Strontium is a metallic mineral like calcium. The human body seems to use it in the same way it uses calcium. It also enhances the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, Strontium is used in treatments for osteoporosis, broken bones, prostate cancer that has metastasized to bone, tooth decay, and sensitive teeth.
How does strontium heal bones?
There is a well-known form of strontium supplementation that is sufficiently studied that it is dispensed as a prescription medication in Europe and Australia. This form of strontium is strontium ranelate. The “ranelate” stabilizes strontium so that it can be more completely absorbed. (Both calcium and strontium are poorly absorbed by the human body.) Strontium ranelate is most often prescribed to stabilize fractures that already have occurred.
Strontium reduces the bone’s production of osteoclasts, the cells that break down damaged bone so new bone can be formed. It also increases the production of osteoblasts, the cells that build new bone to be remodeled to meet the new demands of the body. The clearest indication for strontium is for bone healing, but it is also useful for bone protection.
What is the evidence that strontium really works in treating osteoporosis?
There have been extensive studies of the use of strontium in women’s bone health. These studies collectively find that strontium complements calcium and vitamin D for strengthening bone in women who develop osteoporosis after menopause. But strontium ranelate has been extensively studied as a treatment for primary osteoporosis (osteoporosis that isn’t a side effect of medication) in men.
A paper published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism tracked the results of giving 174 men 2 g of strontium ranelate a day for two years. The researchers measured some of the markers of bone formation with blood tests. They also measured bone density in the men’s wrists, hips, and spines. The researchers concluded that sodium ranelate is beneficial for men who have osteoporosis as it is for women.
Strontium ranelate is also useful in treating bone pain after prostate cancer. Metastatic lesions to bone can be excruciatingly painful. They are often treated with radiation. Sometimes that are too many areas of cancer-affected bone for radiotherapy. In these men it may be possible to administer intravenous radioactive strontium ranelate, which is taken up by bones all over the body, but only by the bones, to give whole-body pain relief.
In the United States, strontium is available in forms other than sodium ranelate as an over-the-counter nutritional supplement. The most common form of strontium in nutritional supplements is strontium citrate. Small doses of strontium citrate are generally safe and effective, but some sensible precautions apply.
What you need to know about strontium suppements for osteoporosis
A typical dosage of strontium in over-the-counter supplements is 680 mg a day. This amount of elemental strontium is equivalent to elemental strontium in the 2 g of strontium ranelate used in clinical trials. There can be side effects, including:
- Diarrhea, gas, and acid reflux. These common gastrointestinal side effects of strontium supplements and strontium therapy usually are tolerable and they usually occur just a time or two when first using strontium. If these gastrointestinal upsets continue, of course, discontinue use.
- Bone pain of existing fractures may get worse for a day or two before it gets better. When you start taking a strontium supplement or you are put on strontium ranelate, you may discover that you have fractures you did not realize that you had.
- On the positive side, taking strontium supplements may prevent future tooth decay and reduce painful sensitivity of your teeth. You can use any toothpaste with the ingredient strontium chloride hexahydrate to reduce pain of sensitive teeth, too. These desirable side effects usually start in about two to three weeks after you start taking strontium.
Radioactive strontium is only available under medical supervision. Over-the-counter strontium is not a substitute for radioactive strontium given by IV, because it is the radiation that offers the most pain relief when there is cancer. The kinds of strontium obtained in over-the-counter supplements and food are not radioactive.
Neither medical doctors nor natural health specialists have extensive experience with strontium supplements. It’s best to use them only as a part of a comprehensive support program for bone health. However, it is also possible to get your strontium from your diet.
A healthy diet with lots of whole foods may deliver from 0.5 to 1.5 mg of strontium per day. That’s up to twice as much strontium as is available from a supplement. The very best sources of strontium are foods from the sea. These include both sea vegetables, such as seaweeds, and shellfish. Strontium is also abundant in whole grains, spinach, celery, lettuce, carrots, and potatoes. Plant products grown organically on volcanic soils in relatively dry climates deliver the greatest amounts of the mineral.