Deadly Protein Shakes? The Story of Meegan Hefford & Urea Cycle Disorder
Deadly Protein Shakes? The Story of Meegan Hefford & Urea Cycle Disorder

Protein is essential in any individual's diet. It's all the more important (and critical) for bodybuilders as it provides the key amino acids to grow, repair, and rebuild muscle tissue. But, could the very same macronutrient that brings with it the potential for endless gains also bring about an early death?

According to one mother, yes. Protein, or more specifically protein powder, was directly responsible for her daughter's early demise.

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25 year old Australian bodybuilder Meegan Hefford was found unconscious in her apartment on June 19, 2017. The mother of two was rushed to Fiona Stanley Hospital in Western Australia for treatment, but never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead several days later.

She was in the midst of another bodybuilding competition prep and was consuming a high protein diet along that included several protein shakes each day. Meegan was unaware she had Urea Cycle Disorder, a rare genetic disorder which inhibits the body from properly digesting protein.

 

If Hefford's mother had found her kitchen stocked with endless packs of chicken breast rather than protein powder, would she be championing the regulation of chicken sales in Australia?

 

Urea Cycle Disorder causes ammonia to accumulate in the bloodstream and fluid in the brain. Ammonia is extremely toxic the human body, and when present in great quantities, as in the case of Meegan Hefford, leads to loss of brain function.

Hefford's death certificate listed causes of death as "Urea Cycle Disorder" as well as "intake of bodybuilding supplements." Hefford's mother, Michelle White, said she was unaware of her daughter's condition, "because they don't routinely test for it."

White stated she was also unaware of her daughter's use of protein supplements, and only learned of their use when they were discovered is Hefford's apartment along with a diet plan.

White told authorities she remembered her daughter complaining of lethargy and "feeling weird" in the days prior to her collapse. In the wake of her daughter's passing, White is calling for more regulations on protein supplements and hopes her daughter's tragedy serves as a warning for others.

"There's medical advice on the back of all the supplements to seek out a doctor but how many young people actually do?"

The Australian Medical Association stated that for the vast majority of people, protein powder supplements aren't really necessary, but that they're not dangerous for most people either.

Author's Note

While the loss of any human life is indeed tragic, to lay the blame on protein powder is misguided, absurd, and involves flawed logic. Hefford had a rare genetic disorder and could have met the same fate had she consumed too much chicken, pork or beef.

If Hefford's mother had found her kitchen stocked with endless packs of chicken breast rather than protein powder, would she be championing the regulation of chicken sales in Australia?

This author thinks not.

Protein powder and supplements provide an easy scapegoat in the wake of this tragedy, but they are not at fault here. Hefford's passing is an unforeseen tragedy in the purest sense and could have only been avoided had she known of her condition.