It was recently reported by Yahoo Australian News (August 14, 2017) that a 25-year-old woman died after taking protein supplements and eating protein-rich foods such as lean meats and egg whites in preparation for a fitness competition. Meegan Hefford was found unconscious in her apartment and died in the hospital three days later. She had complained in the time leading up to her death that she felt "weird" and tired, which her mother attributed to spending too much time training at the gym.
Hefford and her mother were unware at the time that Hefford had urea cycle disorder, a rare genetic disorder which interferes with the body's ability to metabolize protein. She was diagnosed while in the hospital, shortly before her death.
In urea cycle disorder, the body is deficient in one or more of the enzymes required to break down ammonia -- a byproduct of protein digestion. As a result, high levels of ammonia can build up in the blood and the brain, which can lead to irreversible brain damage, coma or death. Adults with milder forms of the disorder may go undiagnosed until certain stressors, including a high protein intake and exercise, trigger an episode of dangerously high blood levels of ammonia.
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