In case you needed another reason to be skeptical of trendy diets and cleanses, YouTube medical channel Chubbyemu has shared a post describing the case of a 39-year-old American woman who ended up with permanent brain damage after attempting a soy sauce “colon cleanse” following an extreme crash diet.
Unfortunately, details of the case are impossible to confirm, but if true, they serve as a sobering cautionary tale. According to the vlogger, who identifies as a licensed medical provider named Bernard, the woman presented to an emergency room in the Illinois Medical District in 2012 with symptoms indicative of rapidly deteriorating cognitive function.
After taking a history, by speaking with the patient’s husband, the attending physicians learned that the woman had consumed a liter of soy sauce earlier that day. Soy sauce contains 5,493 mg of sodium per 100 grams, and a one-liter bottle contains fluid weighing more than 1,200 grams – meaning that the patient had consumed approximately 66 grams of sodium.
According to past cases of salt-related fatalities, adults can die after ingesting as little as 25 grams of sodium.
To make matters worse, the woman – identified as “CG” – was already in a fragile state of health. She had apparently been eating only canned fish and white bread for the past six months and had lost 11.3 kilograms (25 pounds) in the past three weeks. Additionally, CG had been recently released from a psychiatric hospital for experts believed to be schizophrenia with paranoia. However, she had not responded to medication.
Per Bernard’s recap, CG told her husband that her heart began to race after drinking the soy sauce, but she resisted the urge to drink any water. When she arrived home, she began to stumble, lost her ability to speak intelligibly, then lost consciousness. Her husband called an ambulance, and on the way to the hospital, CG’s heart stopped beating, but she was resuscitated.
Once she arrived in the ER and the doctors learned what they were dealing with, CG received treatment for acute hypernatremia. As is standard for this condition, the intervention involved an IV of 5 percent dextrose (sugar water) – a fluid with a lower solute concentration than the fluid in the body’s tissues. Essentially, when one ingests large quantities of salt, the cells lining the digestive tract automatically expel water to match the solute balance of the fluid within the tract. In an extreme case such as this, the patient became dangerously dehydrated as her organs, muscles, and, eventually, her brain dumped out so much water that they could no longer function.
After the dextrose treatment – which causes the tissues to automatically uptake water – CG began to stabilize but drifted in and out of consciousness. The YouTube episode notes that she finally regained consciousness four days after her arrival at the hospital, yet she was unable to move her limbs and showed difficulty speaking and swallowing due to a type of extensive brainstem nerve damage called central pontine myelinolysis.
During her recovery, CG revealed that her paranoid delusions led her to believe she was being poisoned by the government. After researching how to "rid her body of toxins", she came across various online sources touting dangerously ignorant claims that drinking soy sauce could achieve this.
For the record, the human body does not need to be cleansed of toxins – it is already quite good at disposing of cellular debris and chemical byproducts through the many processes of the liver and kidneys. And if these organs are not doing their job properly, even the fanciest of green smoothies and herbal tinctures won't pick up the slack. Dialysis and an organ transplant will help, however.