Sadly, the woman in the photo has passed away. She was a competitive bodybuilder and mother who was training for another show. Given her lifestyle, she has to consume a high protein diet in order to build muscle appropriately; however, she has a rare genetic condition known as Urea Cycle Disorder that was ultimately the cause of her death. Now, the media is placing the blame on protein and supplements which is absolutely wrong. First, let’s explore what the disorder is. To understand it, however, we need to visit protein metabolism.
Protein Is Not The Enemy
Proteins consist of multiple components, one being a group that contains ammonia. Ammonia is toxic to the human body, so the amine/amino group is stripped off the protein and converted into urea via the urea cycle and transported from the bloodstream to urine. The urea is not toxic and is later removed from the body by urine (urea, urine, notice a pattern yet?). In a normal human with no genetic defects, this is a perfectly efficient process that we need not worry about.
Urea Cycle Disorder complicates this process by reducing the efficiency of enzymes that help with the conversion from toxic ammonia to urea. Due to this complication, ammonia accumulates in the blood and eventually finds its way to the brain which can cause coma and death¹.
WHAT I JUST MENTIONED IS THE CAUSE OF THIS WOMAN’S DEATH. Protein is not to blame here. Had she not had that genetic defect, she would be perfectly fine and lived normally on high protein. The cause of her death is a genetic mutation that occurred in her body. IF YOU’RE A NORMAL HUMAN BEING WHO DOESN’T HAVE UREA CYCLE DISORDER, PROTEIN WILL MOST LIKELY NOT KILL YOU IN HIGH DOSES. I can’t think of another condition or physiological reason that excess protein would kill you. Kidney failure is no longer associated with high protein diets also.
Like most things, news outlets and media have sensationalized this story with headlines such as “Australian bodybuilder with rare disorder dies eating high-protein diet” or “Mom’s death blamed on bodybuilding supplements ahead of competition”. I’m shaking my head wanting to angrily throw things because this is just blatantly wrong. Protein shakes, which are what Meegan was taking, are perfectly safe to consume for the majority of individuals. Whey and casein may not be good for lactose intolerant people, but it’s not going to kill you.
Now these headlines are circulating, leading people to believe that protein or supplements are going to kill them, which is just so wrong. It really is. Can you tell I’m tired of sensationalism? High protein diets have again and again shown that they’re healthy and safe for improving body composition, weight loss, muscle gain, and do not impact your kidneys negatively.
There has been an enormous amount of research on protein supplements promoting their safety. These products have been on the market for decades. If they were truly unsafe and killing people left and right, the FDA would have banned them by now or placed regualtions.
HIGH PROTEIN ISN’T GOING TO KILL YOU AND NEITHER ARE SUPPLEMENTS. Please do not fall into this pitfall (hah). If you need further evidence that protein is good for you, read my other posts about protein and high protein diets.
Lastly, this is an example of media irresponsibility. If you read more into the story than just the headline, you would see that protein is not the cause and you should not be worried. So I ask you to be a good citizen and research more about a subject beyond just the headline because the headline has to be eye-catching at the risk of often being misleading.
One last time for good measure:
Meegan passed because of her genetic disorder. Not from protein or supplements.
If you’re still not convinced or just want to rant with me, comment below.
Finally, rest in peace to Meegan Hefford.