Water intoxication led to young man’s death

A healthy young man died when he drank too much water after taking salt supplements which led to intense thirst, an inquest was told.

Luke McGuire, 26, died after suffering a sudden collapse in the back garden of the family home at Oakley Rd, Ranelagh, on Jun 2, 2011.

Dublin Coroner’s Court heard excessive water intake had diluted the sodium in Mr McGuire’s system leading to swelling in the brain and his sudden death.

A previous court sitting heard Mr McGuire was following a vegan diet developed by Robert Young, a US alternative medicine advocate, and taking salt supplements — labelled “Young Phorever pHour Salts” and “Young Phorever PuripHy” — purchased on the internet.

Analysis of the salts showed they have no medicinal value but are harmless when taken as instructed. He also had a scheduled regime of very high water intake.

On the day of his death, Mr McGuire had complained he did not “feel right”, and stopped taking the salts, but he continued to drink a lot of water. The autopsy found he had suffered tonsillar herniation due to swelling of the brain which pathologist Dr Ciarán Ó Riain attributed to hyponatraemia — an electrolyte disturbance caused by lower than normal sodium levels. He said this may have been due to water intoxication and the salts could have been a contributing factor.

At yesterday’s court, coroner Dr Brian Farrell said he had consulted with a UK-based expert who confirmed that, although very rare, there have been cases of sudden collapse from water intoxication.

He said the sequence of events leading to Mr McGuire’s death began with the intake of sodium salts resulting in some degree of hypernatraemia — elevated sodium levels — causing intense thirst and water intoxication with dilutional hyponatraemia leading to acute cerebral oedema or swelling of the brain.

Mr McGuire’s mother Marie Rooney said his tragic death had “broken the hearts” of the whole family. “He was an especially beautiful person with wonderful qualities and huge potential.”

She said the family did not believe his eating regime caused his death but hoped the tragic incident would raise awareness about the dangers of drinking too much water.

She said: “We think it is important that this be highlighted in order to raise awareness of the dangers of over-hydration, given that the conventional wisdom that drinking large amounts of water is essential for good health.

“The Young Phorever salt supplement he was taking also played a role, not through being toxic in itself, but by disrupting his electrolyte balance which induced thirst and led to hyponatraemia.”

Dr Farrell recorded a verdict of death by mis-adventure. He said he will contact the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on the issues raised.

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