Nav: Home

Meat sensitivity spread by ticks linked to heart disease

June 15, 2018

University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers have linked sensitivity to an allergen in red meat - a sensitivity spread by tick bites - with a buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries of the heart. This buildup may increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

The bite of the lone star tick can cause people to develop an allergic reaction to red meat. However, many people who do not exhibit symptoms of the allergy are still sensitive to the allergen found in meat. UVA's new study linked sensitivity to the allergen with the increased plaque buildup, as measured by a blood test.

The researchers emphasize that their findings are preliminary but say further research is warranted. "This novel finding from a small group of subjects examined at the University of Virginia raises the intriguing possibility that asymptomatic allergy to red meat may be an under-recognized factor in heart disease," said study leader Coleen McNamara, MD, of UVA's Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center and UVA's Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. "These preliminary findings underscore the need for further clinical studies in larger populations from diverse geographic regions."

Allergens and Clogged Arteries

Looking at 118 patients, the researchers determined that those sensitive to the meat allergen had 30 percent more plaque accumulation inside their arteries than those without the sensitivity. Further, the plaques had a higher percentage with features characteristic of unstable plaques that are more likely to cause heart attacks.

With the meat allergy, people become sensitized to alpha-gal, a type of sugar found in red meat. People with the symptomatic form of the allergy can develop hives, stomach upset, have trouble breathing or exhibit other symptoms three to eight hours after consuming meat from mammals. (Poultry and fish do not trigger a reaction.) Other people can be sensitive to alpha-gal and not develop symptoms. In fact, far more people are thought to be in this latter group. For example, up to 20 percent of people in central Virginia and other parts of the Southeast may be sensitized to alpha-gal but not show symptoms.

The allergy to alpha-gal was first reported in 2009 by Thomas Platts-Mills, MD, the head of UVA's Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, and his colleague Scott Commins, MD, PhD. Since then, there have been increasing numbers of cases of the meat allergy reported across the U.S., especially as the tick's territory grows. Previously found predominantly in the Southeast, the tick has now spread west and north, all the way into Canada.

UVA's new study suggests that doctors could develop a blood test to benefit people sensitive to the allergen. "This work raises the possibility that in the future a blood test could help predict individuals, even those without symptoms of red meat allergy, who might benefit from avoiding red meat. However, at the moment, red meat avoidance is only indicated for those with allergic symptoms," said researcher Jeff Wilson, MD, PhD, of UVA's allergy division.
-end-
Findings Published

The work represents a significant collaboration between allergy and cardiology experts at UVA. The researchers have published their findings in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, a journal of the American Heart Association. The research team consisted of Wilson, Anh Nguyen, Alexander Schuyler, Commins, Angela Taylor, Platts-Mills and McNamara.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, grants KO8-AI085190, K23-HL093118, RO1-AI 20565, PO1-HL55798, RO1-HL136098-01 and RO1-HL107490.

To read a personal account of what it's like to have the meat allergy, visit UVA's Making of Medicine research blog at https://makingofmedicine.virginia.edu/2018/03/29/the-meat-allergy-whats-it-like/

University of Virginia Health System

Related Heart Disease Articles:

Pacemakers can improve heart function in patients with chemotherapy-induced heart disease
Research has shown that treating chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy with commercially available cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) delivered through a surgically implanted defibrillator or pacemaker can significantly improve patient outcomes.
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.
Where you live could determine risk of heart attack, stroke or dying of heart disease
People living in parts of Ontario with better access to preventive health care had lower rates of cardiac events compared to residents of regions with less access, found a new study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Older adults with heart disease can become more independent and heart healthy with physical activity
Improving physical function among older adults with heart disease helps heart health and even the oldest have a better quality of life and greater independence.
Dietary factors associated with substantial proportion of deaths from heart disease, stroke, and disease
Nearly half of all deaths due to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes in the US in 2012 were associated with suboptimal consumption of certain dietary factors, according to a study appearing in the March 7 issue of JAMA.
Certain heart fat associated with higher risk of heart disease in postmenopausal women
For the first time, researchers have pinpointed a type of heart fat, linked it to a risk factor for heart disease and shown that menopausal status and estrogen levels are critical modifying factors of its associated risk in women.
More Heart Disease News and Heart Disease Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Accessing Better Health
Essential health care is a right, not a privilege ... or is it? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can give everyone access to a healthier way of life, despite who you are or where you live. Guests include physician Raj Panjabi, former NYC health commissioner Mary Bassett, researcher Michael Hendryx, and neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#544 Prosperity Without Growth
The societies we live in are organised around growth, objects, and driving forward a constantly expanding economy as benchmarks of success and prosperity. But this growing consumption at all costs is at odds with our understanding of what our planet can support. How do we lower the environmental impact of economic activity? How do we redefine success and prosperity separate from GDP, which politicians and governments have focused on for decades? We speak with ecological economist Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Propserity, and author of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab