Alpha-Gal basics include understanding the mechanism of the allergy as well as the general symptoms and treatment. The bite of a tick or chigger can start a chain of reactions in some people. One reaction is the production of an allergic class of antibody that binds to a carbohydrate present in mammalian meat called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal). Mammalian meat is any meat that comes from a mammal including beef, pork, lamb, venison, goat and bison. Fish, turkey and chicken are not mammals, so they don’t have alpha-gal. When a person with the alpha-gal antibody eats mammalian meat, the meat triggers the release of histamine, a compound found in the body that causes allergic symptoms like hives, itching and even anaphylaxis (a reaction that leads to sudden weakness, swelling of the throat, lips and tongue, difficult breathing and/or unconsciousness).
Alpha-gal allergy is different from other food allergies like the peanut allergy as the response is delayed. Unlike someone with a peanut allergy who has an immediate allergic response after eating peanuts, people with the alpha-gal allergy do not start having symptoms until several hours after they eat mammalian meat.
Symptoms of alpha-gal occurring several hours after ingesting food include upset stomach, diarrhea, hives, itching and/or anaphylaxis (sudden weakness, swelling of the throat, lips and tongue, difficult breathing and/or unconsciousness). If you believe you may have alpha-gal allergy, you should contact your primary care doctor’s office or other clinic for a blood test.
Avoiding mammalian meat is the only available treatment for this allergy currently. If you are still experiencing symptoms of alpha-gal or aren’t feeling quite right after cutting mammalian meat out of your diet, you may also want to cut out dairy products or at least limit your intake. Gelatin, protein powder with whey and a small amount of medications also contain alpha-gal.