Part 2 of 6   (The Magnesium Deficiency Epidemic)

In Part 1, we discussed a many lifestyle factors leading us toward chronic magnesium deficiency. Here we will discuss a few more significant lifestyle factors, the weekend warrior, overtraining, sweating without proper electrolyte replacement and the effects of stress in depleting us of our essential mineral, magnesium.

The Weekend Warrior, Overtraining

It has been found that exercisers that feel weak and tired are highly likely to be suffering from mineral deficiency. Magnesium is lost via sweat and can bring on fatigue, muscle cramps, impaired glucose and oxygen transport into muscle cells, especially the heart. Sweating from exercise or saunas, steam rooms, when done regularly require the regular replacement of magnesium. In severe cases, with extreme athletes, body builders and long distance runners, depletion of heart tissue magnesium can cause Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD), myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, and heart arrhythmias.

The mechanism of sudden death after a stressful event can be traced to magnesium depletion that causes oxygen depletion in the heart muscle, and increased arrhythmia from increased catecholamine output.  Magnesium loss was the first electrolyte derangement seen even before potassium loss. Intravenous magnesium therapy has increased survival rates.

Without optimum “cellular magnesium” levels (our ATP/cellular energy synthesis) optimum muscle contraction and oxygen utilization suffers, sometimes with fatal consequences. Therefore, over-training, overexertion, excessive sweating, either done in one event or done repetitively, especially without sufficient electrolyte replacement will burn magnesium at a faster rate and send us into intracellular deficiency of magnesium.

A runner need not drop dead on the course of sudden cardiac death to be magnesium deficient. Sudden cardiac death strikes the youth and prime even post event when intracellular heart magnesium is not replenished. Overtraining, and not becoming aware of the state of one’s intracellular magnesium could be fatal as you might not have other magnesium deficient symptoms such as cramping of muscles to warn you of a problem!

In a treadmill study of 44 healthy male athletes and 20 untrained men, the athletes’ their average maximum oxygen consumption was higher, their work capacity increased 50% and they had lower lactate after exercise than the untrained men. This is to be expected. What was not expected was to find a correlation between oxygen consumption and serum magnesium. When magnesium was depleted, oxygen consumption declined along with endurance and performance. Therefore, magnesium’s role in facilitating oxygen delivery to muscles is significant.

Another interesting study was performed on marathon runners measuring their free fatty acid levels during a 26 mile race and their serum magnesium levels. They compared their values against an untrained runner who was given magnesium supplementation of 375mg/day for a week before the run. The marathon runners showed increasing levels of free fatty acids as they approached 26 miles (indicating increasing levels of stress perceived by the body and stress hormones released as a result) and corresponding decreasing levels of serum magnesium levels, but not with the untrained runner! Because he was talking magnesium, his body was able to burn the magnesium to ward of an increase in stress hormones. He had lower stress hormone excretion, less lactic acid build up and more magnesium to spare. The end result, he ended the race healthier metabolically than the marathon runners who did not take magnesium supplementation! (Pratt K, Moody ML, Cinlee RK, Rueddel H, Frnz KB; Changes in serum free fatty acids and magnesium during a marathon. Magnesium 4:207-208, 1985.

Another study found that the stress of marathon running had caused these runners to have increased platelet aggregation factor TXB2 levels as serum magnesium levels were depleted. TXB2 causes vasoconstriction as well as sticky blood. Clearly, magnesium replacement during runs are as or even more important than plain water to prevent dehydration during and after a race!

Additional silent damage, the consequence of magnesium deficiency, induced by strenuous exercise, leads to calcium overload, resulting in cell membrane lipid anti-per oxidative activity. In lay terms, this means magnesium deficiency increases one’s free radical activity, leading to increased stress on one’s heart muscle, leading to aggravation of all heart conditions. Free radical accumulation from extreme exercise and magnesium deficiency was buffered by taking vitamin E and magnesium. The fact that extreme athletes and those regularly engaging in strenuous exercise do not have a longer lifespan may be attributed to magnesium depletion leading to increased oxidative stress and metabolic induced inflammation which could be avoided by paying attention to one’s magnesium!

Therefore, even before we begin to push our bodies for strenuous exercise, if our tissue magnesium stores are low, we will notice more fatigue, decreased exercise capacity despite regular exercise. We will feel dragy, winded and have a hard time picking our energy up from exercise. If we continue to push our bodies, we will then suffer muscle stiffness, spasms or strains and sprains from the stiffness that results from low intracellular magnesium. Biochemically, we will increase our stress hormones even more when we are magnesium deficient, and suffer more free radical synthesis, increased cholesterol! and oxygen depletion to our heart muscle. However, our heart tissue can become deficient in magnesium before other tissues of the body. Thus we might not have any body symptoms to warn us of a more serious heart muscle deficiency. The consequences to the heart can be fatal. Beware the stressed executive that dies on his/her treadmill as this can be the silent vicious cycle of mineral depletion.


We all underestimate stress because we live in it daily and take it as part of our daily lives. But stress takes it’s toll on us. Stress, both physical and mental aggravation, frustration, irritability, causes you to burn magnesium at a faster rate. Stress makes your body more acidic. Magnesium is used to buffer that acid. Therefore, stress causes you to burn magnesium faster to neutralize the acid.

Our adrenals and nerves secrete stress hormones called catecholamines and corticosteroids, when under emotional or physical stress. Do you know when your body is releasing these stress hormones? No! Like using up the gasoline in one’s car, it’s a slow and steady drain. These stress hormones cause the loss of cellular magnesium leading directly to problems with cellular energy production, and skeletal and heart muscle performance that lead to blood clotting and heart arrhythmias.

There was a study comparing Type A and Type B individuals that found that Type A personalities excreted more stress hormones in response to noise and mental stress and depleted their magnesium faster than Type Bs! This explains the increased risk among Type A’s for mitral valve prolapse, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Becoming aware of our stressors, managing how we react to stress and increasing one’s magnesium will help to buffer us from daily stress.

The bad thing about stress is that as it deplets you silently of your magnesium, low intracellular magnesium causes the excretion of MORE stress hormones. Therefore, magnesium is protective in preventing excessive release of these stress hormones! In addition, adrenal stress that causes the adrenals to release the hormone epinephrine (our fight or flight hormone) burns intra cellular magnesium at such a fast rate that one quickly becomes depleted.

What causes our adrenals to release more epinephrine? Physical stress, as in strenuous exercise, strenuous training, runners, especially marathon runners and those suffering from prolonged emotional, familial, and work stress. Please see our other articles about cortisol function.

The stress hormones also signal the body to release free fatty acids as an energy source. However, there is a price to pay for this extra needed energy boost during times of stress. These free fatty acids bind and inactivate magnesium in your blood stream and heart, slowing down the transport of glucose and oxygen into muscles and prevent magnesium from being used by the Kreb’s cycle to make ATP as energy, using a more inefficient free fatty acid source for energy. Fatigue, cellular oxygen depravation especially of heart tissue, increased free radicals, loss of glucose transport, and our cholesterol ratios are thrown out of balance. We hit a wall energetically.

Imagine the typical stressed executive, by nature of his/her lifestyle is already burning magnesium at a faster rate because of their adrenal output of stress hormones. He wakes up and has a high acid breakfast of coffee, eggs and a muffin that consumed intracellular magnesium to neutralize the breakfast. He dashes to work out already feeling short on time. Then this driven executive goes to the gym and does a rigorous 30 minute treadmill run, sweating out magnesium and continuing to push his adrenals to excrete epinephrine for energy to keep up with his strenuous activity. If the night before, he had to entertain clients and had several alcoholic drinks (causing him to urinate extra magnesium) and he ate a large steak for dinner (high acid meal), then his lifestyle continues to deplete him of magnesium. If there was a work deadline pending the next few days, or this executive had a fight with his wife the night before or with his kids that morning before hitting the gym, his body is in peak demand for magnesium. Depending on the duration of his life stressors and duration of his acid diet, combined with his life stressors, it becomes no surprise when this executive drops dead on his treadmill from sudden cardiac arrest, in large part from severe depletion of myocardial intracellular magnesium.

If this stressed executive does not drop dead that morning, then continued stress hormones coupled with consumed intracellular magnesium cause calcium overload in the tissues. This will lead to heart arrhythmias and calcium deposits in blood vessels, accelerating atherosclerosis, the development of kidney stones and bone spurs, accelerating osteoporosis for men and women. It will push his cholesterol out of optimal range despite his efforts to eat a heart healthy diet!

Now that we know that our food and lifestyle predisposes us to magnesium wasting, what do we have to fear aside from sudden cardiac death with chronic depletion of magnesium?

Part 3 will discuss why magnesium is so essential to our health. It will also go into what medical conditions pre-dispose you to magnesium deficiency and discuss specific conditions and their mechanism of depleting us of magnesium, in turn making the condition worse!

Please note:
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

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Anna Manayan

Anna Manayan