Cause of Death

Hello, this is Seth’s mother Justine. I’d like to offer what little information I have to try to answer some of the questions that were posted about Seth’s death. We’re told that we’ll get a full coroner’s report in about 6 months. In the meantime we were given only “Cause A: Occlusive coronary artery disease” and “Other significant conditions: cardiomegaly.”

Most of you won’t be surprised to learn that Seth had not visited his doctor in Berkeley in many years, and, responding to a recent question, said that he hadn’t been to a doctor during his stay in Beijing either. We are left with 3 sets of paper records. The earliest, dated 2009, reports a Coronary Calcium (Agatston score) screening which he discussed here last October. He obtained a second screening 1-1/2 year later. The first report showed his coronary artery occlusion to be about average for a man his age, with an accompanying risk of heart attack, but no cardiomegaly. The second report, following his conclusion that butter was beneficial for him, and his heavy ingestion of it, showed an improvement in his score: “Most people get about 25% worse each year. My second scan showed regression (= improvement). It was 40% better (less) than expected (a 25% increase).” The report showed the calcification to be unevenly distributed, with most found in his left main coronary artery, and none in all but one of the other arteries. Again, no heart enlargement was reported.

The second medical report set, done in December 2011, was from Beijing and covered an exam that may have been required by his employer, Tsinghua University. This included a physical exam, an x-ray and EKG. All reports were negative, i.e., no abnormal findings and no cardiomegaly.

The third set of reports, from a laboratory in St. Charles, Ill., used data collected in Berkeley. They list toxic and essential elements in his hair. The latest report, dated July 18, 2013, showed one element rated “high.” This was mercury, “found to correlate with a 9% increase in AMI [acute myocardial infarction]” according to the report. His level was assumed to indicate exposure gained from eating fish. Presumably Beijing’s toxic smog contributed directly both to the mercury level of the fish that he ate there, and to the level in his hair.

The only information about his blood pressure was in the Beijing report where it was recorded at 117/87. I could find no information about cholesterol levels, though it has not been a familial problem. Of the remaining Framingham Study risk factors: Seth did not smoke or have diabetes. He was not overweight and was physically active. Seth’s father died of a heart attack at 72.

Of course, I can’t end this posting without sending my deepest thanks for all of the kind notes posted here. They were hurtful to read because of the reminding. They were healing to read because of the solace gained from learning about his friends and that he was able to help many people.


35 Replies to “Cause of Death”

  1. Hi Justine,

    I am truly sorry for your loss. It is still hitting me very hard as well. Thank you for taking the time to provide us with the details of what you know regarding Seth’s death. You and Amy are in the collective hearts of everyone who’s life Seth touched in a meaningful way. We all miss him very much.

  2. Justine, my condolences to you on the loss of your son.

    You and Amy have been incredibly kind to share information about what happened to Seth. Thank you.

  3. I cringed every time I saw someone ask for this information in sympathy for your family at this time of such loss. You’ve made an incredibly gracious gesture at a time when no one had any right to expect such a thing from your family. It is very much in keeping with how I imagine Seth would have wanted it handled and it’s clear that he gained a great deal of what made him so special to so many people from you and your family. Thank you so much.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this information. I am so sorry for your loss, and my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this terribly difficult time. In trying to explain to friends who were unfamiliar with Seth what the loss meant to me, I realized that the best way to express my thoughts is to say that Seth was one of my heroes. “Hero” is a word I don’t use much anymore, but it certainly applies to him. Thank you.

  5. A hero indeed! Condolences again to Seth’s family and thank you to them for caring about the rest of us who did not know him as well but who also miss him very much.

  6. Hello Justine,

    I’m very sorry for your loss, and very grateful that you have been able to give us this update.

    I’d just like to say that Seth’s writings helped me lose five stone in weight with the Shangri-La Diet, and – more importantly – helped me to take ownership of my own health issues, and to think about them in a new way.

    I will miss reading his work, but he has made a lasting change for the better to my life, and that will stay with me as long as I live. Not many of us can make that sort of difference to the lives of strangers.

    Thinking of you and your family at this difficult time,


  7. Thank you for sharing this at such a time of loss…brave, generous and compassionate, I can see where Seth learnt these qualities.

  8. Dear Justine,

    I am so sorry for your loss. Seth was loved by so many.

    You have my deepest Sympathies.


  9. Justine, Thank you for going to so much trouble at this difficult time for the family. I’m so sad for the loss of Seth. He was a remarkable man in many ways. His forthright views and willingness to investigate scientifically AND listen to other people’s opinions was great. I benefitted much from the posts, the news snippets he posted links to, as well as his great stories. I learnt about aspects of life in China too. We have lost a great champion of academic ethics in Seth and I deeply regret that few will take up the fight that he bravely waged against corruption and distortion in universities. I’ll continue to experiment with methods for better sleep, weight loss and health, but will miss these daily ‘chats’ with Seth (as that’s what his blog felt like to me.) Happy Mother’s Day – you did a great job!

  10. Justine, thank you so very much for your touching openness in sharing with us. I know Seth would have wanted that, he never held back, even when what he had to say was controversial or contradictory.

  11. I’m deeply sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for keeping us updated. We will all try to understand what happened.

  12. Justine,

    Thank you very much for posting this and keep us informed.

    Seth was a hero for me in many ways. He saved my life through his work and kind words. Rest assured that like many people here, we won’t let his memory fade away.

    All my love and thoughts to you and your family.

  13. Justine and Amy (and family)–

    I am so deeply sorry for your loss and appreciate your posts here. I’ve read Seth’s blog regularly since 2006 and was for a short time a participant in the SLD forums. And I will always be glad that an exchange with Seth just a few months ago led to an e-mail where I explained what I had learned from his work and how I had put the principles from his blog into action.

    Since learning of his death, I have felt a real sense of loss. I miss his point of view–I looked forward to seeing where his inquiry took him and the way his thoughts developed. I can only imagine what it’s like for those who knew him in real life. He was one of a kind. Deepest condolences–


  14. Dear Justine and Amy,

    I am so sorry to hear of Seth’s passing, and please accept my deepest sympathies for your loss.

    I met Seth when I was living in Berkeley and in law school. He was such an intelligent, creative, and caring person, as well as quirky and fun. Doing things with Seth was always an interesting adventure. I can’t believe that he is gone…

    Seth’s spirit will continue to live on in all of the people that he touched in his life and in all of our memories.


  15. I’ve been reading Seth blog for about a year, but recently stopped for a couple of months. I read his posts from a RSS reader and just begun reading from where I left of. I could not have expected something so tragic could happen. I can feel your pain and the pain of all the readers who have found in Seth the hope of a solution for their health problems. I’m very sorry for your lost and I wish to thank you deeply for informing us about the cause of his death. Something you would not have to do, but probably did knowing your son would have liked it so. Thank you. I send you all my love. Maybe someday, this blog would become a book. I think it should, so we could remember him more deeply, like we had a part of him in our home, and our hearth.

  16. Hello,

    A note for Seth’s family — I’m so sorry for your loss. I work for the BBC World Service in London. We interviewed Seth for a radio program we did a few years back on the new breed of self-trackers. If you would like a copy of an mp3 of the interview please drop me an email (jeff dot baird at gmail) and I’ll try to dig out a copy of it from our archives.

    best regards,


  17. Justine – I am a friend of Seth’s here in Berkeley. I have already been in touch with Amy, and want to communicate my condolences to you also. His passing came as quite a shock to me. I can’t imagine how it might have been for you.

    Since you have brought up the issue of the hair test (actually, there were multiple), and since I am the one who was involved with Seth on this issue, perhaps it is now appropriate for me to say something about it. Seth had a mouthful of amalgam fillings. Worse, he also had gold in his mouth; and when differing metals are in combination like this in the same mouth, the less noble one will just dissolve into the saliva. Dental text-books are quite clear that these combinations should be avoided, but dentists routinely ignore it. While I had talked to Seth for a long time about the issue, it was only when I got him access to a Jerome mercury vapor meter that he took it seriously. The level of mercury vapor in his oral cavity was astronomical. If I remember correctly, it was measured at nearly 60mcg/m^3, some 200x EPA limits for long-term exposure. (That’s off the top of my head. If relevant, I can check those numbers.) As a result, he had his amalgam fillings removed.

    Subsequently, Seth began to do hair tests, which were uniformly and over a period of years, high in mercury. I tried to tell him that the problem was not gone. That the half-life of mercury in the brain is some 25 years, and so he needed to consider the question of detoxification. Particularly as some of his symptoms, including the insomnia, were certainly consistent with mercury toxicity. And, his need for so many omega-3 oils seemed to indicate a high rate of oxidation of these oils in the body. He listened, but never really did anything about it. Since the main targets of mercury toxicity are the electrical tissues (brain & heart) and the detoxification organs (liver, kidney & skin), I can’t help but think that this must have been a factor in his untimely death. I am sorry to have lost a good friend. I encourage others to consider this aspect of health quite seriously. To explore it further, you can contact DAMS at They keep a list of amalgam-free dentists and sympathetic MD’s. (Though beware of their detoxification advice.) You might also join the and lists, and have a look at the books “Amalgam Illness: Diagnosis and Treatment” and “Hair Test Interpretation: Finding Hidden Toxicites” by Andrew Cutler ( These latter resources provide a slow, low dose, physiologically appropriate detoxification protocol. (It’s not just the detests who are failing to read their textbooks. When it comes to chelation, the MD’s don’t do follow their own advice on the proper dosing of pharmaceuticals.)

  18. Dear Justine and Amy,
    I was deeply saddened to learn of Seth’s untimely death. I worked with Seth on the writing of The Shangri-La Diet. We had a lot of fun and learned a lot from each other. Seeing the book succeed and help so many people was very gratifying for us both. Seth’s legacy will live on through the people he has helped and through his inspiring teaching.

  19. My condolences on the death of your son. We all have lost a wonderful, open, sharing, and brilliant man. I’ve sampled Seth’s blog and papers for fifteen years, and was always struck by his comity and generous spirit. The best always die way too young.

  20. Like Melissa, I cringed while reading comments demanding to know the cause of Seth’s death.

    Still, as someone who has adopted several dietary changes based on his work (and tested their efficacy), I have to admit to wanting to know those details because they seem important. But I know that I have no right to that information, and can imagine that as a family member, it must be hard to publish it.

    I really appreciate that you did so, when you didn’t have to.

  21. Hey, thanks so much for posting. While we on the Internet don’t have any right to know this stuff, we sure are curious and interested. This is a much better capstone to the blog than just trailing away.

  22. Quote from post above: “The only information about his blood pressure was in the Beijing report where it was recorded at 117/87. ”

    That indicates a rather narrow pulse pressure.

    117 systolic minus 87 diastolic = 30 pulse pressure


    Quote from Wikipedia:”A pulse pressure is considered abnormally low if it is less than 25% of the systolic value. The most common cause of a low (narrow) pulse pressure is a drop in left ventricular stroke volume. In trauma a low or narrow pulse pressure suggests significant blood loss (insufficient preload leading to reduced cardiac output).

    If the pulse pressure is extremely low, i.e. 25 mmHg or less, the cause may be low stroke volume, as in Congestive Heart Failure and/or shock.

    A narrow pulse pressure is also caused by aortic valve stenosis and cardiac tamponade.

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