Thursday, April 7, 2011

In the Sky! It's a Bird; It's a Plane....No..Wait.... It's ALPHA GAL!

I am going to introduce you today to something I'd be willing to bet you've never heard of ....

Nope, even though the name conjures images of some twisted sort of dominant super hero chick, there's no cape involved.

Let's back up a bit, shall we?
My food allergies hit me suddenly, and with a vengeance, about 4 years ago.
I have a problem with many foods, including cane sugar, gluten, wheat, rye, dairy, pork, beef and lamb (and now apparently legumes, but we'll get to that later).
The pork and beef allergies (I've never even eaten lamb, so no idea what it does to me) cause some nasty anaphylactic reactions...serious stuff.
Dairy...the reactions were mild before, but I've started to have anaphylactic reactions to milk and cheese also.
Bummer....cheese is one of the foods I miss the most.
And now....all of a sudden, I developed all these annoying digestive issues---pain in my gut, gurgling, strange bowel movements (I know...TMI; sorry).

I mentioned last post that my allergist had called and told me to avoid legumes (and yes, I was most upset with him), but I thought it'd be worth a shot; nothing else was helping, and stranger things have happened (especially in MY body!).

Lo and behold---no legumes=no pain or gurgling!
That means, however, no peanuts or peanut butter (honestly, I don't know how I'll survive this one!), and no beans. Beans were a staple in my diet, as it's been very hard to get protein.
AND it means ditching my most current protein powder....made from a variety of sprouted beans.

For the first week of this new regimen, I thought I was STARVING!
No matter what I ate, by dinner time, I was stumbling around in a daze, completely incoherent.
My poor husband would walk in, take a look at (or listen to) me and promptly fire up the grill for a turkey burger. We've eaten a LOT of turkey burgers over the last couple of weeks!

SO...on to my new super hero status---
My allergist had mentioned to me that there was a recently discovered anti-body that causes people to suddenly become allergic to pork, beef and lamb, having delayed and violent anaphylactic reactions.
It mostly occurs in the southern portion of the US.
And it is caused from a TICK BITE.
Did you get that?
 --wood tick, aka American dog tick--
ugly little devil, eh?

Unlike Lyme disease, which is caused by a DEER tick bite, from what I understand, this anti-body can be triggered by ANY random species of tick.

Folks, I live in the woods.
In warm weather, which down here seems to be 3/4 of the year, it's not unusual for me to pull a tick off my body weekly.

SO.... the allergist tests me for the Alpha Gal antibody (aka galactose-alpha 1, 3)
The reference range is <0.35
Mine tests out at 22.50

What does this mean exactly?
I don't know.
The allergist doesn't know.
The doctor who discovered this phenomenon at the University of Virginia probably doesn't know.
As much as I dislike any of this, I am grateful that this doctor is admitting to me that he simply does not know, instead of stringing me along, or treating me as his guinea pig.

I questioned him about the dairy allergy; he doesn't know, but it's assumed that since it's from COWS, the proteins are similar.
Aside---> apparently the protein in BISON is similar as don't want to know how I found that out.

As I rattle on about being really angry about the bean-thing, the allergist bolts upright in his seat; his eyes get all big and he stops talking....bad sign.
He's just realized that I'm not his only Alpha Gal patient who has become allergic to legumes.
He tells me that the other patient was convinced that his wife was trying to poison him, once he started to try getting more protein in his diet by eating beans!
But, alas *sigh*  The doctor cannot tell me what any of this means.

Another fun fact--- my 14 year old daughter had a delayed reaction to a hamburger late last summer; she'd never had allergies before. Her skin and blood tests showed an allergy to....guess what.....pork, beef and lamb!
Guess what else---I'd just pulled a tick off her in late spring/early summer.

It's such a huge worry, knowing that she's not careful about pulling the pepperoni off a slice of pizza and eating the rest. She didn't have a full-blown reaction that first time; she has NO idea what anaphylaxis is like, or what it can do to you. She's 14....she's invincible.
She keeps her epi-pen with her...MOST of the time.

Speaking of cross-contamination, I guess I just learned a valuable lesson yesterday--- no matter how careful I am about where I eat away from home, it happens.
I sat down to a steaming bowl of refried beans, no cheese at one of the two restaurants I am brave enough to frequent yesterday, only to find a huge wad of BEEF in my mouth!

I'm sorry that I don't have any answers for those of you who might be suffering in this way, but at least I can give this thing a name, and maybe point you in the right direction.
Chances are, your doctor isn't going to know much, if anything, about Alpha Gal, but know that research is being done at the University of Virginia as we speak.

The only advice I can give at this moment, and those of you from the South know that this is basically futile---
Oh, and here's some...ahem...light reading on Alpha Gal and research:


  1. WOW! I have always had a pretty fierce hatred of these blood sucking pests, but now I have another reason to bathe in bug spray before a hike in the woods. Yikes. Hopefully you get some satisfaction from knowing a little more about where this is coming from and that research is ongoing.

  2. Jenn, I'm so inspired by your ongoing courage to keep finding answers. You have a purpose and a reason for going through this ~ xo