Death by protein: Supplements, genetic disorder make for deadly combo
Published Thursday, August 17, 2017 8:51AM EDT
The death of an Australian bodybuilder with a rare genetic disorder should serve as a cautionary tale for those who use protein supplements, a sport doctor says.
Meegan Hefford, 25, made international headlines with her death this week from complications caused by her use of protein supplements. The young mother reported feeling fatigued and “weird” before she was found unconscious in her apartment, and died in hospital two days later.
Doctors say Hefford died due to urea cycle disorder, a rare condition that prevents the body from fully clearing broken-down protein byproducts out of the bloodstream. UCD can also lead to slurred speech, confusion and a buildup of fluid in the brain.
Athletes and exercise enthusiasts often use protein supplements to boost muscle growth after a workout. But sports medicine expert Dr. Chris Woollam says he’s concerned by the fitness trend toward supplements.
“We get enough protein in our diet, generally,” he said. “Why people are pushing higher and higher levels, I’m not sure.”
Dr. Woollam says additional protein can be helpful for those training their muscles at a high level, but the benefit is “not that much more,” and only a little extra protein is needed.
However, if an individual has UCD, the excess urea that can build up from high levels of protein could ultimately be very harmful.
Toronto doctor and former bodybuilder Angelina Yee says UCD affects only about one in every 8,000 individuals, so most people shouldn’t be worried about overdoing it with the protein.
“Your body should naturally process it and use what it needs to build the muscle and excrete the rest,” she said.
Dr. Yee adds that overall diet is hugely important when it comes to getting more fit. “Diet is equally as important as, if not more important than the actual exercise,” she said.
Hefford is survived by two children, ages 5 and 7.
With files from CTV Toronto