Nav: Home

NIH-supported researchers find link between allergen in red meat and heart disease

June 14, 2018

A team of researchers says it has linked sensitivity to an allergen in red meat to the buildup of plaque in the arteries of the heart. While high saturated fat levels in red meat have long been known to contribute to heart disease for people in general, the new finding suggests that a subgroup of the population may be at heightened risk for a different reason - a food allergen. The study, which is supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, appears in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology (ATVB), a peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association.

"This novel finding from a small group of subjects from Virginia raises the intriguing possibility that allergy to red meat may be an underrecognized factor in heart disease," said study leader Coleen McNamara, M.D., a professor of medicine in the Cardiovascular Research Center of the University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville. "These preliminary findings underscore the need for further clinical studies in larger populations from diverse geographic regions and additional laboratory work."

The number of people with red meat allergies in the United States is unclear, but researchers estimate that it may be 1 percent of the population in some areas. The number of people who develop blood antibodies to the red meat allergen without having full-blown symptoms is much higher--as much as 20 percent of the population in some areas, the researchers say.

Only in recent years did scientists identify the main allergen in red meat, called galactose-α-1,3-galactose, or alpha-Gal, a type of complex sugar. They also found that a tick--the Lone Star tick--sensitizes people to this allergen when it bites them. That is why red meat allergies tend to be more common where these ticks are more prevalent, such as the Southeastern United States, but also extending to other areas, including Long Island, New York.

Researchers have suspected for some time that allergens can trigger certain immunological changes that might be associated with plaque buildup and artery blockages, but no one had identified a specific substance that is responsible for this effect. In the current study, researchers showed for the first time that a specific blood marker for red meat allergy was associated with higher levels of arterial plaque, or fatty deposits on the inner lining of the arteries. The blood marker they identified is a type of antibody (immunoglobulin or IgE) that is specific to the alpha-Gal allergen.

To identify this blood marker, the researchers analyzed blood samples from 118 adults and detected antibodies to alpha-Gal, indicating sensitivity to red meat, in 26 percent of them. Using an imaging procedure, the researchers found that the quantity of plaque was 30 percent higher in the alpha-Gal sensitized patients than in the non-sensitized patients. These plaques, a hallmark of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), also tended to be more structurally unstable, which means that they have an increased likelihood of causing heart attack and stroke.

The evidence for a link between red meat allergens and coronary artery disease is still preliminary, the researchers noted, so they plan to conduct detailed animal and human studies to confirm their initial findings. Currently, the only treatment for red meat allergy once it is diagnosed is strict avoidance of red meat.

"While more studies are needed, the current work provides a potential new approach or target for preventing or treating heart disease in a subgroup of people who are sensitized to red meat," said Ahmed Hasan, M.D., Ph.D., a medical officer and program director in NHLBI's Atherothrombosis & Coronary Artery Disease Branch.

For now, consumers are encouraged to follow current recommendations for a heart-healthy lifestyle. This includes adapting a healthy diet, such as eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other heart-healthy foods. Lean red meats can be part of a heart-healthy diet for those who are not allergic. Other heart-healthy lifestyle changes also include aiming for a healthy weight, managing stress, getting more exercise, and quitting smoking.
-end-
In addition to funding from NHLBI, this study was also funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). NIH funding support includes the following grants: (KO8-AI085190, K23-HL093118, RO1-AI 20565, PO1-HL55798, RO1-HL136098-01, RO1-HL107490)

About the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI): NHLBI, a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), plans, conducts, and supports research related to the causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart, blood vessel, lung, and blood diseases; and sleep disorders. The Institute also administers national health education campaigns on women and heart disease, healthy weight for children, and other topics. NHLBI press releases and other materials are available online at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

NIH/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Related Heart Disease Articles:

Arsenic in drinking water may change heart structure raising risk of heart disease
Drinking water that is contaminated with arsenic may lead to thickening of the heart's main pumping chamber in young adults, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
New health calculator can help predict heart disease risk, estimate heart age
A new online health calculator can help people determine their risk of heart disease, as well as their heart age, accounting for sociodemographic factors such as ethnicity, sense of belonging and education, as well as health status and lifestyle behaviors.
Wide variation in rate of death between VA hospitals for patients with heart disease, heart failure
Death rates for veterans with ischemic heart disease and chronic heart failure varied widely across the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system from 2010 to 2014, which could suggest differences in the quality of cardiovascular health care provided by VA medical centers.
Heart failure: The Alzheimer's disease of the heart?
Similar to how protein clumps build up in the brain in people with some neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, protein clumps appear to accumulate in the diseased hearts of mice and people with heart failure, according to a team led by Johns Hopkins University researchers.
Women once considered low risk for heart disease show evidence of previous heart attack scars
Women who complain about chest pain often are reassured by their doctors that there is no reason to worry because their angiograms show that the women don't have blockages in the major heart arteries, a primary cause of heart attacks in men.
More Heart Disease News and Heart Disease Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...