Severe dietary Mg restriction (Mg(9), 9% of recommended daily allowance [RDA], plasma Mg = 0.25 mM) induces a pro-inflammatory neurogenic response in rats (substance P [SP]), and the associated increases in oxidative stress in vivo and cardiac susceptibility to ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) injury were previously shown to be attenuated by SP receptor blockade and antioxidant treatment. The present study assessed if less severe dietary Mg restriction modulates the extent of both the neurogenic/oxidative responses in vivo and I/R injury in vitro. Male Sprague-Dawley rats maintained on Mg(40) (40% RDA, plasma Mg = 0.6 mM) or Mg(100) (100% RDA, plasma Mg = 0.8 mM) diets were assessed for plasma SP levels (CHEM-ELISA) during the first 3 weeks and were compared with the Mg(9) group; red blood cell (RBC) glutathione and plasma malondialdehyde levels were compared at 3 weeks in Mg(9), Mg(20) (plasma Mg = 0.4 mM), Mg(40), and Mg(100) rats; and 40-min global ischemia/30-min reperfusion hearts from 7-week-old Mg(20), Mg(40), and Mg(100) rats were compared with respect to functional recovery (cardiac work, and diastolic, systolic, and developed pressures), tissue LDH release, and free radical production (ESR spectroscopy and alpha-phenyl-N-tert butylnitrone [PBN; 3 mM] spin trapping). The Mg(40) diet induced smaller elevations in plasma SP (50% lower) compared with Mg(9), but with a nearly identical time course. RBC glutathione and plasma malondialdehyde levels revealed a direct relationship between the severity of oxidative stress and hypomagnesemia. The dominant lipid free radical species detected in all I/R groups was the alkoxyl radical (PBN/alkoxyl: alpha(H) = 1.93 G, alpha(N) = 13.63 G); however, Mg(40) and Mg(20) hearts exhibited 2.7- and 3.9-fold higher alkoxyl levels, 40% and 65% greater LDH release, and lower functional recovery (Mg(20) < Mg(40)) compared with Mg(100). Our data suggest that varying dietary Mg intake directly influences the magnitude of the neurogenic/oxidative responses in vivo and the resultant myocardial tolerance to I/R stress.