. From then on, he finds he can’t eat red meat without experiencing a reaction.
While this may sound like an episode of “House M.D.,” it’s actually a real problem that has been cropping up in the Southeastern United States. And until now, the condition had stumped experts.
As it turns out, the purported cause is just as odd as the condition: a tick bite. An article recently published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine explained that red meat contains a carbohydrate known as alpha-gal, which is also produced in a person’s blood after they’re bitten by a particular type of tick known as the lone star tick. The researchers stated that eating meat after the tick bite prompts the immune system to activate the release of histamine, which could cause allergic reactions like hives and anaphylaxis.
If the study’s theory is correct, it’s significant because it marks the first time a carbohydrate, not a protein, is the origin of a severe allergic reaction to food. Additionally, in these cases, anaphylaxis doesn’t occur until about three to six hours after having consumed the food, whereas with other food allergies, most people experience anaphylaxis immediately after consuming the offending food.
To learn more about food allergies, click here for our story on food allergy versus food intolerance.