Death by Health – The Luke McGuire Incident

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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…

Man Dies of Hyponatremia

Hyponatremia and Increased Risk of Death

Hyponatremia due to Hypothyroidism

Hyponatremia and Hypothyroidism

Hyponatremia and Adrenal Insufficiency

Hyponatremia and Hypernatremia in the Elderly

Hyponatremia in Nursing Homes

Healthy Man Dies After Taking Diet Supplements

26 Comments

  1. Hey peeps. Yes I’m aware the comments on this post disappeared into the internet cosmos. No not a conspiracy. Just a little glitch from switching over to a new web host. Carry on commenting as normal. They won’t get eaten again.

    Reply
    • I think it would not be unreasonable to amend #3 to say something along the lines of 3) Eat salty foods, and use salt liberally, barring known or suspected heart conditions.
      I’m not a diet guy, but that’s rather dangerous advice to give to a persuadable older person on the internet that might not trust their doctor (my dad, for example…)

      Reply
  2. And yes, a lot of comments got eaten on the last post too.

    Reply
  3. You mean that 5 page dissertation on salt I posted this morning is GONE???

    Good thing I didn’t actually post one of those… :-)

    Reply
    • I just deleted them all to spare you the embarrassment of being dubbed the “180 Salt Snob.”

      Reply
      • but I’ve worked so hard for that title!

        Reply
  4. Totally agree. Often clothed with the carrot approach e.g. earn points by measuring your signs with us (and by the way sharing all your info with us in the process) and another e.g. give us permission to look at your medical records so we can help you get prescriptions renewed by your doc online etc. (Gee, thanks, look at all this useful info that we can use to beat you with later.) Why do so few people mind giving away all this private, personal, none of your business stuff?? I don’t get it.
    Sorry, clothed with a carrot brings to mind preschool concerts ;)

    Reply
    • Oh! gone. Well this was in response to the freaky disturbing trend of healthcare getting more and more of your info and penalizing/controlling you through it.

      Reply
  5. Matt, this is a question in response to your high blood-pressure being cause by rein-angiotensin issues post. In light of that idea, do you feel blood pressure meds would ever be helpful? I know there are different classes, so I ask for diuretics (pretty sure I can guess your thoughts on those), beta-blockers and ace-inhibitors. Thanks!

    Reply
    • I don’t think high blood pressure is anything to be concerned about directly unless extreme. It’s more a sign and risk factor. Lowering it with some artificial means seems like a complete waste of time to me. I would need to see some very convincing evidence that lowering blood pressure by such means significantly reduces the risk of the diseases hypertension is supposed to make one prone to, and do so without signficicant negative side effects. Very few drug interventions ever pass that litmus test.

      Reply
      • Yeah, that tends to be my gut feeling on the matter. You should do a post on what people should do if they have high blood pressure. The only thing out there now seems to be low-salt diets (well, and just plan improving the diet – like eating real food and enough fruits/veggies – supposedly helps). Exercise and weight loss are touted, too, and while I imagine exercise is beneficial, I know weight loss can be a short-term thing. Maybe the old-school advice of lowering stress is best.

        Reply
  6. I was under the impression that Dr Young prescribed a liberal salt diet as long as it was the right kind of salt i.e sun dried and not processed. He has quite a few blog posts on the benefits of salt and sodium such as this one http://articlesofhealth.blogspot.co.uk/2008/02/does-salt-cause-high-blood-pressure.html.

    So yeah do you have the right info on salt in regard to the good Doc? The doc does have an imbalanced diet IMO and also it could have been a severely imbalanced person taking prescriptions to the extreme. Often people are prescribed one thing and do something totally different or take it to the nth degree. So yeah its quite hard to distinguish the truth from an internet story.

    Reply
    • This is a quote taken direct from the article.

      ”Bottom line, is that
      yes it can be harmful to consume too much refined
      salt, but you cannot consume too much natural
      unrefined liquid real salt.”

      Reply
  7. It is so very common for people to recommend drinking more water, the people I see lugging around water bottles are usually overweight and/or clearly hypothyroid, not to mention they chug it down during meals as well and if their stomach acid is not so great could result in them not assimilating nutrients properly. What you said about adrenal fatigue, low blood pressure and undereating hit home for me. I struggle to eat enough, but I am making sure I liberally use salt and it does seem to help although then I get really thirsty, how do I know if this is a fake thirst or a real thirst for water? By the color of my urine?

    Reply
  8. “…thousands of young people getting suckered into the dangerous internet health fantasy land.” This is so true!

    Reply
  9. We are constantly bombarded with messages that we need to ignore what our bodies are telling us and instead go with something that instead conflicts with what we feel. It’s just surprising we don’t more often read stories about people going off the deep end.

    Reply
  10. As a licensed acupuncturist in San Francisco, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen patients (usually women) who can’t understand why they are cold and peeing all the time. One of them had to interrupt our first intake *twice* to go urinate. Inevitably, they have been on a long-time quest to stay properly “hydrated”! A water bottle never leaves there side.

    One of the wisest things that Macrobiotics founder George Ohsawa ever said was that one should only urinate between 3-4 times a day maximum as a man and a little more than that as a woman; also, one’s urine should not be clear, but more the color of beer (not Guinness, I am imagining). Anymore urinations or too clear urine = too much fluid, which he considered absolutely awful for your kidneys and health in general.

    He also, interestingly enough, cautioned against eating too many high potassium foods, suggesting that a wise potassium to sodium ratio is about 5:1, but differs depending on your constitution, the environment in which you live, and the season.

    You’ll note that the potassium to sodium ratio of an avocado is rather extreme. Not to mention (and an article could be written on it) that high potassium foods are very cooling metabolically and are almost always found in warm to hot climates, which is where they should be consumed precisely because they are cooling.

    But yes, Robert Young is a nutter because anyone who promotes a diet that elevates one side of the ph spectrum against the other is clearly an idiot. If your veinous blood ph shifts dramatically to the acid OR alkaline side too much, you will either be very physically or mentally ill. Beyond that, you will be dead. That’s why we have something called “physiological homeostasis.” Any extreme taken too far for too long will usually cause problems.

    But we live in an extreme culture; also, extreme sells books because you have to differentiate yourself and no one will buy a book about moderation. If one wants to discover a sane and healthy way to eat, it’s probably best to look backward (since science is grossly open to bias, dogma, and outright fraud): Weston Price’s work; Pottenger’s work; and aspects of traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda give us a sense of how people have been living and eating for a long time in relative health and sanity.

    Reply
  11. This post made me laugh out loud- I was thinking, “Wow, this from the guy who got me into RBTI!” (OK, not so funny for the poor guy who died.) But you’ve clearly come a long way since RBTI, and I am beginning to agree with you: too much experimenting with extreme diets is not benign.

    Reply
    • It’s definitely not benign. RBTI taught me a lot because it was so regimented. And it really guided me to understanding what I understand now about the role of fluids in metabolism. Turns out most of the people who did great were those who, prior to RBTI, were hitting double zeros on a refractometer several times per day (or hour). Keep it above 1.5 all the time – feel better.

      Reply
  12. Last night, I had a TV programme on in the background called “fat, sick and dying” or something like that. It featured a 41 year old fat man on many meds going on a juice only diet for 60 days to “heal himself from the inside.” At least he was doing it under medical supervision.

    I thought yikes! what about all that potassium and no salt? Also, don’t you need to eat fat with some vitamins and minerals to absorb them properly? He was able to do it without going bonkers and his medical results were fantastic and travelled the US convincing others to do the same. The show was very convincing, even with what I know from this blog and my own dietary follies. Too good to be true. Imagine what impact it would have on other people without any knowledge?

    Reply
  13. Wow Matt you are so off on the Dr Young situation. The coroners report clearly contradicts everrything that Dr. Young advocates. His lifestyle transformation diet is not something as extreme as what “luke mcquire” was doing. Dr. Youngs program does not call for potatoes of any kind, fruits or low salt. His program has helped thousands and thousands of people including myself of Stage 3 Breast Cancer and now I am stage 0. I have had no chemo, no radiation and no surgery. Here is what the PH Miracle consists of in a nutshell.
    Remove harmful items that destroy your blood. (Sugar (poison), dairy, animal meat and proteins, white flours, wheat flour and gluten. Dr Young advocates salt (real). Here is a typical day on the plan. Nothing harmful in it at all. ,

    1) Exercise (Yoga, stress reduction exercises, rebounding…one hour to sweat)
    2) Breakfast ( Green shakes, green juices, almond milk, grapefruits, hemp seeds, green water,..)
    3) Lunch is usually nice healthy salad with non vinegar dressings, lots of oils (avocado or olive oil), citrus squeezed juice, garlic, lots of seasonings. Veggies in the salad (peppers, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, celery, asparagus, carrots…etc Healing soup lots of green veggies steamed then pureed with salt, pepper and seasonings. You can eat as much as you want.
    4) full body lymphatic massage which drains all the lymph nodes and feels AWESOMe
    5) Walks, swimming or light exercise in the afternoon
    6) Infrared sauna for 30 minutes or more.
    7) Dinner More salads, gluten free pastas, beans, and more great dressings made from avocados, citrus (lemon or lime flavored) nuts, green drinks, green shake and almond milk., More all you can eat soup with seasonings.

    So this is the program in a nutshell and yet you know nothing about it and yet you call ‘Dr” Young a nutter. Your word not mine,. I have a challenge for you. Come to the ranch for two weeks go through the very healthy program and tell people how you feel.. It seems Dr. Young has lots of critics but they are normally like you, uninformed and uneducated in the ways of the program.

    Just for your information 50 years ago, chiropractors, acupuntrists, vegans, vegetarians and raw food nutritionists were considered quacky and nutty. Most of them are now covered under most healthcare plans.

    Dr. Young never wants to blame someone for their own death. This young man was not following the protocol and his death was not result of the program but actually the result of NOT following the plan.

    Reply
    • The news organization had it wrong – mentioning Dr. Young and subtly indicating some role he had.

      Dr. Young, and his diet, are both fucking stupid. I have eaten plenty of diets similar to that, and it made me cold, lose all my muscle mass, libido, etc. That is a starvation diet. And that is how it makes everyone here feel as well. Feeling better doesn’t mean that it is healthy. I can take drugs and feel great for 2 weeks. So what. When the body is breaking down from starvation at a fast rate it feels amazing. Euphoric almost. Of course, when you return to normal eating you feel horrible, reinforcing your delusions about this or similar diets being somehow therapeutic or healthy.

      Reply
  14. Dr Joel Fuhrman does recommend to eat salt at all.
    I follow this advice for 3 years and I have normal sodium level.
    But from the other way salt causes high blood pressure.
    May be it is not nessesary to eat salt at all?

    Reply
  15. Dr Joel Fuhrman does not recommend to eat salt at all.
    I follow this advice for 3 years and I have normal sodium level.
    From the other way salt causes high blood pressure.
    May be it is not nessesary to eat salt at all?

    Reply
  16. I know this was posted a year ago by some of the comments. I was lead here by this http://butterbeliever.com/8-reasons-not-to-drink-8-glasses-of-water-a-day/. As to 5 If I were not concerned about my health I would not have been searching the Internet lol. This posting is one of those “That’s IT!” moments for me. I am not even sure how much I want to say and it would just be confusing anyways. This was an epiphany for me. I have always been health conscious and yet unhealthy. I’ve ranged in eating disorders due to tramatic abuse in my life. My diet has always been scary from one extreme to another leading to a lot of mental health issues. I’ve taken tons of supplements since I was about 12 years old. It’s been like a quest for me. Searching always never quite feeling good. I’ve been morbidly Obese for longer than 20 years and for the last 7 I have been learning to not control but I identify and help myself. It’s taken along time and I now know that my body does need food and liquids and have begun the journey of losing the weight. I am coming down from 475 pounds and have been stuck here at 372pounds for about 6 months. I’ve lived a veganish lifestyle and I say veganish because I have struggled with “OMG i need to eat that” which I have identified as needing a nutrient. Most cases it’s Iron for I am Anemic. Sometimes it’s Vitamin D or potassium and magnisum. I’ve added to my suppliments on top of what Doc’s give me. I care for my mother and last year she had a horrible episode which scared me. She has Alzheimer’s but this episode I knew was not normal so I took her in. That is when I learned that you could die from too much water and that Seniors need less water than younger people. It was an eye opener for me. Which has brought me to looking at my diet and I’m not so rouch on myself anymore if I want a Steak or Cheesburger maybe even a Dill pickle. What I have read today between your article and the one that lead me here really slammed home how much more I need to work on my Attitude about food lol. Back off myself and just listen. I will however keept the strain of “Real Food” going and will look for more Nutrient based drinks. What lead me to the internet search today was the fact that I have been forcing myself to drink Lemon Water in hopes of jump starting the weight loss again. It’s actually been making me sick. Not feeling well. Swelling and Clear urine. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

    Reply

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