5

votes

On great athletes sudden deaths, what do we know?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created May 02, 2012 at 2:19 PM

We recently heard about the early death of Dale Oen, a Norwegian swimming world champion, at the age of 26. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/01/sport/olympics-swimming-alexander-dale-oen-death/index.html I understand that swimming is among the most healthiest sports, and there are other recent cases of great athletes affected by sudden death, for instance in soccer. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/05/sports/soccer/05iht-SOCCER05.html Beyond the specifics of each case, which are of course unique, is there anything to be said about why could this happen, that highly trained and successful young athletes had these terrible accidents? Shouldn't athletes be safe from these fatal problems, since their training and lifestyle is so well balanced? I am curious to know your views from a paleo perspective on this issue...

E242ecf1fecbac866894059f5304b4c6

(318)

on May 03, 2012
at 03:43 AM

I think Jesse Marunde also died of this..while lifting as a matter of fact. THe candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on May 03, 2012
at 02:45 AM

Yeah, the brains of the CTE athletes are in a hospital up here in Boston being studied. That Harvard WWE guy is all up this effort. The whole thing is pretty sad.

218f4d92627e4289cc81178fce5b4d00

on May 03, 2012
at 01:42 AM

Seau is in a whole different kettle of fish: CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a trauma-induced disease common to NFL players and others who have received repeated blows to the head.

Ae3b7ea9f3755af32287825db8d98796

(2022)

on May 02, 2012
at 11:58 PM

I don't know about professional athletes, I'd only be guessing. I'm thinking more along the lines of the high school or college athlete who drops dead on the basketball court. These are kids who are "in their prime." A simple test could have saved their lives.

742ff8ba4ff55e84593ede14ac1c3cab

(3536)

on May 02, 2012
at 11:14 PM

...and my shoulders.

742ff8ba4ff55e84593ede14ac1c3cab

(3536)

on May 02, 2012
at 11:13 PM

There is also a similar question that was asked to Robb on his most current podcast.

9f54852ea376e8e416356f547611e052

(2957)

on May 02, 2012
at 10:46 PM

Jon Paul Sigmarsson is one of the best examples of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%B3n_P%C3%A1ll_Sigmarsson

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on May 02, 2012
at 08:45 PM

I don't know, Philosopher, I used to row varsity with a heart defect that eventually led to a major collapse- I always did fine in competitions and was competitive at quite a high level.

81fca18329e68e227cdfef3857bfef96

(1320)

on May 02, 2012
at 08:26 PM

Grieving relatives.

E79906b3f6236b549ad8f060d4917638

(10)

on May 02, 2012
at 08:10 PM

"the first symptom is sudden death" what's the second symptom? ;-)

2b3edde3c7b9393fe36a2dd9c8acf473

(284)

on May 02, 2012
at 06:50 PM

It's important to remember that the marathon as an event was inspired by Pheidippides, who ran the length of the plain of Marathon to announce a military victory (so, nothing that couldn't wait a few more hours) over the Persians, and then died. It's an event based on pointless exertion leading to death.

78cb3c4f70de5db2adb52b6b9671894b

(5519)

on May 02, 2012
at 06:42 PM

Same here. I am aware that it isn't "natural" but boy, I sure want to complete a full marathon one day. The mental and physical endurance is something I want to claim!

Aa69579f867333b08158c70e25f7daf1

(1826)

on May 02, 2012
at 06:34 PM

My husband, who works in genetics, says there are certain genetic heart disorders which, for 60% of people who have them, the first symptom is sudden death, usually triggered by a stressful physical event.

Ac1e55cf06c2180f4008ff01953d10dd

(3524)

on May 02, 2012
at 05:54 PM

I honestly doubt someone who has a congenital hearth defect might reach the top as a competitive athlete, such as being a swimming world champion. Your point is valid for regular folks yet these athletes are subject to countless studies, so I do not believe that could be the case.

Ac1e55cf06c2180f4008ff01953d10dd

(3524)

on May 02, 2012
at 04:22 PM

yours is a very interesting view. Modern competitive athletes have means by which they can push their bodies to levels of performance unusual to our evolutionary past. It seems that going to the extremes is not always healthy...

11b7b7ba720a5cd43c74a0ef99a16adb

(3448)

on May 02, 2012
at 03:58 PM

They are supported by specialized doctors to reach an athletic goal, not to be healthy. How many "specialized doctors" have given athletes steroids to help them compete NOW, knowing it would damage their health in the long run?

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on May 02, 2012
at 03:49 PM

Thanks for the clarification- that's a weight off my shoulders.

Ac1e55cf06c2180f4008ff01953d10dd

(3524)

on May 02, 2012
at 03:44 PM

April I agree that no one should take life for granted. Yet it puzzles me how these highly trained people, are supported by specialised doctors might suffer sudden death? Is there anything wrong with their training or habits, or is it just bad luck...

Cfc7dee889a66db9cd76c4f348109294

(1652)

on May 02, 2012
at 03:42 PM

i did one and it was awesome. i trained carefully and built up slowly, listened to my body. i felt great, didn't bonk, and qualified for boston - 3:25 woo! you can do one and then be done. no more 50+ mile weeks for me ;-)

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on May 02, 2012
at 03:40 PM

SUD is not the same as AHS, nor has it ever been documented to be caused by AHS. AHS holds zero known risks for athletes, and all athletes with a low resting heart rate will have AHS. SUD is almost always associated with a different underlying heart condition.

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14 Answers

9
11b7b7ba720a5cd43c74a0ef99a16adb

(3448)

on May 02, 2012
at 03:54 PM

Is continually pushing your body to its extreme limits (which is what elite athletes do) really good for you physically?

Is the physical training required so elite athletes can perform their feats healthy or harmful over the long run.

While I'm sure the typical caveman faced plenty of physical stress and challenges, was it anywhere near the level that a modern elite athlete subjects themselves? My guess is no.

Ac1e55cf06c2180f4008ff01953d10dd

(3524)

on May 02, 2012
at 04:22 PM

yours is a very interesting view. Modern competitive athletes have means by which they can push their bodies to levels of performance unusual to our evolutionary past. It seems that going to the extremes is not always healthy...

7
Medium avatar

(10663)

on May 02, 2012
at 02:29 PM

Don't forget about the woman who ran a marathon to raise money for a charity and then collapsed and died near the end of the race just a few days ago: http://news.yahoo.com/marathon-runners-death-inspires-1m-donations-143816055--spt.html.

First of all, I have a much greater appreciation for life and how fragile it is. But frankly, these tragic deaths scare me. These people were young, healthy and in the prime of their lives and they went from 60 to 0 just like that. And I'm sitting here thinking, "I'm doing everything I can to be as healthy as possible and yet my body can still decide to shut down if it wants to." Well, shit.

So, I guess the answer is no: athletes are not safe from spontaneous cardiac arrests. No one is. Notice at the end of the link I posted that no one knows why that woman collapsed and died. She's climbed Mount freakin' Kilimanjaro. She was invincible. There's a lesson to be learned here and it has nothing to do with what you eat or how much you exercise. Never take your life for granted. Savor each moment. And tell the ones you love that you love them every single goddamn day.

2b3edde3c7b9393fe36a2dd9c8acf473

(284)

on May 02, 2012
at 06:50 PM

It's important to remember that the marathon as an event was inspired by Pheidippides, who ran the length of the plain of Marathon to announce a military victory (so, nothing that couldn't wait a few more hours) over the Persians, and then died. It's an event based on pointless exertion leading to death.

11b7b7ba720a5cd43c74a0ef99a16adb

(3448)

on May 02, 2012
at 03:58 PM

They are supported by specialized doctors to reach an athletic goal, not to be healthy. How many "specialized doctors" have given athletes steroids to help them compete NOW, knowing it would damage their health in the long run?

Ac1e55cf06c2180f4008ff01953d10dd

(3524)

on May 02, 2012
at 03:44 PM

April I agree that no one should take life for granted. Yet it puzzles me how these highly trained people, are supported by specialised doctors might suffer sudden death? Is there anything wrong with their training or habits, or is it just bad luck...

5
Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on May 02, 2012
at 02:57 PM

Troponin levels are known to be higher in athletes post-marathon run than in those that have just suffered a myocardial infarction (i.e. a heart attack). This is a protein released by the heart as it works (or breaks down, has "an event", etc).

To me, this doesn't mean "stop running!", rather this begs the question of what "endurance" really means. I think for most people, aiming towards HIIT (e.g. Fartlek training for runners), can deliver better overall health than directly training the body to survive a 26.2 mile run.

Having said that, I'd love to run one, and only one, marathon in my life -- there is something to be said for the sense of accomplishment of completing that event.

Cfc7dee889a66db9cd76c4f348109294

(1652)

on May 02, 2012
at 03:42 PM

i did one and it was awesome. i trained carefully and built up slowly, listened to my body. i felt great, didn't bonk, and qualified for boston - 3:25 woo! you can do one and then be done. no more 50+ mile weeks for me ;-)

78cb3c4f70de5db2adb52b6b9671894b

(5519)

on May 02, 2012
at 06:42 PM

Same here. I am aware that it isn't "natural" but boy, I sure want to complete a full marathon one day. The mental and physical endurance is something I want to claim!

4
Bf57bcbdc19d4f1728599053acd020ab

(5043)

on May 02, 2012
at 06:15 PM

THere is also always the possibility of doping. The case of the 48 Italian soccer players who mysteriously have come down with ALS... the Tour de France cyclist who died from amphetamine use... there is a lot going on in professional sports that isn't squeaky clean, and believe me, it is risky. I just translated an article for a magazine about gene doping, in which they'd use gene therapy (genetic material delivered by a neutralized virus) to introduce genes into the body, which then cause cells to express proteins (in this case EPO) that they normally wouldn't. It's undetectable. As far as we know it's not being widely used, but.. Here's an excerpt about how scary that might be:

Although EPO is naturally produced by the kidneys, gene doping would introduce the gene into muscle cells. The protein expressed in the muscles might occasionally have a slightly different configuration than the one expressed in the kidney. ???This caused an immune reaction in experiments using monkeys,??? adds Rusconi. ???Antibodies neutralized the new protein, but also the body???s naturally produced endogenous EPO. This resulted in very severe anemia, which was irreversible and fatal.??? In short, it caused the opposite of the desired effect ??? with disastrous consequences.

In short, whenever I hear of a young professional athlete dying too soon, I unfortunately don't exclude the possiblity that it wasn't of "natural" causes.

3
21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on May 02, 2012
at 11:26 PM

This is barely related to the question, but Junior Seau just died :(

218f4d92627e4289cc81178fce5b4d00

on May 03, 2012
at 01:42 AM

Seau is in a whole different kettle of fish: CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a trauma-induced disease common to NFL players and others who have received repeated blows to the head.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on May 03, 2012
at 02:45 AM

Yeah, the brains of the CTE athletes are in a hospital up here in Boston being studied. That Harvard WWE guy is all up this effort. The whole thing is pretty sad.

2
218f4d92627e4289cc81178fce5b4d00

on May 03, 2012
at 01:55 AM

I am curious to know your views from a paleo perspective on this issue

There is nothing "Paleo" at all about top level sports, it's pushing the body to the extreme. It's neither healthy or normal or "paleo". Athletes are willing to take the risk for financial gain or glory.

Push anything to the edge and you will get greater output levels, but with the increased chance of it breaking: Human bodies, F1 cars, overclocked pc's, whatever.

2
06bf7b92d77f1ac1d8e3dc9d539d8254

on May 02, 2012
at 09:03 PM

Paul Jaminet speaks on this: http://perfecthealthdiet.com/?p=3474. Chronic exercise causes oxidative stress, shitty diets contribute to and compound that stress. I'm not saying all of these people had poor diets, but most endurance athletes are known to binge on carbs, often in the form of wheat and other junk.

2
B1076248dde479773e75044818e1878c

(458)

on May 02, 2012
at 04:29 PM

One of my co-workers was just diagnosed in his early 60's with a congenital "hole in the heart" (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/holes/). His wife told me that he never knew he had this. His symptoms were dizziness, feet/neck swelling, fatigue, and heart palpitations. Early on, he had heart tests, but nothing turned up. Finally, they had what is called a "bubble test," and that showed a small opening. He had a simple nearly out-patient procedure, and all the symptoms went away. The doctors said he probably would have collapsed/died eventually if he had tried anything strenuous. They also said many people have this disorder but never know about it. You can have it from birth and it simply doesn't show up unless you have this more intensive search or identify the problems.

Interestingly, I had a student last week that almost went into cardiac arrest after eating a big chocolate bar and a large caffeinated soft drink. He had this condition too, and will also be having the simple closure procedure.

2
B8fa88e3a94784aeb9280cf1180564fa

(320)

on May 02, 2012
at 04:07 PM

In short, Sudden Cardiac Arrest can happen to anyone, regardless of diet. Typically these events are caused by undiagnosed electrical anomalies such as Long QT Syndrome. All sorts of things can trigger an SCA in those with Long QT, including a sudden scare, noise, or jumping into cold water. You can be very healthy a by all measures and still suffer an SCA.

1
81fca18329e68e227cdfef3857bfef96

(1320)

on May 02, 2012
at 08:40 PM

The quantifiable aspects of human fitness fall into 3 broad elements: strength, mobility, and endurance. For several reasons, strength is the most important aspect of human fitness. Please read Fit by Lon Kilgore. I believe it to be informative and an accessible read.

Professional athletes often train one area to the detriment of the other two. Many athletes that focus on strength to the detriment of endurance and mobility are overweight and unhealthy (olympic/power lifters, linemen in football are examples). NFL linemen have a life expectency between 51 to 58 years of age. Endurance athletes, such as marathoners, sacrifice primarily strength to achieve that level of endurance. Consider this study; http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/281/6/558.short, 'Among healthy 45- to 68-year-old men, hand grip strength was highly predictive of functional limitations and disability 25 years later. Good muscle strength in midlife may protect people from old age disability by providing a greater safety margin above the threshold of disability'.

The assumption that athletes live healthier and more balanced lifestyles may be an erroneous one.

1
Ae3b7ea9f3755af32287825db8d98796

on May 02, 2012
at 05:01 PM

1 in 100 babies is born with a congenital heart defect. This can be anything from a hole in the heart that repairs on it's own to a problem requiring open-heart surgery at birth. These defects are not always seen at the 20 week ultrasound and there is no routine screening at birth unless there is a sibling with a known defect. I have a friend whose son has CHD. She is working very hard to make CHD screenings at birth a requirement. It's a routine test that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. Knowing that a baby has CHD at birth could prevent cardiac events, like the ones discussed above,later in life.

Ae3b7ea9f3755af32287825db8d98796

(2022)

on May 02, 2012
at 11:58 PM

I don't know about professional athletes, I'd only be guessing. I'm thinking more along the lines of the high school or college athlete who drops dead on the basketball court. These are kids who are "in their prime." A simple test could have saved their lives.

Ac1e55cf06c2180f4008ff01953d10dd

(3524)

on May 02, 2012
at 05:54 PM

I honestly doubt someone who has a congenital hearth defect might reach the top as a competitive athlete, such as being a swimming world champion. Your point is valid for regular folks yet these athletes are subject to countless studies, so I do not believe that could be the case.

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on May 02, 2012
at 08:45 PM

I don't know, Philosopher, I used to row varsity with a heart defect that eventually led to a major collapse- I always did fine in competitions and was competitive at quite a high level.

1
1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

on May 02, 2012
at 02:29 PM

Hey this is a great question. I have what is called an Athletic Heart Syndrome, and it is where the right ventricle (I think) of your heart is enlarged. It is common in endurance athletes. I grew up in both soccer and swimming at a highly competitive level, and have been compulsively exercising more or less since I was 11. My resting pulse is between 42 and 48 depending on the types of activities I've been doing.

I do get worried that I may just keel over and die one day after a workout. As far as I know, the athletes that typically die suddenly to which you are referring had AHS. For some reason this results in SUD (sudden unexpected death) after intense exertion.

E242ecf1fecbac866894059f5304b4c6

(318)

on May 03, 2012
at 03:43 AM

I think Jesse Marunde also died of this..while lifting as a matter of fact. THe candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on May 02, 2012
at 03:49 PM

Thanks for the clarification- that's a weight off my shoulders.

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on May 02, 2012
at 03:40 PM

SUD is not the same as AHS, nor has it ever been documented to be caused by AHS. AHS holds zero known risks for athletes, and all athletes with a low resting heart rate will have AHS. SUD is almost always associated with a different underlying heart condition.

742ff8ba4ff55e84593ede14ac1c3cab

(3536)

on May 02, 2012
at 11:14 PM

...and my shoulders.

0
742ff8ba4ff55e84593ede14ac1c3cab

(3536)

on May 02, 2012
at 11:08 PM

This question is relevant to my interests. I spent a whole year with anxiety attacks thinking I was going to die when I was playing soccer, during the sudden deaths of two very young soccer players. I had a bunch of heart tests done and everything came back normal, but there is still a little voice in my head reminding me not too push myself to much because I could die.

742ff8ba4ff55e84593ede14ac1c3cab

(3536)

on May 02, 2012
at 11:13 PM

There is also a similar question that was asked to Robb on his most current podcast.

0
F5f742cc9228eb5804114d0f3be4e587

(7660)

on May 02, 2012
at 05:52 PM

What it means is that humans are humans with human variations and due to how many people are involved in athletic pursuits these days, some will keel over as a result of either the variation or the endeavor, or a combination of both.

It also indicates what our media prioritizes as news. Thousands die every day of all sorts of things, but we get concerned about one athlete dying.

In addition, we are learning more and more about how "endurance" sports are not actually healthy at all. They are a strange, historical aberration. And the fact that they are fetishized in our culture means that many people will try to partake who shouldn't. Witness the huge numbers running marathons these days.

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