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Man, 21, Dies of Heart Attack

by Linda Lazarides BA(more info)

listed in heart, originally published in issue 96 - February 2004

Man, 21, Dies of Heart Attack

High cholesterol, blood clots and clogged arteries are not the only causes of heart attacks. An increasingly common cause, which can affect people of any age, is known as 'cardiac spasm', and is caused by a nutritional deficiency.

Peter, a young computer engineer, who once attended an evening class with me, had truly awful dietary habits. Aged only 22, he had recently left university and was just starting to live on his own. His diet was mostly fast food and beer.

Peter suffered from gout, a condition known to be aggravated by alcohol. But one Sunday evening last year, Peter's health took a turn for which he was completely unprepared. While walking from his living room into the kitchen, Peter developed a sudden, extreme pain in his chest, and collapsed to the floor, scarcely able to breathe. Peter's partner, Jane, called an ambulance, and Peter was rushed to hospital.

Upon thorough examination, Peter's heart and arteries were found to be completely normal, and he was later sent home with a diagnosis of 'stress', although he protested that he had not been under any stress. He was not asked about his diet, nor given any nutritional advice.

Peter is the third person, amongst my immediate circle of acquaintances, to have suffered this same problem. His case also calls to mind a newspaper article I read some years ago about a young man who died of a heart attack at the age of 21. The paper described him as addicted to drinking 3-5 pints of milk a day – a habit which he believed to be healthy.

What causes a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when the coronary artery's blood supply to the heart muscle is cut off. Starved of oxygen, the heart struggles to work. If this starvation lasts for long enough, then many heart cells will die from lack of oxygen. If the oxygen supply is restored quickly, the heart may be able to resume beating again, if the damage was not too extensive. If it cannot resume beating, then death ensues.

Older individuals with coronary arteries coated with cholesterol deposits are at risk of heart attacks because this can cause the arteries to clog up. But in healthy arteries the blood supply can be shut off just as effectively if the artery goes into spasm. Doctors in the UK seem to be largely unaware of cardiac spasms and their ability to cause heart attacks. While doctors in the US do seem to be aware of this diagnosis, they appear to view the problem as being of unknown cause. Here is a short extract from an internet forum: "My pains like a heart attack started again. I took some pain pills which didn't help. Nitroglycerine knocked the edge off of it, but not enough to sleep. My cardiologist said it was muscle spasms and gave me something stronger so I could at least sleep. I ask him how long muscle spasms can last and he said it depends, and ended it at that."


Surely a cardiologist who knows enough to diagnose a patient with cardiac spasms, would also be up to date with the medical literature on the subject? Apparently not. In 1992 Purvis and Movahed published a paper in Clinical Cardiology which reported the effects of magnesium deficiency on heart function, and warned that more than 40 per cent of hospitalized patients have abnormally low magnesium levels in their blood.[1] Magnesium plays a vital role in balancing sodium and potassium levels in and around cells. In turn this:

  • Helps to maintain healthy electrical activity in the heart;
  • Helps to maintain a healthy heart rhythm;
  • Helps to control blood pressure;
  • Helps to prevent fluid retention, which overloads the heart;
  • Reduces the entry of calcium into the cell, thus reducing the likelihood of blood vessel spasms.

Best food sources of magnesium

• Whole-grains (especially oats)
• Leafy green vegetables
• Cocoa powder and bitter chocolate
• Soya beans

When magnesium is in very short supply, the extra dietary calcium provided by drinking large quantities of milk may trigger a fatal heart spasm as it apparently did in the case of the young man in the newspaper. The likelihood of this increases when emotional or physical stress are present. Adrenal stress hormones deplete tissue magnesium levels. They also stimulate the release of fatty acids, which complex with magnesium, reducing its bio-availability. This becomes a vicious circle, since low magnesium in turn stimulates the release of more stress hormones. In fact all stress, whether exertion, exercise, heat, cold, trauma, pain, anxiety, excitement or asthma attacks, increases the need for magnesium.[2]

I hope it will soon be recognized that by not giving magnesium supplements and magnesium counselling to young heart attack sufferers, the medical profession is wasting incredible amounts of National Health Service resources and putting countless lives at risk.


1. Purvis JR and Movahed A. Magnesium Disorders and Cardiovascular Diseases. Clin Cardiol. 15: 556-568. August 1992.
2. Seelig M S. Consequences of magnesium deficiency on the enhancement of stress reactions; preventive and therapeutic implications [a review]. J Am Coll Nutr. 13(5): 429-46. 1994.


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About Linda Lazarides BA

Linda Lazaridesis a nutritional health expert, founder of the British Association of Nutritional Therapists, and worked with a GP for several years to develop her treatment methods. She is author of eight books, including the Amino Acid Report and Treat Yourself with Nutritional Therapy and teaches 1-year internet-based training course for Naturopathic Nutritionists. Visit Linda's website at

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