Researchers Find Link Between Allergen in Red Meat, Heart Disease

Grilled steak in front of a wood-burning fire.

Researchers have linked sensitivity to an allergen in red meat to the buildup of plaque in the arteries.

Photo: ribeirorocha/Thinkstock

A team of researchers says it has linked sensitivity to an allergen in red meat to the buildup of plaque in the arteries of the heart. While high saturated fat levels in red meat have long been known to contribute to heart disease for people in general, the new finding suggests that a subgroup of the population may be at heightened risk for a different reason—a food allergen.

The study, which is supported by NHLBI, appears in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association.

“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 study leader Dr. Coleen McNamara, a professor of medicine in the Cardiovascular Research Center of the University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville. “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 in the United States is unclear, but researchers estimate that it may be 1 percent of the population in some areas. The number of people who develop blood antibodies to the red meat allergen without having full-blown symptoms is much higher—as much as 20 percent of the population in some areas, the researchers say.