Health & Fitness | November 23, 2022 11:41 am

A New Study Suggests Bruce Lee Died From Drinking Too Much Water

Researchers claim that the martial arts star's excessive hydration might have killed him

Bruce Lee poses while filming "Enter the Dragon"
Did Bruce Lee die from taking in too much water?
Michael Ochs Archives

It’s been nearly 50 years since Bruce Lee died unexpectedly at the age of 32 in Hong Kong, and though his official cause of death was listed as cerebral edema — also known as brain swelling — at the time, what exactly caused that brain swelling has remained a mystery. Fans have floated theories ranging from the plausible (heat exhaustion) to the highly unlikely (assassination). But a new study offers a new possible explanation: the martial arts icon may have died from drinking too much water.

The study, conducted by a group of kidney specialists in Spain and published in the Dec. 2022 issue of the Clinical Kidney Journal, claims that Lee’s actual cause of death was hyponatremia, a condition that occurs when the excessive amount of water in a person’s body reduces the amount of sodium in their blood, preventing them from excreting water by urinating quickly or efficiently enough.

“We hypothesize that Bruce Lee died from a specific form of kidney dysfunction: the inability to excrete enough water to maintain water homeostasis,” the study reads. “This may lead to hyponatremia, cerebral oedema and death within hours if excess water intake is not matched by water excretion in urine. Given that hyponatremia is frequent, as is found in up to 40% of hospitalized persons and may cause death due to excessive water ingestion even in young healthy persons, there is a need for a wider dissemination of the concept that excessive water intake can kill.”

Researchers cited several risk factors that made Lee a strong candidate for hyponatremia, including his “chronic fluid intake,” his use of marijuana (which increases thirst), his history of kidney injuries from his martial arts career, his alcohol intake and the fact that around the time of his death he was reportedly on a liquid juice-based diet.

“Ironically, Lee made famous the quote ‘Be water my friend’, but excess water appears to have ultimately killed him,” they wrote.