The family of a bodybuilder is blaming her recent death on an excessive intake of protein shakes, Yahoo 7 News reports. According to Yahoo 7, Meegan Hefford was found unconscious in her apartment in Western Australia on June 19, and was pronounced dead days later.
But it wasn't just that Hefford had a diet that was too rich in protein — she also had a rare condition called urea cycle disorder, which kept her body from breaking down protein properly.
However, Hefford's condition wasn't discovered until it was too late.
Her mother, Michelle White, told Perth Now that she had previously warned her daughter after she had complained about feeling lethargic and "weird."
"I said to her, 'I think you’re doing too much at the gym, calm down, slow it down,'" White recalled.
White also told Perth Now that her daughter had begun a strict diet in preparation for a bodybuilding competition in September. After being found unconscious in her apartment, Hefford was rushed to a hospital, where it took doctors two days to discover that she had urea cycle disorder. She was pronounced brain dead the following day, and her death certificate lists "intake of bodybuilding supplements" as one of the causes of death, as well as the previously undiagnosed disorder.
Urea cycle disorder is a rare genetic disorder caused by a mutation that results in a deficiency of one of the six enzymes in the urea cycle, according to the National Urea Cycle Disorders Foundation. Symptoms can include disorientation, confusion, slurred speech, unusual and extreme agitation, stroke-like symptoms, lethargy, and delirium. It can occur in both newborn children (about 1 in 8,500 births) and adults, but it often goes undiagnosed because the disorder is mild enough that their bodies still seem to function normally.
In Hefford's case, doctors suspect that her protein-heavy diet may have caused a rapid buildup of ammonia in her blood as well as an accumulation of fluid in her brain. High protein intake, the NUCDF says, can result in excessive ammonia for those suffering from UCD, leading to neurological disorders and even coma and death.
"I couldn’t believe what the doctors were telling me, she was dying," White told Perth Now. "I said, 'You have to give her more time,' because she didn’t look sick, she looked beautiful."
While protein supplements may not seem dangerous, Hefford's case is a reminder of how important it can be to check with your doctor before adding them into your routine. Of course, urea cycle disorder is uncommon, but excess supplements can be dangerous if someone already has health conditions they may not know about.
"There's medical advice on the back of all the supplements to seek out a doctor but how many young people actually do?" White told Yahoo 7 News.
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