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Biol Trace Elem Res (2008) 121:215–220

DOI 10.1007/s12011-007-8052-0

Adrenocorticotropic Hormone and Cortisol Levels

in Athletes and Sedentary Subjects at Rest
and Exhaustion: Effects of Magnesium Supplementation

Vedat Cinar & Rasim Mogulkoc &

Abdulkerim Kasim Baltaci & Yahya Polat

Received: 27 August 2007 / Accepted: 3 September 2007 /

Published online: 13 November 2007
# Humana Press Inc. 2007

Abstract The effects of a 1-month exercise program and magnesium supplementation on

the adrenocorticotropic hormone and cortisol levels were studied in young tae-kwon-do and
sedentary subjects both at rest and exhaustion. The hormone levels were compared before
and after supplementation with 10 mg of magnesium (as magnesium sulfate) per kilogram
of body weight. Both exercise and magnesium supplements caused significant increases of
the adrenocorticotropic hormone (p<0.05). The cortisol levels were increased in training
subjects receiving supplements (p<0.05) but not so in subjects that either trained or
received magnesium supplements in an independent manner. The cortisol levels measured
in resting individuals were higher in the supplemented and non-supplemented athletes than
those in sedentary subjects (p<0.05). The results of this study show that exercise and/or
magnesium supplementation causes a rise of the adrenocorticotropic hormone, whereas
cortisol is increased only as a result of combined exhaustion and magnesium supplements.

Keywords Tae-kwon-do . Magnesium supplementation . Rest . Exhaustion . ACTH .



Hard, sustained exercise results in changes of homeostasis. The autonomous nervous system
and the hypothalamus–hypophysis adrenal axis react to protect physical integrity and
restoration of homeostasis [1]. During exercise, both the physiological and psychological

V. Cinar (*)
Karaman High School of Physical Education and Sport, Selcuk University, Karaman, Turkey

R. Mogulkoc : A. K. Baltaci
Department of Physiology, Meram Medical School, Selcuk University, Konya, Turkey

Y. Polat
High School of Physical Education and Sport, Erciyes University, Kayseri, Turkey
216 Cinar et al.

systems determine energy intake requirements. Leptin and cytokines that are excreted from fat
tissues influence the secretion of cortisol, growth, and thyroid hormones [2, 3].
Differing results have been obtained from studies in which the relationship between
exercise and hormones has been examined [4, 5]. It has been shown that cortisol and
catecholamine rise with exercise. In high-performance athletes, a chronic, medium-level
rise of cortisol is seen as a result of continued exercise [1, 2, 5]. Daily exercise at ambient
temperatures of about 4°C seems to reduce cortisol, although the results are not conclusive
[6]. Similar results were gained at exercises under ischemic conditions [7].
In a study involving soccer players, strenuous exercise over short periods of time
resulted in a 39% increase of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and a 14% increase
of the cortisol levels. The increases resulted from activation of the hypophysis–
adrenocortical axis because of exhaustion [8]. In such cases, the increase of cortisol is
maintained for a period of approximately 40 min [9].
When temperature at which exercise was done was taken into account, the plasma cortisol
levels increased by 82.5% at 32°C and 46.5% at 26°C but decreased by 6.1% at 20°C [10].
Decreased cortisol levels are seen in untrained young individuals after exhaustion, and even
the baseline cortisol levels of training athletes are higher than those of sedentaries [11].
It has been stated that hypothalamus–hypophisis malfunctions could lead to poor body
response to exercise [12, 13]. In addition, the cortisol increase response or its permanence
in the bloodstream may depend on the type of exercise [14]. Acute, sustained exercise
induces major response, characterized by the extreme secretion of ACTH and cortisol [15].
Magnesium is an important cofactor for many enzymes, required in several biochemical
events and for energy metabolism [16, 17]. It has been suggested that there is a positive
correlation between magnesium levels and physical performance [18, 19]. Through high-
energy diets, athletes usually receive sufficient essential minerals including magnesium.
This is not the case of subjects under a restricted or reduced diets intended to maintain or
limit their body weight, which might be cause of insufficient magnesium intake, leading to
decreases of physical performance [20].
The effects of magnesium on hormone secretion have been studied in relation to aging
and other factors [21–23], but to date, there are not any studies on the combined effects of
magnesium supplementation and exercise on ACTH and cortisol levels, such as the results
presented in this study.

Materials and Methods

Thirty healthy male subjects of ages between 18–22 years voluntarily participated in the study.
Before the start of the research protocol, all the participants gave their consent for participation
after the purpose of the study was explained to them. The participants were divided into three
groups of ten subjects each, kept under distinct regimes for 4 weeks as follows:
Group 1. Sedentary subjects receiving 10 mg Mg (as magnesium sulfate) per kilogram body
weight per day.
Group 2. The subjects received the magnesium supplement and practiced the tae-kwon-do
routines for 90–120 min per day for 5 days a week.
Group 3. Subjects training as those in group 2 but without Mg supplements.
Blood samples were drawn from all participants before and after the experimental period
at rest and after exhaustion. The serum ACTH and cortisol values were determined by
standard clinical laboratory procedures.
Training and Magnesium Supplements Influence ACTH and Cortisol Levels 217

Exhaustion Measurements

To create exhaustion, the participants underwent a 20-m shuttle run test before blood
sampling. The test was applied at the Training and Sports Academy, Selcuk University. The
test starts with a slow running speed (8 km/h) in which the subject runs in a 20-m track
following a signal. The subject should run to the end of the track and touch the finish line
with one foot before the signal to return sounds again. The subject is allowed to continue
the test if one signal is missed but dismissed if he has difficulty in following the signal or if
he or she is 3 m short of the finish line consecutively in two cycles. At this point, the
running speed is increased 0.5 km/h. Each minute counts as a grade point. The result of
the test is the number of accumulated points, which is taken as indicator of endurance. The
duration of the test depends on the individual’s ability and strength [24].

Analyses of Hormones

Two milliliters of blood samples were drawn into ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid tubes.
The hormones were measured at the Medical Faculty Laboratory of Selcuk University. For
the determination of ACTH, we used the Immulate analytical kit and Immulate 1000
photoanalyzer. Cortisol was measured by means of an access immunoassay system using a
Unicel DXI 800 photoanalyzer. The results for ACTH are reported in picogram per
milliliter and those of cortisol in microgram per milliliter.


The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences software was used for the statistical analysis
of the data. The results were expressed as means ± SD. The Kruskal–Wallis analysis of
variance was used for comparison between groups, and the Mann–Whitney U test was
applied to those with p<0.05.


The ACTH values of the three study groups are shown on Table 1. No differences are seen
between the three groups at rest at the beginning of the experiment. Before supplementation
with Mg, the subjects exercising to exhaustion show higher ACTH values than at rest
After supplementation, the highest increases were observed in the subjects undergoing
exercise and supplementation (p<0.05). At rest, subjects that were training but taking no
supplements had higher ACTH values than sedentaries taking supplements. At exhaustion
the results were similar, with higher values in the group of subjects that trained and also
received magnesium supplements (p<0.05). When the values before and after supplemen-
tation are compared, the highest increases of ACTH are also seen in the group that trained
and received supplementary magnesium (p<0.05).
The cortisol values are given in Table 2. These levels increase after exhaustion,
especially in the supplemented group, but the differences are not significant. In subjects
resting after supplementation (Ras), the cortisol levels increased after a 4-week training and/
or training and supplementation with Mg (p<0.05). The highest increase was determined in
218 Cinar et al.

Table 1 Adrenocorticotropic Hormone Levels at Rest and Exhaustion, Before and after Supplementation
with 10 mg/kg Magnesium Sulfate

Sedentary subjects + Mg supplements Training + Mg supplements Training only

Rbs 30.33±11.15 30.07±18.56 30.70±18.15

Ebs 71.15±30.21a 74.47±31.24a 70.98±22.10a
Ras 34.15±18.62b 37.70±21.45b,c 34.82±19.10b
Eas 77.57±27.14d 87.14±37.41c,d 83.05±27.14d

Rbs Resting values before supplementation, Ebs exhaustion values before supplementation, Ras resting
values after supplementation, Eas exhaustion values after supplementation
Ebs higher than Rbs (p<0.05)
Ras higher than Rbs (p<0.05)
Group 2 values higher than groups 1 and 3 at Ras and Eas (p<0.05)
Eas higher than Ebs (p<0.05)

the second group. The sedentary subjects showed lower values than the training groups at
rest after supplementation (p<0.05). Before and after exhaustion, values were higher than
resting values (p<0.05).


It is seen that not only exercise but also supplementation with magnesium cause a
significant rise of ACTH levels in subjects at rest before and after supplementation (p<
0.05). The increase of cortisol seen after exhaustion is not significant, but after exhaustion,
the highest values are seen in subjects that also took supplementary magnesium.
Both ACTH and cortisol were found to increase with exhaustion, with ACTH increases
higher than those of cortisol, suggesting that exhaustion activated the hypophysis system.
We also found that both supplementation and exercise increase ACTH levels, in particular,
when training subjects receive Mg supplements.
Measurements at exhaustion were increased after the 4-week experimental period. This
is consistent with previous observations [1, 2]. Furthermore, the athletes show higher values
than sedentary individuals, also consistent with earlier reports [11].
It must be said that, in these investigations, the increases of ACTH and cortisol occurred
after short periods of training, and under these conditions, the values return to normal 30–
40 min after training [9]. In one study, a reduction of cortisol is seen after hard training [11].

Table 2 Cortisol Levels at Rest and Exhaustion, Before and After Supplementation with 10 mg/kg
Magnesium Sulfate

Sedentary subjects + Mg supplements Training + Mg supplements Training only

Rbs 15.54±9.15 14.15±8.92 14.29±8.45

Ebs 18.86±7.88a,b 19.00±11.05b 16.75±7.98b
Ras 16.47±11.12b 18.08±9.52b 17.56±19.11b
Eas 19.51±9.77a 24.86±10.42a,c 22.24±10.05a,c
Eas higher than Ras and Ebs (p<0.05)
Ebs higher than Rbs (p<0.05)
Eas training subjects significantly higher than sedentaries (p<0.05)
Training and Magnesium Supplements Influence ACTH and Cortisol Levels 219

It was stated that during short periods of excessive hard training, there is a deterioration
of the body response because of alteration of the hypothalamus–hypophysis normal
function [12, 13]. The response differs according to the training type. Cortisol increases
during endurance exercise but remains without changes during resistance and walking
exercises [14]. Acute exercise increased cortisol more than medium-intensity training [26].
Extreme powerful stress causes hyper-secretion of ACTH and cortisol [15].
There is a paucity of studies on the effects of Mg supplementation on ACTH and cortisol
levels, mainly on the response to stress and in aging individuals. It was found that cortisol
but not ACTH levels decrease with age [21–23]. The trend was somewhat reversed by
magnesium supplements, especially if samples were taken at night [21]. In another study,
magnesium supplementation reduced the ACTH levels, yet there were no changes of
cortisol [22]. A similar finding was reported in another study in which supplementation
with magnesium did not change the cortisol levels [23].


We examined the effects of exercise and magnesium supplementation on the ACTH and
cortisol levels in young persons. Contrary to literature reports, we found that magnesium
supplementation increased not only the ACTH levels but also those of cortisol. The
increases were more pronounced in training subjects. The results of our research also show
that both sedentary and training sportsmen show increased ACTH and cortisol levels after
magnesium supplementation not only at rest but also at exhaustion, suggesting that
supplementation with Mg and exercise increase these hormone levels by activation of the
hypophysis–adrenal system.


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