Foods and products you can react to
- lamb / mutton / hogget
- pork / bacon / ham
- beef / veal / bull
- venison / deer
- kangaroo or other marsupials
Up to 2% of adults and 8% of children in the UK have a food allergy. This equates to a total of about 2 million people. Of these allergies, red meat is not a common allergy. However, it is becoming increasingly common due to a recently discovered tick-borne reaction.
Some people have been found to develop an allergy to red meats after having a tick bite. This happens because the ticks release a chemical called alpha-gal while biting a person’s body. The alpha-gal triggers the immune system, which produces immune cells called antibodies. The antibodies are created to recognise and fight off the alpha-gal any time the person is exposed to alpha-gal in the future.
Unfortunately, alpha-gal is found in most meats – including beef, lamb and pork – and it is also in poultry if the poultry is injected with flavouring from other mammals. Because the body’s immune system is primed to react to alpha-gal, anyone with this ‘alpha-gal syndrome’will have an allergic reaction to eating meats. The syndrome is also known as ‘mammalian meat allergy’(MMA).
The first tick initially found to cause this reaction is called the Lone Star tick, located in the USA. However, other ticks throughout Europe, Australia, Asia, and South Africa, have also been found to release alpha-gal and cause this syndrome.
Not all red meat allergies are caused by a tick bite. Sometimes they are like other allergies that can develop from an overreactive immune response to a perceived threat. Some research is also being conducted to determine if other insect bites or parasites could cause allergies to red meats as well.
The symptoms of meat allergy can vary from mild discomfort to anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction involving difficulty breathing, swelling of the tongue or throat, dizziness, fainting, and loss of consciousness.
Unlike other food allergies, the symptoms of alpha-gal syndrome take longer to appear. They are generally delayed by three to ten hours after eating meat.
Symptoms of a mild to moderate allergic reaction can include:
Foods containing dairy or meat-derived products:
Goods containing animal by-products:
Intolerance to red meat can occur when your body doesn’t have the stomach acid and enzymes needed to digest meat properly. When this happens, the meat fibres don’t completely break down, and the undigested meat travels through the gut causing digestive symptoms.
An intolerance to meat may also be caused by a sensitivity to the chemicals in meat. This includes:
Amines, like histamine, are chemicals in aged meats. These increase the more meat is cured and preserved. An excess of amines can cause symptoms in sensitive individuals. The symptoms include headaches, migraines, skin redness and rashes, anxiety, stomach aches, diarrhoea, allergy-like symptoms (like sneezing and nasal congestion), and low blood pressure.
Sulphur is naturally present in meats and is also used as a preservative in the form of sulphites. People sensitive to sulphites can experience skin rashes (hives), redness and flushing, diarrhoea, nasal congestion, wheezing, coughing, and low blood pressure. Sulphite sensitivity is common in people with asthma, and in severe cases, can cause life-threatening airway constriction.
Nitrates and nitrites are chemical preservatives used in processed and cured meats (e.g. bacon, ham, salami). Individuals who are sensitive to nitrates or nitrites may experience skin rashes (hives) or headaches. There have also been reports of people having allergic and anaphylactic reactions to these chemicals.
An intolerance to red meats can cause symptoms such as:
To test for a meat allergy or alpha-gal syndrome, your doctor may perform a range of tests (like blood tests) or refer you to an allergy specialist for further testing (like a skin prick test for allergies).
Food intolerance testing is different to allergy testing. Our lab offers an intolerance test that looks at 350 foods, as well as 350 non-food items. To do the test, simply order the test online HERE, and send your hair sample to our lab. We will send you the comprehensive results within three days of receiving your sample.