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A bite from a lone star tick can trigger an unusual allergy that causes hives, swelling of the throat and lips, or an upset stomach when you eat red meat. But that's not all: people with this rare red meat allergy may be particularly prone to narrowed, stiff arteries in the heart, a new study finds.
Researchers analyzed blood samples from 118 adults living in Virginia and found that 26% had evidence of a red meat allergy (that is, they had antibodies to a molecule called alpha-gal, the main allergen in red meat). Lone star tick saliva may contain alpha-gal, so when a tick bites a person, it may trigger an immune response by the body, which then recurs when the body encounters alpha-gal in red meat. Lone star ticks are found throughout the southeastern and eastern United States.
Not everyone who is sensitive to alpha-gal develops allergic symptoms after eating red meat. But they still have measurable alpha-gal antibodies in their blood, and these inflammatory molecules may harm arteries. Artery scans revealed that people with these antibodies had 30% more plaque buildup inside their arteries than those without the antibodies. The researchers, who reported their findings in the June 14 issue of the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, noted that larger studies in diverse geographic areas are needed to confirm these results.
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