Tick Bites, Meat Allergies, & Chronic Urticaria

Tick Bites, Meat Allergies, & Chronic Urticaria
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The rising incidence of tick-bite induced meat allergies may account for cases of previously unexplained (“idiopathic”) persistent hives among children.

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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.

Tick-bite induced meat allergies are really unlike any other food allergy we know. “[T]he most interesting feature of the [reaction] may be the first [symptom] can occur [hours] after eating meat.” Normally, if you have an allergic reaction to a bee sting or something, it happens within minutes. But with this, you could eat a piece of bacon for breakfast, and your throat doesn’t start closing off until the afternoon, and so you blame lunch, or doctors just call it “‘spontaneous’ or ‘idiopathic’ anaphylaxis.” Ideopathic is just doctorspeak for we have no idea what the cause is.

The delay is because the alpha-gal is thought to be absorbed along with the fat in the meat, given that “[t]he allergic reaction [occurs] 4 to 5 hours after [meat] ingestion correspond[ing] to the peak absorption time of [the fat] from the [digestive] tract.”

What makes it even more difficult to diagnose is that “the majority of [victims experience] only occasional overt reactions, despite regular meat consumption.” “[F]attier meats [like] pork rinds, [may] provoke episodes more consistently and [severely].” But, still, it’s not like it happens every time.

And, it’s on the rise. Ten years ago, we didn’t even know the thing existed. But, now, in tick-ridden states, as many as “20% of the population…have [these anti-meat allergic] antibodies,” and more and more people are coming in affected—though probably no more than 10% who test positive go on to experience hives, or serious allergic reactions to meat.

We’re also seeing it more and more in kids—researchers in Virginia finding it not uncommonly, though “[i]dentification of these cases may not be straightforward.” “Unlike in [adults] who frequently present with [systemic reactions],…the majority of children with this syndrome present with [just skin manifestations, such as hives].” Doesn’t mean it’s not serious. In fact, nearly half the kids ended up in the ER, and about one in twelve needed to be hospitalized.

Up to a quarter of the population breaks out in hives at some point in their lives, but some children can be affected for weeks or months. And, it can be triggered by infections, foods, drugs, parasites, autoimmune. But, in a large subset of cases, we don’t know what the trigger is, and so, we call it “chronic idiopathic urticaria.” It’s a common thing pediatricians see, and the only cure is avoiding and eliminating whatever is triggering it. But, in three-quarters of the cases, we have no clue.

But, now, we know that “many children who [have] been diagnosed with [mysterious hives or allergic reactions], [and may have] been specifically told that the reactions were not a result of [a] food allergy,” may have actually been suffering from anti-gal meat allergies. Given “the serious nature of the reactions” and “the rising frequency” of allergic swelling and hives across all age groups, this “underscore[s] the importance of identifying” what’s going on. And, “clearly…physicians should keep this [new] diagnosis in mind.”

“[A]llergies to [meat] might be more common than previously thought;” 2% would means millions of people. But, just to put it in context, Americans are much more likely to suffer an anaphylactic reaction due to seafood—tick bite or not—no matter where they live. A national survey of emergency rooms found shellfish was by far the most frequently implicated food. And, unlike many other allergies, kids don’t tend to outgrow fish and shellfish allergies.

And, many fish allergies are actually allergies not to the fish, but to worms within the fish—like anisakis. Exposure to these parasites, living or dead, in fish is “a widespread problem.” In fact, you can even have an allergic reaction to the parasitic fish worm eating chickens that were fed on fish meal. This is one of the ways someone who’s allergic to fish could get triggered by just eating chicken.

Reminds me of “pork-cat syndrome,” where your mouth can get all itchy eating bacon, in people with cat allergies, because of an “allergic cross-reaction” between cat skin and pig-blood proteins.

Anisakis worms are found particularly in cod, anchovies, and squid, and can also cause chronic hives and intractable chronic itching.

Because of these worms, researchers recommend that people stop eating all seafood sushi altogether, because “besides inducing allergenic reactions,” the worms may cause a leaky gut syndrome, “which often is unrecognized and…can predispose to other, more important pathologies” than just being itchy all over.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to andy_carter via flickr

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.

Tick-bite induced meat allergies are really unlike any other food allergy we know. “[T]he most interesting feature of the [reaction] may be the first [symptom] can occur [hours] after eating meat.” Normally, if you have an allergic reaction to a bee sting or something, it happens within minutes. But with this, you could eat a piece of bacon for breakfast, and your throat doesn’t start closing off until the afternoon, and so you blame lunch, or doctors just call it “‘spontaneous’ or ‘idiopathic’ anaphylaxis.” Ideopathic is just doctorspeak for we have no idea what the cause is.

The delay is because the alpha-gal is thought to be absorbed along with the fat in the meat, given that “[t]he allergic reaction [occurs] 4 to 5 hours after [meat] ingestion correspond[ing] to the peak absorption time of [the fat] from the [digestive] tract.”

What makes it even more difficult to diagnose is that “the majority of [victims experience] only occasional overt reactions, despite regular meat consumption.” “[F]attier meats [like] pork rinds, [may] provoke episodes more consistently and [severely].” But, still, it’s not like it happens every time.

And, it’s on the rise. Ten years ago, we didn’t even know the thing existed. But, now, in tick-ridden states, as many as “20% of the population…have [these anti-meat allergic] antibodies,” and more and more people are coming in affected—though probably no more than 10% who test positive go on to experience hives, or serious allergic reactions to meat.

We’re also seeing it more and more in kids—researchers in Virginia finding it not uncommonly, though “[i]dentification of these cases may not be straightforward.” “Unlike in [adults] who frequently present with [systemic reactions],…the majority of children with this syndrome present with [just skin manifestations, such as hives].” Doesn’t mean it’s not serious. In fact, nearly half the kids ended up in the ER, and about one in twelve needed to be hospitalized.

Up to a quarter of the population breaks out in hives at some point in their lives, but some children can be affected for weeks or months. And, it can be triggered by infections, foods, drugs, parasites, autoimmune. But, in a large subset of cases, we don’t know what the trigger is, and so, we call it “chronic idiopathic urticaria.” It’s a common thing pediatricians see, and the only cure is avoiding and eliminating whatever is triggering it. But, in three-quarters of the cases, we have no clue.

But, now, we know that “many children who [have] been diagnosed with [mysterious hives or allergic reactions], [and may have] been specifically told that the reactions were not a result of [a] food allergy,” may have actually been suffering from anti-gal meat allergies. Given “the serious nature of the reactions” and “the rising frequency” of allergic swelling and hives across all age groups, this “underscore[s] the importance of identifying” what’s going on. And, “clearly…physicians should keep this [new] diagnosis in mind.”

“[A]llergies to [meat] might be more common than previously thought;” 2% would means millions of people. But, just to put it in context, Americans are much more likely to suffer an anaphylactic reaction due to seafood—tick bite or not—no matter where they live. A national survey of emergency rooms found shellfish was by far the most frequently implicated food. And, unlike many other allergies, kids don’t tend to outgrow fish and shellfish allergies.

And, many fish allergies are actually allergies not to the fish, but to worms within the fish—like anisakis. Exposure to these parasites, living or dead, in fish is “a widespread problem.” In fact, you can even have an allergic reaction to the parasitic fish worm eating chickens that were fed on fish meal. This is one of the ways someone who’s allergic to fish could get triggered by just eating chicken.

Reminds me of “pork-cat syndrome,” where your mouth can get all itchy eating bacon, in people with cat allergies, because of an “allergic cross-reaction” between cat skin and pig-blood proteins.

Anisakis worms are found particularly in cod, anchovies, and squid, and can also cause chronic hives and intractable chronic itching.

Because of these worms, researchers recommend that people stop eating all seafood sushi altogether, because “besides inducing allergenic reactions,” the worms may cause a leaky gut syndrome, “which often is unrecognized and…can predispose to other, more important pathologies” than just being itchy all over.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to andy_carter via flickr

Doctor's Note

What is this alpha gal stuff? Make sure you see my “backgrounder” video, Alpha Gal and the Lone Star Tick.

I previously covered anisakis in Allergenic Fish Worms, and other allergenic parasite reactions in Chronic Headaches and Pork Tapeworms.

Worms might not the only thing increasing allergies in fish. See:

A few weeks ago I did a 4-part series on allergies if anyone’s interested:

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

26 responses to “Tick Bites, Meat Allergies, & Chronic Urticaria

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  1. I drink water out of commercial water bottles – Evian, Fiji, etc.
    While these plastic water bottles do not contain BPA, is there any harm due to leaching of the plastic materials in these supposedly “safe” plastics? I know of the environmental harm, but I have am asking here specifically if there is any harm or record of ingested plastic chemicals that leach even from the top-brand spring and mineral water company’s containers. Thanks.




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      1. I just read the article. It is an excellent bit of investigative journalism. It clearly outlines how bad corporate actors pay for confounding junk research to obscure the risk of their products, and then armed with it, litigate to silence their critics. Amazing, the new BPA free plasics such as Tritan are more estrogenic than the ones containing BPA’s and the manufacturers have known it all along. What really sucks is that Whole Foods has replaced there bulk bins with new Tritan plastic.




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      2. Veganrunner: This is completely off topic, but I couldn’t help myself. I just had to share this with you as soon as I saw it. This is from an article that I saw on the Meatout Monday e-mail. Sorry if you already saw this.
        *******************************

        Record Setting, 92 Yr Old Vegan Runner

        Mike Fremont has been vegan for over 20 years, and has been setting single age marathon running records just as long.

        “At age 88 [Mike] ran a 6H5M53S marathon in Cincinnati Ohio and at age 90 ran a 6H35M47S marathon in Huntington West Virginia. [He] also set a single age world record for 90 years old in the half marathon in Morrow Ohio in August 2012,” said Veg World Magazine.

        According to an interview with Veg World Magazine, Fremont credits his vegan lifestyle for his continued record setting runs, at his age.

        We love seeing vegans making positive media waves, and what better way to showcase the health benefits of plant-powered living than Mike’s awesome running career. Here’s to you Mike, and vegan athletes of all ages!




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        1. Hi Thea,

          I missed that. Thanks for posting. I am telling you–exercise is the fountain of youth! 90—amazing. Plant strong!!!




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    1. I have read that plastic’s micro structural irregularities are hospitable environments for bacteria. That is why wooden cutting board are preferably to plastic ones. Dr. Greger did a video comparing bottled water to tap where bacterial of bottled water was a reason to prefer tap: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/bottled-water-vs-tap-2/

      But I would think that if one were to be conservative, one would do one’s best to avoid ingesting any modern molecule or food packaged in some. BPA were discovered to have estrogenic properties, but that was after the fact of their widespread use. Who knows what else lurks in your Fiji Water bottle.




      1
  2. The last few paragraphs of today’s video/transcript really got me thinking…..how about parasites/worms on uncooked and or not-properly washed veggies and fruits? I’ve read that veggie and fruits can and do in fact contribute to parasitic infections. In some areas of the world it has been known to actually be common. Do the “plant-based” parasites contribute to problems highlighted in today’s video?




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    1. No meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, fungus or fruit because of possible problematic parasitic pollutants? Perhaps, one should consider becoming a breatharian.




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      1. Not possible.

        But the possibility of similar parasitic consequences via fruits and veggies makes me wonder if this is just part of nature. We are all connected in ways we sometimes wish we weren’t. Not that we have to fully submit to this sort of stuff on a daily basis, but to some degree it may be inevitable.




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        1. I was joking. I suppose one needs to add the little blinky smiley face now a days to make it explicitly clear… ;-)

          One would suppose that any parasite that effect flora would not have the same impact on humans as those found on fauna. Just as one see auto immune reaction to animal proteins but not to plant proteins, one could surmise that plant parasites would have different effects on human because we are so foreign to the plant parasite’s biology and its life-cycle requirements, research to the contrary not withstanding.

          Of course, it is recommended that you include a whole classification of plant parasites into your diet. They are called mushrooms.




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          1. Yes, I knew you were joking. Although breathing seems like such a joy, if that’s all we needed to do.

            As far as parasitic effect derived from fruit and veggies, it is actually a big deal and causes a great deal of human distress worldwide. No joke. This is well known and established, to my knowledge, in the parasitology community.




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  3. Looking forward to the doctors’ lecture next month on the VSH web site. Also, hoping he does the next “year in review” soon. Three days a week I wake up and, first thing, check my computer for the newest video and, sometimes, article on NF. Thank you all for the information/education that you provide.




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  4. I have been allergic to mammal meat including beef, pork, venison, and lamb for about 10 years. I would break out into intense itchy hives over much of my body and it would last about 2 hours. I did not get this reaction every time I ate meat and had no clue what was causing the hives. I always carried (and still do) Benadryl with me and by taking 4 pills at the onset of symptoms the hives would go away before getting bad. In 2009 because of high cholesterol I started a whole food/plant based diet. During the first few months of that diet I would occasionally eat mammal meat. EACH time I got hives. There was no more guessing then. I of course stay away from it completely. Interestingly, if I eat a soup, like borsch, that is cooked in beef broth, it does not bother me. I simply pick out the hunks of meat and have no problem.

    When I started my vegan diet I lost 40 pounds in 3 months with no increase in exercise. My cholesterol dropped 50 points and my knees stopped hurting (I’m 65). Still going strong with the diet and medication free for over 4 years. Thank you Dr Greger for your videos and updates.




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    1. Warren: Thank you for sharing your story. Wow. I’m so glad you got the allergy figured out. And then got all those other side benefits. That’s my favorite part of people going whole food plant based. Congratulations.




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  5. I just want to share my experience that may be related to this video. I hope to see feedback and others’ experience too:
    I once caught some insect bites after coming back from a forest field trip. Till now I still do not know if it was caught from the forest or the motel bed I lodged. I felt extreme itch with things-crawling sensation, and tried to shower many times. It was nearly a week before red marks started to get serious and i saw a general practitioner, who diagnosed scabies, later I followed through a one-week lotion treatment.
    The thing is after that i kept having recurrent hives while the red bite marks not yet healed with persist itch, i had thought the hives was triggered because of the scabies mite bites. The on-and-off hives went on for more months, which within I had seen different doctors and even the skin specialist.
    Because the time since it first occurred had been quite long, the doctors were unable to link the events together. None of them had talked about the possibility of an insect bite triggered allergies to food. Instead i was given antihistamine for my hives and reassurance that ‘ you might had scabies but don’t have it now, you could treat your itch by not scratching and use some lotion, recurrent hives might be due to stress’.
    Sometime in between after nearly one year when i had gone home for end of year holiday (i was in uni) my family started to notice my hives being triggered after dinner, and the rash would be most serious during dawn, with gradual calm-down after noon when the day gets humid and warmer. So we started to pay attention to what I ate. Once i had prawns and my hives were triggered almost immediately, with my lips swell up.

    Eventually i cut out all meat, and after nearly one half year, I am now back to my usual diet.
    My thought on this is: i wish someone point me to this video earlier, and that if my diagnosis of the scabies is in fact true, it might be an example how not only tick, but other insect bites could cause the same problem.




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  6. Craziest thing just happened. I have a pt who came to see me and we got her on a vegan diet and her symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and sweating stopped. She stopped eating meat but had already stopped all dairy before I met her. We found out that she was positive for Lymes disease so we got her to a specialist for follow up and this was in the note: see text below
    8
    8




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  7. Interesting because we had this on Australian TV recently.
    They say the issue is how people are removing ticks. “Well, you should go to the chemist and buy a spray containing ether. So something like Wart Off, or Medi Freeze Skin Tag Remover. Place the nozzle conveniently over the tick and spray. Feels cold – freeze the tick, and wait about ten minutes for the tick to die. Once it’s dead, you can just brush it off.”
    http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4177191.htm




    1
  8. Are there mechanisms for meat to cause chronic urticaria other than alpha gal allergy? Can alpha gal allergy be acquirde by other ways than a tick bite?
    I am trying to resolve a rash I have for couple of years that got worse since I went paleo.




    1
    1. Martin: I don’t have an answer to your specific question. But I wonder if the answer is embedded in your last sentence. If the rash has gotten worse since you went paleo, how about trying a healthy diet instead? This site offers a lot of information about the risks of the paleo diet as well as how to eat healthy. A healthy diet is not a magic pill and it is easier to prevent a problem than to reverse one, but why not give it a try? Even if it doesn’t help a whole lot with the rash, a healthy diet will likely help you in many other areas of your hopefuly long, healthy life. If you would like some tips on how to convert to a healthy diet, let me know.




      1
  9. I am clearly late to learning about this video and this site, but I just heard of it and am grateful for this excellent resource! I’m hoping to find more information specifically on any diet-related issues that might be associated with chronic idiopathic urticaria. I am an otherwise-healthy vegetarian woman and I’ve had chronic idiopathic urticaria for over a year now. My doctor and allergist have never mentioned any kind of food-related issues, and simply stated that I need to be on antihistamines (which make me extremely tired, even at a very low dose) every day, which I have been. But I have heard speculations that this condition might be related to inflammation, and I know there is a lot of discussion these days on the potential links between diet and inflammation. Does anyone have any reputable information on the potential role of diet and chronic idiopathic urticaria?




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    1. Hi Jess, just a thought- have you tried an exclusion diet, then slowly reintroducing foods to isolate and identify your triggers? Have you watched the documentary ‘Fat, sick and nearly dead’? In it the protagonists cures his chronic idiopathic urticaria (and numerous other health issues) by going on a juice diet for a month. Maybe you should try to find another allergist if yours can only suggest antihistamines- a pharmacist could give you that advice for free!
      Hope you sort your problems, keep following Dr Gregor on this site




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  10. When I search Nutritionfacts.org for “angeoedema” this video appears after the search. However, I didn’t hear any mention of angioedema in the video. Does anyone have experience about the causes of angioedema? My physician is saying there is “no known cause” but I can’t help but think there is a food connection or, perhaps, some research on angioedema that does point to causes.




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