A new study supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, published by the American Heart Association, reveals that plaque buildup in coronary arteries is greater in those who have an allergy to red meat. The high level of saturated fat levels in red meat has long been recognized as a contributor to heart disease, but this new study indicates that some people may have a  higher  risk for a different reason –allergenic sensitivity to meat.

Lead researcher Coleen McNamara, M.D., of the Cardiovascular Research Center at the University of Virginia says, “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. These preliminary findings underscore the need for further clinical studies in larger populations from diverse geographic regions and additional laboratory work.”

It has long been suspected that the allergic response of the body can trigger immunological changes that might be associated with plaque buildup and artery blockages, but  no specific substance that could be tested for was known until now. The blood marker they identified is a type of antibody (immunoglobulin or IgE) that is specific to the alpha-Gal allergen.

The researchers took blood samples from 118 study  subjects  and tested for  antibodies to alpha-Gal, indicating sensitivity to red meat. Using an imaging procedure, the researchers found that the quantity of plaque was 30 percent higher in the alpha-Gal sensitized patients. The type of plaque also tended to be more structurally unstable, meaning that they have an increased likelihood of causing heart attack and stroke.  The only recognized treatment known for red meat allergy  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.,program director in NHLBI’s Atherothrombosis & Coronary Artery Disease Branch.

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