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Strontium: Breakthrough in Bone Health to help prevent and reverse osteoporosis.

Ward Dean, MD

Stable Strontium—meaning nonradioactive—is nontoxic, even when administered in large doses for prolonged periods. It also appears to be one of the most effective substances yet found for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and other bone-related conditions.

Strontium is element number 38 of the periodic table of elements. It was discovered in 1808 and was named after Strontian, a town in Scotland. Strontium is one of the most abundant elements on earth, comprising about 0.04 percent of the earth’s crust. At a concentration of 400 parts per million, there is more strontium in the earth’s crust than carbon. Strontium is also the most abundant trace element in seawater, at a concentration of 8.1 parts per million. The human body contains about 320 mg of strontium, nearly all of which is in bone and connective tissue.

Strontium is in row IIa of the periodic table, just below calcium. Like calcium, strontium has two positive charges in its ionic form. Because of its chemical similarity to calcium, strontium can replace calcium to some extent in various biochemical processes in the body, including replacing a small proportion of the calcium in hydroxyapatite crystals of calcified tissues such as bones and teeth. Strontium in these crystals imparts additional strength to these tissues. Strontium also appears to draw extra calcium into bones. When rats or guinea pigs are fed increased amounts of strontium, their bones and teeth became thicker and stronger.

Strontium has been safely used as a medicinal substance for more than a hundred years. It was first listed in Squire’s Companion to the British Pharmacopoeia in 1884. Subsequently, strontium was used therapeutically in the United States and Europe. As late as 1955, strontium compounds were still listed in the Dispensatory of the United States of America. For decades in the first half of the twentieth century, strontium salts were administered in dosages of 200 to 400 mg per day without toxic effects.

Strontium and Osteoporosis

Strontium tends to accumulate in bone—especially where active remodeling is taking place. In 1959, researchers at the Mayo Clinic investigated the effect of strontium in 32 individuals suffering from osteoporosis.1

Each patient received 1.7 grams of strontium per day as strontium lactate. Eighty-four percent of the patients reported marked relief of bone pain, and the remaining 16 percent experienced moderate improvement. No significant side effects were seen, even with prolonged (up to three years) administration of strontium. X-rays taken at the beginning and end of the study showed “probable” increased bone mass in 78 percent of the cases. This is not surprising, considering the symptomatic improvement reported by the patients. Unfortunately, measurement of bone mass in 1959 was pretty crude, leading the researchers to qualify their interpretation of the X-rays. Sophisticated tests such as dual photon absorptiometry and CT scanning as used today were not available at the time this study was conducted.

In 1985, Dr. Stanley C. Skoryna of McGill University in Montreal conducted a small-scale study that pointed to a potential role for strontium in the treatment of humans.3 Three men and three women with osteoporosis were each given 600 to 700 mg per day of strontium in the form of strontium carbonate. Bone biopsies were taken in each patient at the iliac crest (hip bone), before and after six months of treatment with strontium. Biopsy samples showed a 172 percent increase in the rate of bone formation after strontium therapy, with no change in bone resorption. The patients receiving strontium remarked that the pains in their bones had diminished and their ability to move around had improved.

Strontium and Cavities

Strontium also has been shown to reduce the incidence of cavities. In a 10-year study, the United States Navy Dental Service examined the teeth of about 270,000 naval recruits. Of those, only 360 were found to be completely free of cavities. Curiously, 10 percent of those 360 individuals came from a small area around Rossburg, Ohio, where the water contains unusually high concentrations of strontium. Epidemiologic studies have shown that strontium concentrations of 6 to 10 mg/liter in the water supply are associated with a reduced incidence of cavities. Administering these levels of strontium also reduced the incidence of cavities in animal studies.8

Strontium and Arthritis

Based on the studies showing that strontium improves bone density in osteoporosis, scientists at the Bone and Cartilage Metabolism Research Unit, University Hospital, Liege, Belgium, hypothesized that strontium might also improve cartilage metabolism in osteoarthritis (OA).9 They performed an in vitro investigation using cartilage-forming cells (chondrocytes) obtained from normal adults and patients with osteoarthritis. Chondrocytes were cultured for 24 to 72 hours with strontium, and Proteoglycan (PG) content was determined—i.e., structural components of cartilage, including hyaluronic acid, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These substances—Proteoglycans, also known as Glycosaminoglycans—are known to decline dramatically with age10 (Fig. 2). The researchers found that strontium strongly stimulated PG production. This suggests a cartilage-growth-promoting effect of strontium, and provides a sound basis for clinical testing of strontium in osteo- and other forms of arthritis.

Strontium in doses up to 1.7 grams per day appears to offer a safe, effective and inexpensive approach to preventing and reversing osteoporosis and may be of benefit in patients with osteoarthritis and cancer with bone metastases, as well as possibly helping to prevent dental cavities.

Dr. J.Y. Reginster (2002), one of the principal strontium researchers, cautions that co-administration of strontium with calcium appears to impair strontium absorption, so it is recommend that strontium be taken on an empty stomach, and that it especially not be taken with other multi-minerals that usually include calcium.

Also, although the studies cited above used only strontium, plus calcium and vitamin D, better results would be achieved by including other potential anti-osteoporotic substances such as a broad-spectrum mineral replacement that includes magnesium, vitamin K and boron, plus Xylitol, ipriflavone, calcium hydroxyapatite, progesterone cream (and in some cases, estrogen), and DHEA. A comprehensive regimen of synergistic bone-enhancing substances should provide the optimum regimen for preventing and treating osteoporosis.

1. McCaslin, F.E., Jr., and Janes, J.M. The effect of strontium lactate in the treatment of osteoporosis. Proc Staff Meetings Mayo Clin, 1959, 34:329-334.
2. Marie, P.J., and Hott, M. Short-term effects of fluoride and strontium on bone formation and resorption in the mouse. Metabolism, 1986, 35:547-551.
3. Marie, P.J., Skoryna, S.C., Pivon, R.J., Chabot, G., Glorieux, F.H., Stara, J.F. Histomorphometry of bone changes in stable strontium therapy. In: Trace substances in environmental health XIX, edited by D.D. Hemphill, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, 1985, 193-208.
4. Meunier, P.J., Slosman, D.O., Delmas, P.D., Sebert, J.L., Brandi, M.L., Albanese, C., Lorenc, R., Pors-Nielsen, S., De Vernejoul, M.C., Roces, A., Reginster J.Y. Strontium ranelate: dose-dependent effects in established postmenopausal vertebral osteoporosis—a 2-year randomized placebo controlled trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, May 2002; 87(5):2060-6.
5. Meunier, P.J., Roux, C., Seeman, E., Ortolani, S., Badurski, J.E., Spector, T.D., Cannata, J., Balogh, A., Lemmel, E.M., Pors-Nielsen, S., Rizzoli R., Genant, H.K., Reginster J.Y. The effects of strontium ranelate on the risk of vertebral fracture in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis, N Engl J Med, 2004, Jan 29;350(5):459-68.
6. Ortolani S, Vai S. Strontium ranelate: An increased bone quality leading to vertebral antifracture efficacy at all stages. Bone. 2006 Jan 30;38(2S1):19-22 [Epub ahead of print].
7. Skoryna, S.C., 1981. Effects of oral supplementation with stable strontium. Can Med Assoc J, 125: 703-712.
8. Gaby, A.R. Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA, 1994.
9. Henrotin Y., Labasse A., Zheng S.X., Galais P., Tsouderos Y., Crielaard J.M., Reginster J.Y. Strontium ranelate increases cartilage matrix formation. J Bone Miner Res, 2001, Feb; 16(2):299-308.
10. Hall, D.A. The Ageing of Connective Tissue, Academic Press, San Francisco, 1976.
11. Reginster, J.Y., Deroisy, R., Dougados, M., Jupsin, I., Colette, J., Roux, C. Prevention of early postmenopausal bone loss by strontium ranelate: the randomized, two-year, double-masked, dose-ranging, placebo-controlled PREVOS trial. Osteoporos Int, 2002, Dec;13(12): 925-31.

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