Q. I was diagnosed with alpha-gal allergy a year ago. I noticed the symptoms after eating beef and eventually had a blood test that was diagnostic. I never saw a tick on my skin, but I did have a severe case of chiggers before I started to have reactions to beef. Can chiggers also cause this reaction?

A. We first heard about alpha-gal allergy about a decade ago. People were showing up in emergency rooms with unusual symptoms, often in the middle of the night. Many were awakened with abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea. Some also experienced an itchy skin rash, sneezing, breathing problems and swelling of the face, lips or tongue.

Researchers eventually traced this syndrome to the bites of Lone Star ticks. The alpha-gal molecule is transmitted through the tick’s saliva into humans, where it triggers an immune reaction. Meat from mammals such as cows, rabbits, pigs and deer contain alpha-gal. Eating such meat can cause a bad reaction a few hours later.

There is now some research to suggest that bites from chiggers (aka, redbugs, harvest mites, etc.) can also trigger this alpha-gal meat allergy (Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. In Practice, February 2019). The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid mammalian meat. You can learn much more about this condition by listening to our free podcast (Show 1167) at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Q. I’ve had migraines since I was 12 years old. About 35 years ago I read that taking feverfew at the beginning of a migraine would give quick relief.

I discovered that if I take one feverfew and two ibuprofen capsules as soon as I notice the visual disturbance I get before the headache, the migraine itself never develops! This remedy has worked like a miracle for me. It has also worked for my daughter and several of my friends.

A. Scientific studies tend to support your experience, although most have examined feverfew as a preventative rather than a treatment. One review found strong evidence for butterbur (Petasites) and moderate evidence for feverfew (MIG-99) and NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Neurology, April 24, 2012).

There is even a fascinating description of the mechanism. Parthenolide, the active ingredient in feverfew, blocks the TRPA1 channels that often trigger migraine (Pain, December 2013).

Other migraine sufferers might want to know more about feverfew, butterbur and other approaches to preventing these debilitating headaches. We have written about them in our eGuide to Headaches and Migraines. This online resource is available in the Health eGuides section of www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Q. I have a friend who is suffering from shingles. She’s been told that canned tuna makes it worse, because canned tuna is rich in arginine that helps the shingles virus replicate. Is there any substance to such a contention?

A. Arginine is an amino acid that is essential for the replication of the herpes viruses that cause shingles and cold sores. High protein foods such as red meat, poultry, nuts, fish and dairy products are rich in arginine.

We found a case report of a healthy young man who developed recurrent shingles in his eyes (American Journal of Ophthalmology Case Reports, December 2019). His doctors attributed his unusual reaction to the L-arginine supplements he was taking as a weight lifter. Like other fish, tuna contains arginine. We don’t know whether cutting back on this amino acid will help shingles heal more quickly.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website:

www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

—King Features

Recommended for you