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Protein Overdose Blamed in Sudden Death of Bodybuilder

Now, her family is calling for tighter regulations on the protein supplements industry.
Photos via Wikimedia Commons and Instagram user @meeganheff.

Most people's bodies can easily break down the massive amounts of protein required for bodybuilding, but those with urea cycle disorder cannot.

Australian bodybuilder Meegan Hefford was one such person, though she didn't know it in the weeks leading up to a bodybuilding competition, during which she ate a diet consisting mostly of protein shakes, lean meats, egg whites, and supplements.

It was only after Hefford died that doctors discovered that she suffered from the rare genetic disorder, which affects an estimated one in 8,500 people.


According to Perth Now, Hefford's death certificate lists "intake of bodybuilding supplements" as a cause of death, in addition to the previously undiagnosed condition.

Urea cycle disorder is caused by an enzyme deficiency that makes it difficult for the body to remove ammonia—which is highly toxic but a natural byproduct of protein metabolism—from the bloodstream.

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Eventually, that ammonia can make its way to the brain and cause severe brain damage, coma, and, as in Hefford's case, death. The 25-year-old mother of two was pronounced dead in late June, but now her family is calling for tighter regulations on the protein supplements industry.

"I know there are people other than Meegan who have ended up in hospital because they've overloaded on supplements," Meegan Hefford's mother Michelle White told Perth Now. "The sale of these products needs to to more regulated."

According to recent market research, the global protein ingredient industry is expected to be worth $58 billion by 2022, and is "driven by the rising demand for functional food and beverages coupled with rising consumption of dietary supplements," such as protein powders and bars.