I wanted to share my thought process and observations with my own recent experience with alpha-gal.
Alpha-gal, short for Alpha-galactose, refers to a complex sugar molecule found in the tissues of non-primate mammals, including cows, pigs, and other animals. It is also present in certain insects like ticks. Alpha-gal is known to trigger an immune response in some individuals, leading to an allergy called Alpha-gal syndrome. People with this condition may experience delayed allergic reactions after consuming red meat or products derived from mammals. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include hives, gastrointestinal discomfort, or even anaphylaxis. Alpha-gal has gained attention in recent years due to its association with tick bites and its impact on dietary choices and lifestyle adjustments for affected individuals.
Almost 5 years ago when I was doing my initial training with Dr. Soliman, about 1/3 of the class-tested weak to alpha-gal who didn’t think they had it—including myself. That explained why sometimes after I had bacon and eggs my stomach was off—I was beginning to think I had pepper sensitivity but we checked pepper too and only alpha-gal was weak. We did each other's needles as part of learning the process and 3 weeks later after I took out my needles, I had no issues with bacon and eggs. During that 3 weeks, I didn’t eat mammal meat or drink milk but otherwise, I didn’t kill myself avoiding mammal while the needles were in because I didn’t realize I even had an issue. Since then, I haven’t had any issues with mammal.
In an interesting twist of fate, my last tick experience resulted in a tick that tested negative for carrying any pathogens (thanks to the University of Kentucky tick tracking program, that testing was free for me) but I found myself experiencing what I thought was food poisoning about 6 weeks after the bite. I rarely get a stomach bug, but it didn’t feel quite like food poisoning. During that time, there was a stomach bug going around, so I stayed home to not share any bugs with my patients. I felt rough all day, but better by dinner which included mac & cheese with pork sausage…and I started feeling off again. I realized both dinners had pork. I took a Pepcid and within an hour I started feeling better—never progressed to vomiting. By the next morning, I felt great but was reasonably certain I had alpha-gal. It felt a lot like my patients' stories (I see a lot of alpha-gal patients!). It was going to be a couple of weeks to get into my doctor to get the blood test, but I see this every day.
The next morning at the office to get a clear test, I pull the basic alpha-gal filters: I check (alpha-gal, beef, pork, lamb, gluten, and MCAS) and to not bias my testing (because I know I might be weak to all of them), I add in some I’m pretty sure are safe: chicken, eggs, oats, rice, and avocado. My office manager has a good sense of feel and with a little coaching, I have good confidence in her ability to provide even pressure with each filter. She randomly puts them in the tray and tests me without looking at the labels with me looking away from the tray so I can’t see them—some test weak, some test strong…no surprise.
What was a surprise was the results—not the alpha-gal testing weak (I was pretty sure on that one), but the individual meats don’t test weak, nor does the gluten. It’s surprising as is the rice and the oats, but it also explains why I felt so bad the day before. I had a large bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and again for lunch to settle my stomach and felt bad all day. I conducted further testing using my specially formulated spays (currently in development, stay tuned!) with promising results. Now the question is how much mammal do I need to avoid to feel good? The meats and large amounts of dairy are out, but perhaps I can keep the cream in my coffee...
I do a 24-hour strict no-mammal or dairy diet and I feel great. Then I had my usual cream in my coffee—no symptoms initially, but around midday, I realize I have no motivation—I don’t want to be outside, I don’t feel like riding my horse, I can’t focus on anything I’m doing! Sure these aren’t allergy symptoms in the traditional sense, but they are not “my normal” by a long shot. I then eliminate regular cream for the next few weeks. I used coconut cream in my coffee and my brain wasn’t falling apart the afternoon! I take my specially formulated sprays and prep mammal-free meals for the week; including a dairy-free dark chocolate espresso bread with 9g of protein, no refined sugar, and no saturated fats. It’s not gluten-free; I adapted it from a gluten-free paleo recipe and swapped the coconut flour for organic white flour, so it easily could be.
In the end, it turns out allergies aren’t monolithic—it’s not always the same reaction to different things. I hear patients all the time tell me they tolerate dairy just fine and their allergist said they could have it because it didn’t show on the blood test—but just because you aren’t having hives, throwing up, or experiencing the “typical” allergies it doesn’t mean you are tolerating it. I’m not saying some people don’t tolerate dairy just fine with alpha-gal, I see patients who do. But it’s worth cutting things out for a few days to see what improves.
It’s not easy to do—I get it! My husband is not thrilled with this turn of events because he does a lot of our cooking and now he’s having to adapt for me. I thought a cake we made turned out pretty well, but he didn’t like it. Once I figure out why, I can hopefully tweak the recipe to work for both of us (I suspect he tastes too much coconut from the coconut oil or it wasn’t sweet enough for his taste). Apple sauce, banana, or shredded zucchini would have worked to tweak the taste too. I’ll try it again and see what happens. Cooking is an alchemy of transforming a pile of things into something else, and there’s more than one way to get there!
I’m pretty aware of what my body is feeling these days, I’ve learned the hard way to listen to it. My hope is you don’t have to suffer from not listening to your body—to be curious and notice not just the physical sensations you experience but mentally and emotionally how you feel as well and take that into account when making your food choices.
Yours in health,
Sure, maybe a little spontaneity is in order to spice things up a bit—but building your spice cabinet can add a little spunk to your immunity, kick up your body’s anti-inflammatory response, and perk up your metabolism, along with adding a lovely punch of flavor to any dish! If you're looking to add a little zest to your life—start with your plate. Dried herbs and spices are chock-full of healthy compounds that bring excitement to your palate and can be utilized for better health, too. Basically, if you have a well-stocked spice cabinet, you have a well-stocked arsenal for better health.
Spices may consist of the bark, root, stem, seed, or flower of a plant, which are typically dried, and carry strong flavors and aromas. They can be added to a dish throughout the cooking process to further develop their flavors into whatever you are cooking. Many spices are high in vitamin and mineral content, are great sources of antioxidants and phytonutrients, boast antimicrobial properties, help to reduce inflammation, regulate blood sugar, and even improve digestion. Using spices is a great way to supercharge your diet, add more complex flavors, and reduce the need for extra salt and sugar. Here are just a few of our favorite spices to have on hand along with some of their health benefits:
Chili Peppers: Fresh, dried, or powdered, chilies are guaranteed to add a little kick to any meal. With anti-inflammatory properties and immune-boosting properties as well, chili peppers offer the component capsaicin, which has been shown to reduce and inhibit “Chemical P,” the compound responsible for transmitting pain messages to the brain. This has been found helpful for joint pain, migraines, and neuropathy. The vibrant red color of chile peppers means it is rich in beta-carotene (precursor to Vitamin A), which also helps lower the risk of age-related diseases such as stroke, macular degeneration, and coronary artery disease. Along with Vitamin C, your immune system gains a boost to fight off illness.
*A little secret - I keep a small container of red chili flakes in my purse so I can add some spicy pizazz to whatever I eat, even if I’m on the go.*
Turmeric: A true “super spice” with a rich, earthy, and bitter profile, the golden-hued turmeric is commonly added to many meals such as curries, stews, and even smoothies! Its most active compound, curcumin, is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Curcumin can also increase the antioxidant capacity of the body, stimulating the activity of other antioxidants while fighting off free radicals. This can be highly beneficial for both brain and heart health. Curcumin only makes up about 3% of turmeric by weight and isn’t highly bioavailable, but you can increase its bioavailability by around 2000% by consuming it along with black pepper.
Black Pepper: More than likely, you have some black pepper on hand. Piperine, the component in black pepper that makes curcumin more bioavailable, enhances the bioavailability of other important nutrients as well. It can also aid in digestion by boosting the activity of digestive enzymes.
Ginger: As most of us know, ginger is a go-to for an upset stomach and nausea. Spicy, peppery, yet sweet, ginger goes great with soups, marinades, dressings, desserts, and teas. Ginger has a calming effect on the lining of the digestive system. It also boasts anti-microbial properties which can help ward off infections. Loaded with nutrients and bioactive compounds, ginger offers powerful benefits to the body and brain by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.
Cardamom: Often found in pumpkin spice mixes, cardamom is a sweet, pungent spice that can fight inflammation, ease an upset stomach, and is high in magnesium and zinc.
Some other healthy spices you may consider using are cumin, mustard powder, cinnamon, cocoa, nutmeg, curry, and last but not least, garlic (just to name a few!). Think of what flavor combinations would elevate your dish—experimentation is key!
Spices don’t just contribute to the flavor of food, they contribute nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants as well. With properties that fight inflammation, free radical damage, and oxidative stress—you and your taste buds will be doing a proverbial happy dance!
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