16-Year-Old Death -Due To Protein Supplement?

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Back in August 2020, a 16yr old kid, named Rohan Godhania, died 3 days after consuming a protein shake, in US. He was said to have died due to irreversible brain damage.

16 year lod died due to protein supplement

This news triggered global attention, and somehow is again back in the news for some unknown reasons.

Acc. to various sources, Rohan was skinny kid, and in order to put on some muscles, his father brought the protein shake for him. When Rohan consumed the protein shake, like millions around the world do every day, his tummy started aching during afternoon hours on the first day, followed by vomiting a couple of times, which is quite common in kids, due to minor food poisoning.

However, when the condition worsened the next day, his family took him to the hospital, and found a swelling in his brain. Rohan passed away on 18 August, 2020.

Rohan’s father was unware of the genetic condition of his son, and so were any of the doctors.

Rohan was suffering from a rare genetic condition called Ornithine Transcarbamylase (OTC) Deficiency. It is a genetic disorder in the body, which prevents the breakdown and excretion of ammonia. This allows ammonia to accumulate, rising to toxic levels where it affects the central nervous system.

OTC is one of six enzymes that play a role in the break down and removal of nitrogen the body, a process known as the urea cycle. The lack of the OTC enzyme results in excessive accumulation of nitrogen, in the form of ammonia (hyperammonemia), in the blood. Ammonia, which is formed when proteins are broken down in the body, is toxic if the levels become too high.

Excess ammonia, which is a neurotoxin, travels to the central nervous system through the blood, resulting in the symptoms and physical findings associated with OTC deficiency.

OTC deficiency can become evident at any age. The most severe form occurs in the first few days of life. This neonatal-onset form of the disorder usually affects males; it is very rare in females.

This is a rare disorder, and estimates of an early occurrence OTC deficiency range from 1 in 50,000 to 1 in 80,000 people.

Symptoms of people suffering from OTC deficiency, especially if they consume large amount of protein, include vomiting, seizures, lethargy, and coma.

If detected at an early age, OTC deficiency can be managed by dietary changes and medication, to reduce ammonia production and accumulation in the body. In severe cases, emergency measures like haemodialysis may be required.

However, the exact cause of Rohan’s death could not be determined, as his organs were donated for transplant, before a proper biopsy could be performed.

However, the media got what it was looking for. Their daily dose of masala, which now they will fry up in a pan full of negativity, sensationalism and self-made mythical conclusions, and serve to their viewers, who like always, without questioning, will believe in the nonsense they call as news, and not just relish it, but also recommend it to everyone around them; proudly proclaiming, how they were always right.

protein shake

Let me start with a statement. Not only is the entire media 100% wrong, but people who believe in them, are even more so. Blaming a death of a kid, especially in this case, on a protein shake, is like blaming a particular type of car for most of the road accidents.

Worse are various “anti-protein supplement” news portals and articles, which are laughable when you read it. Of course, when you suddenly, ask a finance guy to write an article on dietary supplements, that’s the conclusion they will come to. Though, same will happen, if I tell a fitness & nutrition expert to comment on the nuances of finance.

If a person walking on plain straight road, suddenly twists their ankle, you don’t tell them to stop walking or blame the roads for that. Yes, roads can be blamed, if there are potholes, or the road is uneven. Even the footwear can be blamed in many cases. But, what if the person is suffering from chronic ankle instability?

(Chronic ankle instability is a condition in which the outer, or lateral side of the ankle can’t hold weight and keeps rolling towards that side. Around 15 to 20% of ankle sprains ultimately lead to some form of chronic instability.

Why does this occur? When an ankle is sprained, connective ligaments are either stretched or torn, affecting the ability to balance. If the muscles and ligaments aren’t given time to properly regain their strength, a chronic, or ongoing, condition can develop.)

This is exactly how we perceive any issues which are even remotely related to protein supplements. Believe me most people writing such anti-protein supplement articles or news pieces, don’t even have an idea of what a protein supplement is. These are the people of same mindset, which believe a scoop of protein takes 3 years to digest.

Whey protein, for e.g. is already a component of human breast milk. Beyond that, whey is commonly added to infant formulas due to its benefits associated with infant health (although usually in a hydrolysed form, which might reduce the allergic potential yet has not been shown to have benefits over breast milk.

Whey, the liquid residue of cheese, casein and yoghurt production, is one of the biggest reservoirs of food protein available today. Whey protein is arguably the most nutritionally valuable protein available; little wonder that nutritional markets such as sports, clinical and infant nutrition are driving an unprecedented investment level in dairy production.

Today, Whey protein products are widely used in many applications, including infant formulas, dietetic foods, and animal feeds.

There are thousands of studies around the world in the finest of journals, which include not just peer reviewed studies, systematic review studies, meta-analysis studies, but umbrella reviews of the safety and benefits of high-quality protein supplements.

Here are just a few of the many:

  • Acc. to a 2023 double blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial, subjects were randomized to receive either protein supplement treatment or placebo control, for 90 days. Protein supplement significantly improved quality-of-life score by 85.76%, VO2 max by 42.92%, distance covered in 6 minutes, 100% individuals with at least 25% reduction in low energy events as compared to the control group. Protein supplement treatment reduced body weight (1.94 kg), waist circumference (2.46 cm), body mass index, waist circumference, hip circumference and body fat.

Remarkable and significant improvement in digestive and sleep quality score, percent skeletal muscle was observed among protein supplement treated group. There were no clinically significant changes in haematological, biochemical and vital parameters; indicating safety of protein supplement. Present study concluded that protein supplement is safe and efficacious in weight management, improving high energy events, aerobic capacity, quality of life, digestive behaviour score and sleep quality. 

  • A 2019 meta-analysis review of 20 RCTs, explored the clinical evidence on the efficacy and safety of WPS in sports performance and recovery among athletes. Athletes consuming whey protein were found to have excellent improvement in Respiratory exchange rate (RER), VO2 max, RPE (Rate Perceived Exertion), maximum power, and lean body mass. There was no side effect was reported in all of the included studies. 
  • A 2017 systematic review & meta-analysis study, determined if dietary protein supplementation augments resistance exercise training (RET)-induced gains in muscle mass and strength. Data from 49 studies with 1863 participants showed that dietary protein supplementation significantly increased: strength—one-repetition-maximum, FFM  and muscle size—muscle fibre cross-sectional area (CSA), during periods of prolonged RET. The impact of protein supplementation on gains in FFM was reduced with increasing age and was more effective in resistance-trained individuals.
  • Even very high intake of protein supplement in healthy resistance trained men, have shown no negative health outcomes. A 2016 study, found that, in resistance-trained young men who do not significantly alter their training regimen, consuming a high protein diet (2.6 to 3.3 g/kg/day) over a 4-month period has no effect on blood lipids or markers of renal and hepatic function.