Alpha-Gal & the Lone Star Tick

Alpha-Gal & the Lone Star Tick
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Our immune response against a foreign molecule present in animal products may play a role in some allergic, autoimmune, and inflammatory disorders. This reaction is thought to underlie tick bite-triggered meat allergies.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In the beginning, Aristotle defined two forms of life on planet earth: plants and animals. Two thousand years later, the light microscope was invented, and we discovered tiny, one-celled organisms, like amoebas. Then, the electron microscope was invented, and we were better able to characterize bacteria. Finally, in 1969, biologists recognized fungi as a separate category, and we’ve had at least five kingdoms of life ever since.

In my video Higher Quality May Mean Higher Risk, I talk about the potential downsides of consuming proteins from within our own kingdom, because of the impact our fellow animal proteins can have on boosting our liver’s production of a cancer-promoting hormone called IGF-1.

In Eating Outside Our Kingdom, I talked about other potential advantages of preferably dipping into the plant and mushroom kingdoms for dinner, not only from a food safety perspective—we’re more likely to get infected by animal pathogens than Dutch elm disease, but because of the potential for cross-reactivity between animal and human proteins. Our immune system is more likely to get confused between this and this, rather than this and that. And so, there may be less potential to trigger an autoimmune reaction—like the degenerative brain diseases I talked about in that other video. Same concept with animal proteins triggering inflammatory arthritis. In attacking some foreign animal meat protein, some of our own similarly composed tissues may get caught in the crossfire.

And, it’s not just proteins. If you remember the Neu5Gc story, there’s this sialic acid in other animals that may cause inflammation in our arteries, and help breast tumors and other human cancers grow.

Well, now, there’s a new twist has been added to the story. The reason NeuGc triggers inflammation is because humans lost the ability to make it two million years ago. And so, when our body is exposed to it through animal products, it’s treated as a foreign invader. Well, there’s another oligosaccharide, called alpha-gal, that we, chimps, and apes lost the ability to make twenty million years ago—but it’s still made by a variety of animals, including many animals we eat.

Anti-gal antibodies may be “involved in a number of detrimental processes [which] may result in allergic, autoimmune, and ‘autoimmune like’ [diseases]”—such as autoimmune thyroid disorders. You can see higher levels in Crohn’s disease victims. They react against about half of human breast tumors. And, you can even find antibodies to this stuff in atherosclerotic plaques in people’s necks. But, those are all mostly speculative risks. We do know alpha-gal is “a major obstacle” to transplanting pig organs into people—like kidneys—because our bodies reject alpha-gal as foreign. It’s considered “the major target for human anti-pig antibodies.”

It’s interesting; if you look at those who abstain from pork (for whatever reason), they have “fewer swine-specific” white cells in their bloodstream—speculating that “oral intake of pork” could ferry swine molecules into the bloodstream via “gut-infiltrating lymphocytes…to prime [the] immune response.”

So, we can have an allergic reaction to eating the kidneys too, but such severe meat allergies were considered rare—until an unusual report surfaced. “[F]irst described in 2009, the report included details on 24 cases of meat allergies triggered by tick bites. Within a year, it was obvious that the cases should be counted in [the] hundreds rather than dozens. By 2012, it was clear that there [were] thousands of cases across a large area of the southern and eastern US,” and now “present in several countries” around the world.

The lone star tick, so called because females have a white spot on their back. They’re famous for causing Masters’ disease, a Lyme-disease like syndrome, also known as STARI, southern tick-associated rash illness. But, thanks to the lone star tick “steadily expanding its range,” it’s not necessarily just so southern anymore.

Okay, but what is “the relevance of tick bites to the production” of anti-meat antibodies to alpha-gal—these allergic antibodies? Good question. What we know is you get bit by one of these ticks, and you can develop an allergy to meat. This appears to be “the first example of a response to an [external parasite] giving rise to an important form of food allergy”—either because there’s something in the tick saliva that’s cross-reacting with the alpha-gal, or, because the tick is, like, injecting you with animal allergens from its last meal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In the beginning, Aristotle defined two forms of life on planet earth: plants and animals. Two thousand years later, the light microscope was invented, and we discovered tiny, one-celled organisms, like amoebas. Then, the electron microscope was invented, and we were better able to characterize bacteria. Finally, in 1969, biologists recognized fungi as a separate category, and we’ve had at least five kingdoms of life ever since.

In my video Higher Quality May Mean Higher Risk, I talk about the potential downsides of consuming proteins from within our own kingdom, because of the impact our fellow animal proteins can have on boosting our liver’s production of a cancer-promoting hormone called IGF-1.

In Eating Outside Our Kingdom, I talked about other potential advantages of preferably dipping into the plant and mushroom kingdoms for dinner, not only from a food safety perspective—we’re more likely to get infected by animal pathogens than Dutch elm disease, but because of the potential for cross-reactivity between animal and human proteins. Our immune system is more likely to get confused between this and this, rather than this and that. And so, there may be less potential to trigger an autoimmune reaction—like the degenerative brain diseases I talked about in that other video. Same concept with animal proteins triggering inflammatory arthritis. In attacking some foreign animal meat protein, some of our own similarly composed tissues may get caught in the crossfire.

And, it’s not just proteins. If you remember the Neu5Gc story, there’s this sialic acid in other animals that may cause inflammation in our arteries, and help breast tumors and other human cancers grow.

Well, now, there’s a new twist has been added to the story. The reason NeuGc triggers inflammation is because humans lost the ability to make it two million years ago. And so, when our body is exposed to it through animal products, it’s treated as a foreign invader. Well, there’s another oligosaccharide, called alpha-gal, that we, chimps, and apes lost the ability to make twenty million years ago—but it’s still made by a variety of animals, including many animals we eat.

Anti-gal antibodies may be “involved in a number of detrimental processes [which] may result in allergic, autoimmune, and ‘autoimmune like’ [diseases]”—such as autoimmune thyroid disorders. You can see higher levels in Crohn’s disease victims. They react against about half of human breast tumors. And, you can even find antibodies to this stuff in atherosclerotic plaques in people’s necks. But, those are all mostly speculative risks. We do know alpha-gal is “a major obstacle” to transplanting pig organs into people—like kidneys—because our bodies reject alpha-gal as foreign. It’s considered “the major target for human anti-pig antibodies.”

It’s interesting; if you look at those who abstain from pork (for whatever reason), they have “fewer swine-specific” white cells in their bloodstream—speculating that “oral intake of pork” could ferry swine molecules into the bloodstream via “gut-infiltrating lymphocytes…to prime [the] immune response.”

So, we can have an allergic reaction to eating the kidneys too, but such severe meat allergies were considered rare—until an unusual report surfaced. “[F]irst described in 2009, the report included details on 24 cases of meat allergies triggered by tick bites. Within a year, it was obvious that the cases should be counted in [the] hundreds rather than dozens. By 2012, it was clear that there [were] thousands of cases across a large area of the southern and eastern US,” and now “present in several countries” around the world.

The lone star tick, so called because females have a white spot on their back. They’re famous for causing Masters’ disease, a Lyme-disease like syndrome, also known as STARI, southern tick-associated rash illness. But, thanks to the lone star tick “steadily expanding its range,” it’s not necessarily just so southern anymore.

Okay, but what is “the relevance of tick bites to the production” of anti-meat antibodies to alpha-gal—these allergic antibodies? Good question. What we know is you get bit by one of these ticks, and you can develop an allergy to meat. This appears to be “the first example of a response to an [external parasite] giving rise to an important form of food allergy”—either because there’s something in the tick saliva that’s cross-reacting with the alpha-gal, or, because the tick is, like, injecting you with animal allergens from its last meal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Nota del Doctor

Here are links to some of the videos I mentioned:

Here are some videos unearthing the IGF-1 story:

NeuGc is what opened up this whole can of worms:

I wonder if alpha-gal plays a role in the improvements seen with arthritis and Crohn’s from plant-based diets: Dietary Treatment of Crohn’s Disease and Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis.

In Tick Bites, Meat Allergies, & Chronic Urticaria, I explore the role these tick-bite-induced allergies may play in the development of chronic hives and other allergic skin reactions in children.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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