Coroner calls for warning labels on protein shakes after teenager dies
Tom Osborne, the senior coroner for Milton Keynes has recommended prominent warnings on protein product labels, as existing labels do not adequately inform consumers about the dangers for individuals with urea cycle disorders
After the tragic death of a 16-year-old boy three days following the consumption of a protein shake, a coroner has recommended that health warnings be included on protein shake products.
During the inquest, it was revealed that Rohan Godhania fell ill shortly after consuming a widely-used dietary supplement, commonly used to build muscle and died shortly thereafter.
He suffered from undiagnosed ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency, a rare condition causing ammonia to accumulate in the blood, which can be triggered by high-protein intake, The Times reported.
Ammonia is a byproduct produced by the body during the digestion of protein. This condition can lead to the accumulation of ammonia to dangerous levels, which may adversely impact the central nervous system.
Rohan died soon after recommendations from neurologists to conduct tests for ammonia poisoning were ignored at the hospital where he received treatment.
During the inquest, it was disclosed that Rohan had consumed a “high-protein” drink in 2020 and was subsequently admitted to West Middlesex University Hospital.
However, neither his hyperammonaemia nor his deficiency condition were diagnosed at the hospital.
Concluding the inquest, Tom Osborne, the senior coroner for Milton Keynes, recommended prominent warnings on protein product labels, as existing labels did not adequately inform consumers about the dangers for individuals with urea cycle disorders. He also noted that these supplements were readily available to the public.
Furthermore, Osborne expressed concerns about the treatment of teenagers within the NHS and the guidance for ammonia testing.
He urged NHS England to conduct an urgent review of treatment protocols for teenagers aged 16-18, emphasising the importance of consistent and appropriate care.
Osborne also highlighted the need for guidelines on ammonia testing, diagnosis, and interpretation of results, calling for their dissemination to all healthcare facilities.
Without improved prevention measures, Osborne warned of a risk of future deaths related to ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency.
He emphasised that ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency can result in severe medical emergencies necessitating immediate medical intervention to avert life-threatening complications. This disorder can be triggered by the sudden increase in protein consumption.
In his recommendation addressed to NHS England, Osborne proposed that they should contemplate prominently displaying a warning on labels regarding the potential risks for individuals with an undiagnosed urea cycle disorder.
Additionally, he suggested including clear and concise information about the symptoms of this condition and the importance of seeking immediate medical advice.
NHS England and the Food Standards Agency are expected to respond to the coroner’s recommendations by October 2.
Protein shakes have become increasingly popular in the UK, with sales rising from £146.6 million in 2008 to nearly £463 million in 2021.
However, concerns have been raised about the potential health risks associated with these supplements.
Experts caution that high-protein intake from supplements can lead to side-effects, excessive sugar and calorie consumption, weight gain, and unhealthy blood sugar spikes.
Additionally, some protein powders have been found to contain heavy metals, pesticides, and other contaminants with links to cancer and other health conditions, raising further concerns about their safety.