Over Thanksgiving I was asked “What do you do for a living?” After poorly trying to explain exactly what it is that I do, how my information differs from others, and so on – I managed to come up with a pretty decent summary. I told the guy, “I specialize in helping people who became extremely unhealthy trying to be really healthy get healthy again.”
I felt good about this summary because it’s the tragedy of trying so hard to be healthy and failing so miserably that I find to be most moving. In my 20’s I was extremely inspired to live a life free of disease, conquer some of my own ailments, and have a level of health that I thought was only accessible to our primitive ancestors. And in that journey I became much less healthy, and much more intelligent – the mark of someone who has committed a copious amount of mistakes.
Anyway, I bring this up because I was turned onto a story about a 26-year old Irish kid named Luke McGuire about a week ago. What happened to Luke could have happened to just about anyone – certainly many of us at the recovering health nerd sanctuary that has become 180DegreeHealth. Luke died, and died from what appears to be from health interventions that he pursued.
I find this one particularly sad because the cause of his death was something so simple and easily correctable. This simple and easily correctable condition is something that I have discussed perhaps more than anything else over the past year. Luke died in June of 2011, but if he had found and read my most popular article of 2012 entitled How Much Water Should YOU Drink, if he could have hung on until then, that’s all it might have taken to save his life.
It’s believed that Luke died from hyponatremia (low sodium levels) because of the extensive swelling he showed at autopsy, the phenomenal amount of water that he drank (no one reports how much, but I would assume in the gallon+ range each day), and the low-salt (and very high potassium) diet that he had followed via the guidance of the outrageous, delusional, and extremely scientifically-challenged Robert O. Young. You know, the pH Miracle guy.
There is speculation that some kind of contaminant in the supplements he received from Young were involved. It’s hard to say how. I suspect that’s a spin reporters put on it because they are looking to pin it on one culprit (the media has a strong negative alternative health and supplement bias to begin with), and they know very little about just how deadly the combination McGuire was pursuing can be.
I wanted to take a brief moment to discuss the most likely physiological chain reaction that took place and led to Luke McGuire’s death by health – both for those interested and to establish some credibility for those who stumble upon this article and really NEED to take it seriously. And, I kinda hope Luke’s parents find this too, if only to see that their son was just one of many thousands of young people getting suckered into the dangerous internet health fantasy land.
Luke was claimed to be eating a “low-protein” vegan diet based primarily upon raw fruits and vegetables and baked potatoes without added salt.
I would assume, after having dealt with hundreds of vegans and thousands on highly-restricted diets with only a few allowable foods, that Luke’s metabolism decreased significantly on this diet. Who knows how many diets he had done prior to that? Who knows how much he was eating either? If eating to appetite of a mundane and monotonous diet with very little palatability, that might have meant eating at starvation calorie levels. Remember that starvation studies of men Luke’s age used roughly 1600 calories per day to test the ill effects of starvation. Luke easily could have been consuming such calorie levels, and wasting away even faster with low protein intake with that. His “fruits,” knowing Young’s strong anti-sugar bias, were probably only cucumbers and avocadoes. Young recommends 12-18 avocadoes per day for athletes. Wow.
With starvation, eating disorders, aging, and things that trigger a low metabolic rate or low body weight, osmoregulation, or the ability to maintain proper balance of water to electrolytes in the body fluids becomes increasingly impaired. A person with a low metabolism can become dangerously dehydrated or dangerously overhydrated more easily than a normal person in a normal condition – a theme amongst the elderly. Luke might have been able to drink a gallon of water a day when he was in a healthier state, but he presumably compromised that state with the diet he was on – so typical of many modern-day health explorers.
In that state, there is often a very ironic increase in thirst. Luke remarked that he was extremely thirsty prior to his death, which was another indicator that hyponatremia, or low sodium levels in the blood, may have been responsible for his death. This sensation of having a very dry mouth seems to be in part an activation of the sympathetic nervous system under extreme stress. But thirst can also be triggered by low blood volume and low blood pressure – both cornerstones of being in a starved, hypometabolic state.
Sodium is also lost more easily, and a progressive decline seen in plasma, with decreasing production of glucocorticoids, or what is referred to as adrenal insufficiency or “adrenal fatigue.” This is often a hallmark of starvation, excessive leanness, or severe decline in metabolism as well – a state where sodium becomes increasingly important and potassium increasingly deleterious. A proper cell membrane barrier that keeps fluid from flowing freely into cells, causing them to dangerously swell like Luke’s did, depends on a high ratio of salt to potassium in the extracellular fluid. Robert Young is a huge advocate of potassium, and the diet designed for Luke, if it were to feature only fruits, vegetables, and potatoes with no added salt would be achieving an extremely high potassium to sodium ratio. Not dangerous for some perhaps, but potentially deadly for someone in a compromised condition on what is clearly an inferior diet.
Anyway, as always, the message is to be very careful about developing strong convictions about certain things being “good” or a ticket to immortality (a word Young has used as an adjective describing his diet), and other things being “bad,” “toxic,” or “deadly.” When you do that, you override your body’s intelligent feedback and signals for things it may literally depend upon to sustain life. In Luke’s case, a steady diet of pepperoni pizza and Coca Cola, a diet he had probably convinced himself was deadly, could have saved his life. In the end, it was his beliefs about what is and is not healthy that led to his death.
5 things that can prevent this from happening to you…
1) Don’t eat a diet you don’t enjoy
2) Don’t restrict your calorie or macronutrient intake, or ever let your calorie intake go below roughly 1000 calories per 60 pounds of lean body weight
3) Eat salty foods, and use salt liberally
4) Don’t drink so much of anything that your urine is clear
5) Don’t read so much about health in books or on the internet – your time is better spent exploring your own private parts (which is also a much safer hobby than reckless dietary experimentation)
As of December 1, 2012, you can now read about hydration and hyponatremia at great length in the book Eat for Heat.
Some references used…