Perth woman dies after taking protein supplements

Published: 13 August 2017 Image credit: Perth Now


A fit and healthy 25-year-old Perth woman has died after using protein supplements to prepare for a bodybuilding competition.

Meegan Hefford, a mother-of-two, was on a high-protein diet of lean meat, egg whites and protein shakes, to get in shape for an event she was set to compete in next month.

She had been feeling lethargic and “weird”, her mother Michelle White told Perth Now, before she was found unconscious in her apartment by a real estate agent.

After being rushed to hospital, it took medical teams two days to discover that Ms Hefford had urea cycle disorder – a rare genetic condition that affects one in 8000 people – and it was stopping her body from properly breaking down the protein.

“I couldn’t believe what the doctors were telling me, she was dying,” Ms White told Perth Now.

“I said, ‘You have to give her more time’, because she didn’t look sick, she looked beautiful.”


Meegan Hefford died due to a rare disease that stopped protein breaking down in her body. Image: Instagram

Urea cycle disorder causes an enzyme deficiency, which stops protein from breaking down in the body, and leads to a build-up of ammonia in the blood stream.

This ammonia poisons the brain, eventually leading to brain damage, coma and death.

Ms White says that her daughter’s death should serve as a warning for others taking protein supplements, and there should be tighter regulations and greater awareness about the products.

“I said to her, ‘I think you’re doing too much at the gym, calm down, slow it down’,” Ms White said.

“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 be more regulated.”

Experts say that the problem with the supplement industry is that it is designed to sell products rather than give customers significant health benefits.


The mother-of-two led an active lifestyle and would often post photos to social media at the gym. Image: Instagram

As a result, the risks of taking supplements are rarely advertised, and in some cases they may be doing more harm than good.

“Excess supplements can be more dangerous if someone already has health conditions, like renal impairment, but people won’t necessarily know they have that, so that’s why people need to be cautious and stick to what the guidelines say,” said Simone Austin, president of Sports Dietitian Australia.

“Most of us only need about one gram per kilogram body weight, even if you’re reasonably active.

“Very active people who want to put on muscle mass might need 1.5g per kilogram body weight. It’s pretty easy to get that from food.”