Researchers Have A Surprising New Theory On The Cause Of Bruce Lee's Sudden Death

A new cause of death has been floated for legendary martial artist Bruce Lee. The initial ruling was brain swelling — or more formally, cerebral edema, possibly caused by a painkiller (via National Post). Per Republic World, Lee took an Equagesic, which contains aspirin and the tranquilizer meprobamate, for a headache.

But what if the medication had nothing to do with his death, and the headache was a symptom of his true cause of death? A new study suggests just that. In particular, it claims that he met his fate by drinking too much water, per Variety. The study was published in Clinical Kidney Journal and notes that Lee's brain weighed about a half-pound higher than the average human brain, which could have been the result of an excess of fluid.

Here's what the study specifically says about this theory, which could rewrite what we know about the history of the famed actor.

The study outlined the specific mechanisms believed to be behind Lee's death

According to the researchers, excess water intake is a risk factor for hyponatremia (or acute water intoxication), which Mayo Clinic says occurs when the "concentration of sodium in your blood is abnormally low." "We hypothesize that Bruce Lee died from a specific form of kidney dysfunction: the inability to excrete enough water to maintain water homeostasis, which is mainly a tubular function," the study reads.

The regulation of the human body's homeostasis depends on healthy water intake and subsequent excretion by the kidneys (per American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology). If Lee was consuming more water than his kidneys could excrete, it could cause serious issues. "This may lead to hyponatraemia, cerebral oedema, and death within hours if excess water intake is not matched by water excretion in urine, which is in line with the timeline of Lee's demise," the study reads. The researchers also noted that hyponatremia can be exacerbated by various factors, including prescription drug intake and organ injuries.

"Lee made famous the quote 'Be water my friend,' but excess water appears to have ultimately killed him," the study concludes.

Others have died from hyponatremia

In 2007, the radio station KDND held a water drinking contest. The end result was the death of a 29-year-old mother, Jennifer Strange, who drank over 1.5 gallons of water (per Insider Exclusive). The station was sued for wrongful death, and a jury ultimately found them responsible, thanks in part to testimony from George Alan Kaysen, a kidney expert who outlined his view on the cause of Strange's death — which echoes that new theory on Bruce Lee's demise.

Kaysen noted that excessive water consumption disrupts the body's homeostasis, particularly by causing dangerously low levels of salt. He said (per Dr. Shezad Malik Law Firm). "If everybody in the courtroom drank that amount of water, a fraction of us would die from it." Kaysen also touched on the effects that water intoxication can have on mental faculties. "It certainly would impact their executive function ... much the same way a person who was intoxicated would be impaired."

Conspiracy theories abound

It's not uncommon for a celebrity death to lead to theories about what really brought them down, and Bruce Lee's was no different — even before the new water intoxication theory. According to the South China Morning Post, one theory — which was fueled by claims from Raymond Chow, Lee's business partner and producer — claims that the martial artist was poisoned by a lover, Taiwanese actress Betty Ting Pei, who was the one who gave Lee that painkiller that was later believed to have caused his death. Speaking of the ordeal, she said (per the South China Morning Post), "I received threats that my life was in danger as revenge for Bruce. I was only 26 and was so afraid of death at that time. Nobody came to help me."

Another theory suggests that Lee's death was the result of mingling with Hong Kong triads —organized crime groups that have deep ties to China, per The New York Times. Specifically, the theory claimed that Lee was indebted to these gangs for the protection they provided on his movie sets. Yet another claim under this same theory proposed that the Cantonese star was taken out by these mob groups because his success was viewed as a threat to Mandarin-language films.

Of course, these theories are all unsubstantiated, and time will tell whether the new findings will cement water intoxication as the cause of Bruce Lee's death in the annals of history.