Bruce Lee was a Hong Kong and American martial artist, actor, martial arts instructor and philosopher.
On July 20, 1973, at age 32, he died suddenly with massive swelling of his brain. The cause of Lee’s brain swelling was not proven by an autopsy but was originally reported as possibly caused by sensitivity to aspirin. Now, nearly 50 years after his death, a well-researched paper with solid journal references explains that he probably died from hyponatremia, drinking too much water (Clin Kidney J, Dec 2022;15(12):2169–2176).
According to the report:
• Hyponatremia occurs when drinking too much water dilutes the salt level in your bloodstream.
• However, the level of salt in your brain usually remains normal or high.
• Fluid moves from tissues that have low-salt levels to dilute those that have high-salt levels.
• Blood fluids move from the bloodstream into the brain, so the brain expands with extra fluid.
• The brain is in a tight box called the skull that cannot expand, so the enlarged brain is crushed inside the non-expanding skull.
• The person stops breathing and dies.
Events That Led to His Death
“On May 10, 1973, two months before his death, Lee had an attack of brain swelling. He suffered headaches followed by a seizure and fell on the floor while working on the movie “Enter the Dragon”. He was rushed to Hong Kong Baptist Hospital where doctors diagnosed that he had massive swelling of his brain. A very competent physician saved his life by immediately giving him intravenous mannitol. This drug increases the concentration of sugar in the bloodstream to shrink the brain by drawing fluid from the brain into the bloodstream. The mannitol also acts on the kidneys to draw the extra fluid out of the body and into the urine.
“On July 20, 1973, while reviewing a movie script at the home of Taiwanese actress Betty Ting Pei, Lee complained of a headache and took a painkiller called Equagesic, which contained aspirin and meprobamate, a muscle relaxant. He went to sleep and then could not be awakened. A doctor and ambulance were called, but he was dead before he reached the hospital.
“An autopsy showed that his brain was massively swollen. The only drugs found in his body were aspirin, meprobamate and small amounts of marijuana. A reaction to aspirin can cause brain swelling, confusion and seizures, but now researchers believe that hyponatremia was a more likely cause (Clin Kidney J, Dec 2022;15(12):2169–2176).
“Since low blood salt levels can cause massive brain swelling, and the brain is enclosed in the skull and has nowhere to go, it is squashed to cause headache, nausea, and blurred vision. As blood salt levels drop even lower, the person becomes confused, develops seizures and falls unconscious.”
Lee was the founder of Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid martial arts philosophy drawing from different combat disciplines that is often credited with paving the way for modern mixed martial arts.
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