Meegan Hefford was a 25-year-old mother preparing for a bodybuilding competition, and after passing away in June, her untimely death is being blamed on the combination of her extreme protein consumption and a rare genetic condition.
According to PerthNow, Meegan was drinking protein shakes, taking vitamin supplements, and eating protein-rich foods "such as lean meat and egg whites" to prepare for the competition. When she was found unconscious in her apartment, doctors initially could not figure out why someone so young and fit was losing brain activity so quickly.
The Australian mother of two was later diagnosed with urea cycle disorder, a condition that blocks the body from properly breaking down protein. While there is no cure for the disorder, it can be monitored and treated with medication and diet changes. However, it often goes undiagnosed, as it did for Meegan.
The rare genetic disorder affects one in 8,500 people, both children and adults, and when left untreated, it "leads to a build-up of ammonia in the bloodstream which poisons the brain, eventually leading to brain damage, coma, and death."
While each case of urea cycle disorder is different, for adults, symptoms may include "episodes of disorientation, confusion, slurred speech, unusual and extreme combativeness or agitation, stroke-like symptoms, lethargy, and delirium" from the uncontrollable amounts of ammonia being produced. Newborns are often diagnosed with urea cycle disorder hours after birth, but it can go undiagnosed for children and adults for years.
Meegan's mother, Michelle White, has spoken out about her daughter's condition and untimely death and hopes that she can encourage tighter regulations on fitness supplements to prevent tragedies.
"I said to her, 'I think you're doing too much at the gym, calm down, slow it down,'" her mother said. She explained that, in early June, Meegan was complaining about feeling tired and "weird."
It's unknown how many supplements and how much protein Meegan was taking, nor do we know her overall diet and workout regimen, but the combination with her undiagnosed disorder proved to be deadly. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that 10 to 35 percent of your caloric intake should come from protein. The average individual should have 0.35 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, meaning that someone who weighs 165 pounds should consume around 60 grams per day. The recommended amount of protein increases as we get older and if we are trying to gain muscle. ACSM points out "this level of intake can generally be met through diet alone and without additional protein and amino acid supplementation."
The Australian publication reports that her official cause of death was listed as "intake of bodybuilding supplements" and the unknown urea cycle disorder. Please speak to your doctor before making any extreme changes to your diet and fitness routine.