A high-protein diet cost a 25-year-old bodybuilder her life. Meegan Hefford's body couldn't effectively break down the nutrient, which led to a lethal buildup of ammonia in her bloodstream and brain, CNN reported. Hefford's condition, urea cycle disorder, is very rare, but because it's potentially deadly, her mother is now pushing for stricter regulations for certain protein products.  

The bodybuilder was found unconscious in her West Australia apartment, and pronounced dead a few days later. She leaves behind a 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. The young mother’s death certificate lists “intake of bodybuilding supplements” as her cause of death, The Independent reported.

Deadly Diet

Hefford was not aware of her condition, which isn't routinely tested for. According to her mother Michelle White, Hefford’s death was triggered by her unbalanced protein-rich diet. Hefford was studying to be a paramedic and had been following a strict diet plan to help her prepare for a bodybuilding competition in September, The Independent reported.

"There's medical advice on the back of all the supplements to seek out a doctor, but how many young people actually do?" said White, CNN reported. “I know there are people other than Meegan who have ended up in hospital because they’ve overloaded on supplements. The sale of these products needs to to more regulated,” added White, The Independent reported.

Rare Genetic Condition

Nitrogen is a normal byproduct of the metabolization of protein, but according to the National Urea Cycle Disorders Foundation, individuals with urea cycle disorder are missing one of six enzymes needed to properly complete this metabolization. As a result, nitrogen can build up in their blood stream in the form of ammonia. This ammonia can eventually reach the brain, where it causes brain damage, coma, or even death. There is no cure for the condition, although it can be managed with a balanced diet plan, supplements, or in some more extreme cases, a liver transplant.

Symptoms of the disorder can vary depending on the severity of the enzyme deficiency. For example, infants with severe urea cycle disorders usually show symptoms within the first few hours of life, and may be irritable, experience vomiting, and even experience seizures or fall into a coma. Individuals who go undiagnosed until adulthood may experience confusion, and slurred speech.

"Sometimes, people think it's the flu and might even go to the ER thinking they have a really bad flu," said Cynthia Le Mons, executive director of the National Urea Cycle Disorders Foundation, CNN reported. "There's a myth that this disorder only affects children."

If an individual does experience symptoms, there is a simple test that can be done to confirm whether or not they have the condition. However, urea cycle disorders are significantly underdiagnosed, and some cases, such as Hefford's, can have deadly consequences.

 

 

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A post shared by • MEEGAN HEFFORD • (@meeganheff) on Jun 7, 2017 at 8:50pm PDT