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 partly funded by the NHLBI, appears in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology (ATVB), a peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association.
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.
“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.