Scores of Americans may unknowingly have a sensitivity to red meat, which could be raising their risk of heart attacks or strokes, new research claims.
The small study has found that as many as 1.6 million people cannot digest red meat properly – meaning they suffer a greater buildup of plaque in their arteries when they eat it.
A diet high in red meat, such as burgers, steaks, sausages and pork chops, have long been known to trigger cardiovascular disease.
But the findings suggest a subgroup of the population may be at a heightened risk for a different reason – a food allergen to a sugary ‘toxin’, says the research team at the University of Virginia Health System.
Scores of Americans have a sensitivity to red meat. Research has shown that people with this sensitivity have a greater buildup of plaque in the arteries, raising the risk of heart attacks or strokes, a new study has found
While it has long been suspected that allergens in meat can trigger immunological responses linked to blocked arteries and plaque buildup, this is the first time a specific aggravating substance has been identified.
In recent previous studies, scientists have discovered the main allergen in red meat, a complex sugar called alpha-Gal that humans don’t produce.
Also a study from the University of Kansas Health System found that bites from Lone Star ticks, can sensitize people through its bites. Cases tend to be more common where the bugs are most prevalent such as the Southeastern United States and Long Island, New York.
Your body then creates alpha-Gal antibodies and, from that point on, the body is wired to fight alpha-Gal sugar molecules.
However, reactions to eating red meat aren’t the classic wheezing, hives or difficulty breathing that most people experience to foods they are allergic to.
Rather sufferers have gastrointestinal problems, diarrhea and vomiting, with occasional itching or swelling.
In the study, the researchers analyzed blood samples from 118 adults, detecting alpha-Gal antibodies in about a quarter – 26 percent – of the group, indicating sensitivity to red meat.
Via an imaging procedure, the team found the quantity of plaque in the arteries of the heart was 30 percent greater in patients with the alpha-Gal antibodies.
These clots, a trademark of hardening arteries, were also more structurally unstable, increasing the risk of the clots causing heart attacks and strokes.
‘This novel finding from a small group of subjects from Virginia raises the intriguing possibility that allergy to red meat may be an under-recognized factor in heart disease,’ said lead author Dr Coleen McNamara, a professor of medicine in the Cardiovascular Research Center of the University of Virginia Health System.
‘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 is unclear, but it is estimated it may be one in every hundred in some areas of the US alone.
And those who develop blood antibodies to red meat without having full blown allergies may be as many as one in five in certain areas, said the researchers.
There is currently no treatment for red meat sensitivity beyond strictly avoiding it.
‘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 Dr Ahmed Hasan of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Maryland.
For now, the researchers suggest following a heart-healthy lifestyle such as eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, getting more exercise and quitting smoking.