Fitness & Nutrition

Protein-Heavy Diet Led to Undiagnosed Condition and Death of 25-Year-Old Woman, Doctor Gives Warning

TIMEJuly 17, 2019

A protein-heavy diet caused an undiagnosed condition in a 25-year-old Australian woman who died because of it. Her story has prompted her mother and doctors to warn people about the overuse of dietary supplements.

After the birth of her first child, 25-year-old, Meegan Hefford developed a mania for fitness. But it became an obsession after she gave birth to her second child, reported Fox News.

Hefford’s mother, Michelle White, told The Mirror that Hefford exercised daily for two hours and was very cautious about what she ate.  However, the protein-heavy diet caused a lot of ammonia built-up in her blood—a medical condition that is called Urea Cycle Disorder.

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What Happened to the Young Mother!

White said after the birth of her second child, Hefford suffered from post-natal depression. The doctor prescribed some medication that helped her overcome depression but it also made her gain weight.

“She’d always been petite and hated being bigger, so she decided to get back into the gym,” White told the Mirror.

The mother told the media that she saw her daughter losing pounds, but within a few months, it became an obsession. Encouraged by how she could control her body by dieting, she started participating in bodybuilding competitions and became more strict about her diet.

However, one day Hefford suddenly complained to her mother that she was feeling exhausted. While White was leaving for a camping trip, she got a call from a paramedic who said, “Your daughter has collapsed and was found unconscious.”

Hefford was declared brain dead on the third day after she fell unconscious in her apartment in Mandurah, West Australia, on June 22, 2017, according to The Independent. 

“I couldn’t believe what the doctors were telling me—she was dying. I said, ‘You have to give her more time’ because she didn’t look sick, she looked beautiful,” White told Perth Now.

Doctors Warn Those Obsessed with Supplements

Dr. Oz told the “Fox and Friends” audience that one in 10,000 people are unable to digest proteins. He said this condition could worsen with age if the protein content in their diet increases.

The Independent reports that Hefford was suffering from urea cycle disorder, a genetic condition that makes it difficult to digest protein. The young mother of two wasn’t aware of it.

This genetic disorder happens due to a mutation that causes a deficiency of those enzymes that remove ammonia from the bloodstream, according to the National Urea Cycle Disorders Foundation.

“Historically, it wasn’t a problem because you weren’t going to have that much protein in your diet, but with the fads and diets that are out there and desire to lose weight, they overdo it. And this protein powder, in this case, the young woman was apparently taking, can overwhelm the cycle,” he said, according to Fox News.

Perth Now reports that Hefford’s death certificate mentions “intake of bodybuilding supplements” as one of the causes of her death.

Since her death, White and medical practitioners have called for more regulation on dietary supplement products.

“I think the problem with the supplement industry is that it’s really designed to make money for the companies which sell the products and not to provide any significant health benefit for the vast majority of people taking them,” Australian Medical Association WA president Dr. Omar Khorshid told Perth Now.

“This case is obviously tragic and illustrates that you may not know you have a health issue that alters the way you metabolize.”

Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.