If you haven’t already heard of it, you may be wondering what in the world the term Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) means.  Is it a new co-infection that you haven’t come across or your LLMD hasn’t explained?  Is it a new supplement available for Lyme?  Is it a new female superhero emerging from the comic universe?

Alpha-gal is a term dubbed for food intolerance, red-meat allergy, or more specifically, an IgG or an IgE reaction to the sugars found in red meat and pork that seem to originate from tick bites (see report). When the alpha-gal molecule enters the body — via a tick bite or otherwise — the immune system produces antibodies to fight it. But ticks are not the only way to be exposed to the Alpha-gal carbohydrate. Traces of it are also evident in gelatin-containing foods, medicines and vaccines. It can be found in bovine/porcine heart valves, the blood thinner Heparain and the cancer drug Cetuximab. It is also present in some anti-venoms and pancreatic enzyme replacement meds.

How do you know you’ve been exposed to the above and are having an Alpha-gal reaction? These are the common symptoms of alpha-gal syndrome:

  • Stuffy or running nose
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hives or rash on the skin
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Asthma
  • Anaphylaxis

Note that while an anaphylactic reaction requires immediate medical attention because restricted breathing can be fatal, this symptom is rather rare for Alpha-gal sufferers.

In late 2017 and to the present, Alpha-gal was a very hot topic in the Lyme community. It has seemingly flourished with other health concerns, and autoimmune issues, and it is seen in many Lyme patients to date. No one really knows why this intolerance develops completely, though there are some theories.

Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerance

We are not talking about a typical food allergy here, which is known as an IgE reaction- thereby causing the body to produce histamines and with a prospective end result of potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis.  It is more specifically, an IgG food sensitivity that causes the body to produce cytokines; i.e. inflammatory chemicals in the body.  The vast difference between an IgE true allergy vs. an IgG food intolerance is that said IgG reaction can take up to 72 hours to occur, whereas a food allergy is almost always immediate and again, can be life-threatening.  IgG reactions can be life-threatening, but over time they cause the body to produce massive amounts of inflammation.  (Korth, 2012)

Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid

As daunting as it can sound, a diet sans Alpha-gal is not as challenging as it seems. I always err on the side of “focus on what you CAN eat” vs. what you cannot eat. I have found in my two-decade tenure as a nutritionist, this policy works best.  Focusing on positivity is most important for success.

With an Alpha-gal intolerance/allergy, you should NOT consume red meat, venison, or pork.  But you can eat chicken, fish as well as any other poultry you’d like to enjoy. So eating for an Alpha-gal intolerance is definitely not the end of the world. If you are already avoiding other foods such as gluten, dairy and/or eggs or histamine-producing foods, this can get a bit tricky and I definitely recommend consulting with a trusted nutrition professional to ensure you are getting the right amount of caloric intake and overall nutrient density to support your body. 

A seasoned nutritionist, naturopath, and/or LLMD can run the proper testing to help you get diagnosed, as this may show up on a traditional allergy test (i.e; an IgE test). So many doctors who only test for this type of reaction to food will possibly let this go undetected.

For some patients, I have also seen many occurrences that when overall inflammation is reduced and Lyme is in remission, you can attempt to do what is called a reintroduction diet.  This entails embarking on an Alpha-gal binge day of sorts and then removing triggering foods from the diet to watch and wait for a reaction for up to 72 hours. If no reaction,  see how your body does with small amounts of Alpha-gal consumption for a few weeks.  If you start going downhill again, remove the foods immediately. If not, it’s possible the intolerance was eradicated, which is absolutely possible.  If it is a true “IgE allergy”, I’d recommend avoiding these meats completely.

For reference, here is a complete table of foods that should be avoided for Alpha-gal along with some substitutions:

Complete List of Foods to AvoidPotential Substitutions
Gelatin (jelly beans, marshmallows)Homemade marshmallows, dark chocolate chips, Lara bars
Red Meat (beef, pork, lamb, deer)Turkey Bacon, Bison Bacon, Chicken-based or plant-based Hamburgers: Soy, Chickpea, or Portobello mushroom burgers, Bison, Turkey, Chicken Meatloaf; Turkey or Bison or Chicken sausages
DairyVegan Cheese Cashew-based “Cheese,” Coconut-base yogurt or soy; Coconut Oil or Olive oil to replace butter; Almond milk, cashew milk, macadamia nut milk, soy milk, rice milk…  
Collagen (beef collagen casings, supplements)Bone broth collagen from turkey, chicken or cornish game hen
LardChicken lard or “Schmaltz”
CarrageenanNothing – it’s bad just don’t eat it LOL
How to Test for Alpha Gal AllergyA blood test for galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal) specific IgE (sIgE) is the main test that healthcare providers use to help them diagnose alpha-gal syndrome

The above material is provided for informational purposes only. The material is not nor should be considered a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

About the author: Christie Korth has been very passionate about health and wellness since healing herself from a crippling case of Crohn’s disease through diet and lifestyle changes. She is the CEO of Happy & Healthy Wellness, Inc. and the award-winning author of “The IBD Healing Plan and Recipe Book.” She has also has been treating late-stage Lyme disease for several years and is writing a book about her experiences.

Alpha-gal Syndrome and Lyme: What You Need to Know