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The Making of Medicine

Making Progress on the Meat Allergy

Our Loren Erickson, PhD, has shed some important light on what happens inside the body of people who develop the meat allergy after being bitten by the Lone Star tick.

Erickson is probing the immunological changes that result from the tick bite, an area we know relatively little about. Bear in mind that the meat allergy was identified relatively recently — our Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills first discovered that the tick bite sensitizes people to a sugar found in mammalian meat called alpha gal. But the actual mechanism of the allergy — what happens within the immune system after the tick bite — remails poorly understood. Erickson and his team are helping to change that.

“We don’t know what it is about the tick bite that causes the meat allergy,” Erickson told me. “In particular, we haven’t really understood the source of immune cells that produce the antibodies that cause the allergic reactions.”

He and his team have determined that people who develop the meat allergy have a distinctive form of immune cells known as B cells in great numbers. These white blood cells produce antibodies that, in turn, release chemicals that cause the allergic reaction. This can manifest as itchy hives, stomach upset, possibly even death in the most severe cases.

This new understanding of the mechanism of the allergic reaction brings us closer to being able to develop a treatment. Right now, people with the meat allergy can only try to avoid eating meat.

“There’s no way to prevent or cure this food allergy, so we need to first understand the underlying mechanism that triggers the allergy so we can devise a new therapy,” Erickson explained.

He has also developed a mouse model of the meat allergy that will allow scientists to more effectively and efficiently research this strange condition.


Reply & View Comments

  1. Teresa York says:

    I have had a high white cell count in the past due to colon infections. (diverticulitis)

    Maybe people have a high white cell count at time of being bit. Then this causes the reaction in the body and can be permanent or get worse over time.

  2. Tim Brown says:

    My wife is allergic to all meat except fish, brewer’s yeast, and has a suspected sensitivity to dairy. It seems to be very similar but more broad than alpha-gal. My son is allergic to fish, chicken, and poultry but can eat beef with no problem. I have trouble swallowing meat sometimes but don’t seem to have the other symptoms that my wife and son have. My wife’s food allergies did not present until she was 30. My neighbor also had issues with swallowing. We live in Hope Mills, NC. I am beginning to think our issues may have something to do with the environment and am wondering if anyone else or there are people in the study that have a similar allergy profile or if there is any evidence, research or data that might help us or others figure this out. It just seems so strange that we all three have sensitivities to meat, yet in different forms. Other than that we are generally healthy.

  3. Julie Rechtin says:

    For about a decade, I would get a stomach ache if I ate salmon. If I took some Beano before I ate it, I was fine. Oddly, I had and have no problem with beans themselves. I lost the salmon “allergy” over a decade ago. I haven’t eaten any meat other than fish and shellfish for ~40 years, and I didn’t get discomfort from eating other fish (mostly farmed catfish, trout, snapper, tuna.) About the time the allergy started, I was bitten on my back by a tick, apparently didn’t notice it for several days, and had to have it surgically removed. (This was the worst of multiple tick bites I’ve had over the years.) Our main concern was Lyme disease, but I tested negative at the time. I was working in the coastal range of CA (Pinnacles Nat’l Monument) and “wood ticks” were the most likely to bite us. I don’t believe lone star ticks had spread there; they don’t look familiar. I haven’t been east of the Mississippi River for >40 years, too. I also am multi-autoimmune and have a few other odd allergies that wax and wane with the years and my overall inflammation. I have gotten tests for various cytokines, including IL-6, for the past 4.5 years as part of the Vectra DA rheumatoid arthritis panel, as well as decades of sed rate tests. My severe systemic rheumatoid disease was brought into 95% remission using solely low dose naltrexone; LDN is also being studied for its potential to limit cytokine storms in COVID as well as in chronic inflammatory autoimmune conditions. I wonder if it could be helpful with meat allergy?

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