Finally, a medical therapy I can relate to. I love ice cream. Actually, it’s not a medical therapy, but a safe mechanism to “test the waters” in alpha-gal syndrome. This newsletter has previously discussed this uncommon condition that unfortunately is becoming more common. By way of reminder the syndrome is the new onset of anaphylaxis due to eating meat. It is a strange condition in that the allergic symptoms occur suddenly (hives, swelling, throat constriction) but are delayed 3 to 6 hours from the meat ingestion. It’s kind of similar to touching a hot stove and then feeling the sudden pain hours later. The reason it develops is due to allergic sensitization from a tick bite. The other peculiar aspect of the syndrome is that the allergic issue usually doesn’t develop for several months after the tick bite. Thus, people often don’t associate the two. The tick saliva contains a molecule called alpha-gal which is also found in meat, especially beef and pork. The diagnostic test is to draw blood and see if there are antibodies to alpha-gal. An antibody level greater than .10 IU/L makes the diagnosis “possible” and a level greater than 2 IU/L is definitive.
If a patient avoids further tick bites this antibody level can decrease over time. Once it has decreased enough then the likelihood for reaction goes away. So it is in this setting that the ice cream test comes in to play. High fat ice cream has a very small amount of alpha-gal, so if ingesting it turns out to be safe, then the patient can feel greater comfort returning to meat.
I guess I can justify my nightly ice cream dessert as a proof that I’m not developing alpha-gal.