Bodybuilder Dies After Consuming Too Much Protein
Whilst we have all heard of the dangers than can arise from extreme dieting, comparatively little is known about orthorexia. Rarely put in the same camp as eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, orthorexia refers to a condition wherein sufferers become obsessed with achieving an overarching sense of health and wellness.
Instead of trying to achieve the perfect body or weight, those with orthorexia are fixated on maintaining a healthy diet. As a result, they may avoid certain foods or food groups containing artificial colours or flavourings, animal or dairy products and even excess fat, sugar and salt.
The rise in orthorexia can in part be attributed to the prevalence of social media platforms such as Instagram which often purport unrealistic ideals of "wellness". Just take a scroll through the photo-sharing app, and I'm certain you will come across several, nay, dozens of pictures of beautiful, lithe women clutching green juices, claiming to exist on a diet solely consisting of avocado, kale and chia seeds.
Whilst the risks of adopting such diets are not yet well-known, more and more cases are coming to light of women who have endangered their health by going on such extreme diets. Certainly, a 25-year-old bodybuilder died after her body was unable to process her intense, protein-dense diet.
Meegan Hefford was preparing to compete in a body-building competition in her native Western Australia at the time of her tragic death in June.
The mother-of-two was unaware that she suffered from a rare genetic disorder called urea cycle disorder which prohibited her body from breaking down protein properly. This became a serious threat to her health when she started to observe a strict diet of high-protein food in the run up to the competition.
Hefford attended the gym twice a day and often feasted on egg whites, protein shakes, lean meat and protein supplements. But unbeknown to Hefford, her body was having serious trouble trying to break down all the protein she was ingesting.
This allowed the toxic waste product ammonia to build up in her blood stream, leading to her eventual death. Significant amounts of ammonia can cause a loss of brain function and symptoms include disorientation, drowsiness and confusion, as well as strange behaviour and personality changes.
Although Hefford had reportedly complained to family members about feeling "weird" and fatigued, they had understandably chalked it all down to all the exercise she had been doing. It was only when Hefford was found unconscious in her apartment a few weeks later by an estate agent that her loved ones realised that something far more significant was at play.
Hefford was taken to hospital on June 19 but was pronounced dead three days later after losing all activity in her brain.Whilst urea cycle disorder is listed on Hefford's death certificate, doctors also chose to highlight that her death, can in part, be attributed to her "intake of bodybuilding supplements".
Hefford's family are consequently trying to raise awareness about the dangers of consuming such supplements. Talking to a local news station, Hefford's mother, Michelle said, "I know there are people other than Meegan who have ended up in hospital because they’ve overloaded on supplements."
Hefford's family opted to donate her heart, lungs and kidneys to those who require organ donation. Despite occurrences like this being incredibly rare, Meegan Hefford's case really does highlight the need for us all to be mindful of what we are consuming. Regardless of how "healthy" it claims to be, an extreme diet or exercise routine can never be entirely devoid of repercussions.