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Meat allergies may not be as rare as once thought

March 1, 2010 |  8:15 pm

Meat We read often about allergies to milk, peanuts and shellfish, but for whatever reason, not so much about allergies to meat. A study just reported at a meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, in New Orleans, suggests they may be more common than believed -- maybe medium rare, the scientists appear to be suggesting.

Here's a summary of the report, in a release from the academy. Conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia, the University of Tennessee and the John James Medical Center in Australia, it looked at 60 cases of recurring cases of unexplained anaphylaxis and found that 25 of those patients had IgE antibodies (the type of antibodies that are responsible for allergies) in their blood that reacted to alpha-gal (or alpha-galactose for long), a carbohydrate in meat.

Here's a story from Reuters. It notes that because the reaction can occur hours after the meat was eaten, the cause can be hard to trace. The article quotes study co-author Dr. Scott Commins of the University of Virginia as saying, "The typical scenario has been if you don't react to food within two hours, then it's not the food. In this case that doesn't seem to be true."

For more about food allergies, visit the website forthe Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. (Looks like meat allergies aren't listed there -- I couldn't find them, at least -- presumably because they've been considered so rare?)

And here'san earlier paper by Commins and colleagues. It mentions that most mammalian meat contains this sugar, but  primate flesh -- including ours -- does not. (Not that we're advocating going that route to avoid having to give up eating steaks, of course.) 

This same carbohydrate -- called Galactose-α(1,3)Galactose, for extra long -- appears to be one of the reasons that transplanting organs from other species is a problem, by the way. To get around that, scientists have created pigs in which the enzyme responsible for creating alpha-gal has been knocked out of commission. 

Finally,  here's a Washington Post story from last year that features a man who turned out to have a meat allergy.

--Rosie Mestel

Photo Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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