New hypothesis could explain what really killed Bruce Lee

With his iconic yells, facial expressions, and the fact that he created his own style of martial arts, few have left as legendary a legacy as Bruce Lee. So his sudden and mysterious death on July 20, 1973, at the age of 32, has given rise to numerous conspiracy theories for decades. Now a new study aims to shed light on the death of the celebrated movie star and martial artist.

To date, the most accepted hypothesis about the death of Bruce Lee –among others such as that he was murdered by Chinese gangsters, that he succumbed to a family curse or that he died of heat stroke– is based on his autopsy, which revealed that he died from cerebral edema (swelling of the brain), which is believed to have been a reaction to a painkiller he had taken.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bruce Lee in a scene from “Game of Death,” an incomplete Hong Kong martial arts film, shot August-October 1972, directed, written, produced, and starring Bruce Lee; his last film project.

Bruce Lee would have drunk too much water

However, researchers have now suggested that the edema that caused her death might have been caused by hyponatremia instead. In other words, the martial arts legend might have died from drinking too much water.

“We propose that the kidney’s inability to excrete excess water killed Bruce Lee,” wrote the team of researchers in the journal Clinical Kidney Journal.

To reach their conclusion, the study authors began by reviewing the known facts surrounding Lee’s death. For example, it is well documented that the famous actor experienced a headache and dizziness around 7:30 p.m., shortly after smoking cannabis and drinking water. He then took a pain reliever called Equagesic. and two hours later he was found unconscious.

Several factors suggest that Lee may have been consuming unusually high amounts of fluid at the time due to his diet, which consisted of many juices and protein drinks, and marijuana use, which causes increased thirst.

Study rules out extreme reaction to Equagesic

The autopsy revealed that his brain had swollen to 1,575 grams –the brains usually around 1,400 grams – so doctors listed cerebral edema (swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in body tissues) as the cause of death, which occurred due to an extreme reaction to Equagesic.

Bruce Lee's funeral in 1973. Bruce Lee’s funeral in 1973.

However, the study authors note that she only took the drug after experiencing a headache and dizziness, which may indicate that her brain had started to swell before taking the pill. In addition, they say that “cerebral edema would not be expected to be the only autopsy finding if hypersensitivity to Equagesic was indeed the cause of death.”

Therefore, the study claims that the actual cause was the martial artist’s inability to excrete the excess from his kidneys, a condition called hyponatremia. This usually occurs when someone drinks a large amount of water in a minimum period of time.

“Lee had multiple risk factors that predisposed to hyponatremia as a result of interference with water homeostasis mechanisms that regulate both water intake and excretion,” the study says. “Our hypothesis is that Bruce Lee died from a specific form of kidney dysfunction: the inability to excrete enough water to maintain fluid homeostasis.”

“Ironically, Lee made the ‘Be water my friend’ quote famous, but too much water appears to have ultimately killed him,” the researchers concluded.

Edited by Felipe Espinosa Wang.

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New hypothesis could explain what really killed Bruce Lee


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