Strontium: Science-Based Facts vs Fiction
At the Save Institute, we’re always searching for bone health trends that have become popular and could use in-depth analysis and clarification. Some topics are positive– like the growing recognition of the need for plenty of vegetables in your diet, or greater scrutiny of the products manufactured by Big Pharma. But often, confusing, misleading, or even dangerous misinformation manages to take hold.
So today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at a mineral that has been a point of controversy and misunderstanding: strontium. While we’ve always held a consistent and clear position on the subject, it’s certainly worth revisiting since it’s been popping up more and more on various websites and sources again recently.
Strontium In A Nutshell
Strontium is a chemical element with the symbol Sr and the atomic number 38. You might remember it from chemistry class as part of the second column in the periodic table, the alkaline earth metals. In that column, it falls between calcium and barium, a proximity that reflects these elements’ formal similarity.
Strontium exists in nature, but because it is highly chemically reactive, it is only found in more complex minerals like celestine (or celestite), strontianite, and putnisite. Likewise, when it’s used as the active ingredient in drugs and supplements, it must be bonded to another chemical. Therefore, strontium is available as strontium ranelate (obtained by prescription only, marketed as Protelos/Osseor® and Protos®), citrate, lactate, carbonate, and gluconate.
Strontium doesn’t actually get used all that much anymore for industrial purposes. In the past, the most common use of the element was in the screens of color television cathode ray tubes to prevent X-ray emission. It just so happens that the density of this metal makes it well-suited to absorbing radiation, a fact that is relevant to its questionable use to increase bone density.
You may also have heard of strontium-90, a radioactive isotope that is one of the most dangerous isotopes present in the radioactive fallout of a nuclear reaction. Part of the reason why this particular radioactive particle is especially hazardous, is because the body treats strontium almost exactly like it treats calcium.
Now that we’ve covered some basic facts and history of this compound, let’s have a look at the hubbub over its use as an osteoporosis drug and bone health supplement, and identify the falsehoods that have sprung up.
Is Strontium Part Of A Balanced Diet?
No, it isn’t. Supplements are intended to ensure that you consume nutrients that are vital to your bones and your overall health. In other words, they should fill in potential gaps in your diet and bolster your nutritional intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. But, your body does not need strontium, even though it does occur naturally in a few of the foods we eat in very, very small amounts.
The estimated average daily intake from vegetables and grains is 2-4mg, and the entire quantity of strontium in your body at any given moment is only around 320mg or about 0.0005% of your body weight. Supplementing with strontium is clearly not natural.
In spite of this, strontium supplements are promoted, usually in the form of strontium citrate. A typical strontium citrate supplement dosage (around 680mg) is 170 to 340 times the naturally occurring strontium levels in the average person’s daily diet. You’d have to eat about 21 pounds of spinach every day to get that much strontium naturally. That certainly doesn’t sound very balanced to me!
Is Strontium Citrate Natural?
No. Not really. The word “natural” gets thrown around a lot in the field of nutrition and amongst the practitioners of holistic medicine. But the meaning of ‘natural’, or the actual value of a natural substance is often unclear.
A compound such as strontium citrate is marketed as natural because its components occur in nature. You can find strontium in nature as the above mentioned mineral deposits like celestine, which is strontium sulfate, mostly found in sedimentary rocks. Citric acid is also found in nature. But the combination of those two substances, strontium (separated from the sulfate) and citrate only happens in a laboratory under human manipulation.
Be aware that just because something is labelled “natural” doesn’t mean it was gathered in a field or extracted from natural sources. And as we just discussed, where strontium does occur naturally in a way we could ingest it, it is a trace element, not one we would ever naturally consume so much of.
It’s also worth noting that just because something is natural, it doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Nature is full of toxins and venoms that are dangerous or even deadly, regardless of their organic origins. Also, just because something occurs naturally, it doesn’t mean it’s nutritious.
Is Strontium A Vital Nutrient?
No, it’s not. And in fact, the label “nutrient” should be reserved for substances that are essential to health. There’s a big difference between what can eat and what we must eat. If you don’t consume enough vitamin C you’ll get scurvy, which leads to weakness, gum disease, bleeding from the skin, poor wound healing, and ultimately death from infection or bleeding. It’s clear that Vitamin C is a nutrient.
There is no known function of strontium in your body that is not carried out by another mineral. What can get confusing about strontium is its similarity to calcium.
I mentioned earlier that this element bears many structural similarities to calcium, and that these similarities are part of what makes strontium’s radioactive isotope strontium-90 so insidiously deadly.
Can Strontium Strengthen Your Bones?
No, it can’t. But it can make your bones thicker, and thicker bones don’t prevent fractures, because they don’t improve the overall strength or quality of your bones.1 In fact, thicker bones are less flexible and have lower tensile strength, which is your bones’ ability to resist stretching and pulling.
When you provide your body with a glut of strontium, the strontium will replace the calcium that your bones need. While it’s remarkable that these two metals are similar enough for your body to substitute one for the other, they are clearly not identical, and the differences between them can have a very real impact on your bones.
Remember the cathode tube ray televisions that use strontium to absorb X-rays? That’s not the only place that strontium absorbs radiation. It’s just as effective at the task when it’s in your bones– far more effective than calcium.
Does A Denser Molecule Make Your Bones Denser?
No. It is erroneous to think that the larger atomic weight of strontium is a benefit. But not only does it not make bones truly stronger, it makes it nearly impossible to assess bone density by the usual method: DEXA scans. DEXA scans measure bone density by firing X-rays at specific sections of bone and seeing how much of the radiation makes it through to the other side, to assess bone mass.
Recall that each strontium molecule will absorb more X-ray than the calcium molecules. So if you replace the molecules of calcium hydroxyapatite (natural bone crystal) with molecules of strontium hydroxyapatite, then you get a false bone density reading.
Studies that examine the difference in bone mass density measurements between the two show that when strontium has been substituted for calcium, the bone mineral density (BMD) is overestimated by more than 10%.2 Studies of the strontium drug Protelos determined that as much as 50-75% of BMD increase isn’t actually an increase in density of bone.3 The strontium makes it seem as though there is more bone than there actually is.
Furthermore, these inaccurate measurements didn’t stop when the study subjects stopped taking strontium. In fact, strontium’s half life has been reported as high as 30 years. For those who took Protelos for 8 years, their bone strontium retention was over 70% six months after they stopped taking the drug.4
This means that if you take, or have taken strontium, your DEXA scan results will show that your bones are denser, when in reality, they may have less mass than before, but are showing up as denser because of the strontium!
Can Strontium Hurt You?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Protelos (or Protos), the brand name for strontium ranelate, is marketed by the French pharmaceutical corporation Servier. And Servier was able to patent it by bonding strontium to a synthetic chemical of their own devising: ranelate.
The evaluations done on the drug touted the increased BMD scores as proof the drug works, even though it is known that the readings it gives are inaccurate, and any additional bone thickness doesn’t actually help prevent fracture. The studies also revealed all of the side effects the drug can have: nausea, diarrhea, headaches, serious skin reactions, liver inflammation, reduced number of red blood cells, and in some rarer cases fainting and dangerous blood clots.
Additionally, the European Medicines Agency in 2013 recommended that the use of strontium ranelate be restricted due to the risk of heart problems. The Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee advised that these drugs not be used to treat osteoporosis at all.5
But, much like the FDA in the United States, European regulators surrendered to Big Pharma. They refused to ban Protelos, issuing instead a lame warning that doctors shouldn’t prescribe it to anyone with a heart condition.
However, Laboratories Servier has recently announced that they will stop marketing the drug in August 2017. You can read this stunning announcement here.
The take-away is that strontium (whether combined with ranelate or another compound) has unintended negative consequences on your body.
Is There A Safer Alternative To Strontium?
Yes, there is! But it’s not a drug at all. The best way to rejuvenate and build your bones is by utilizing natural processes such as eating the right foods, staying active, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits.
Your body doesn’t need strontium. It needs calcium and a host of other nutrients that facilitate bone remodeling and all the other processes that keep your body operating at optimal levels.
And now, I’d like to share a personal story that came from the UK, from a brave woman named Pamela who decided to take back control of her health and pursue a more holistic, natural and complete path to improving her bone density. She tried the Save Our Bones Program and, as many other Savers have experienced, it worked. Here’s what she had to say:
“Last week I was given the good news that my bone density has increased by 16.4% and I’m absolutely thrilled with that. In August 2008 I was diagnosed with osteoporosis and was put on Fosamax which I took for 6 weeks. I felt so ill and uncomfortable taking it that I went back to my GP and she then prescribed Strontium for me. That didn’t make me feel any better or agree with me. And one afternoon I was searching the internet looking to see if I could find anything that would tell me what would happen if I gave up the medication in regard to my bones and came across your website. I decided to buy the program, found it very easy. If anybody’s out there wondering whether they should ditch their medication or wondering whether they should start on this program, all I want to say is go for it, because it really works! I’m absolutely delighted and I’m so grateful to Vivian for all her research and for making this available.”
I was so energized by receiving Pamela’s story that I asked if we could talk on the phone so that she could tell us her story out loud. She kindly agreed, and the recording of our conversation is below.
Stop Worrying About Your Bone Loss
Join thousands of Savers from around the world who have reversed or prevented their bone loss naturally and scientifically with the Save Our Bones Program.
You can have a story like Pamela’s too, by making changes to your life that have a massive impact on the quality and strength of your bones, and on the quality and fullness of your life. If you haven’t already, check out the Save Our Bones Program to learn more and start building younger bones without osteoporosis drugs.
Till next time,
1Boivin, Deloffre, Perrat, et al.. Strontium distribution and interactions with bone mineral in monkey iliac bone after strontium salt administration” Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. 11:1302-1311. 1996.
2Blake and Fogelman (2006 JBMR 21(9) 1417-24
3Barenholdt et al. 2009 45(2) 200-6
4Blake et al. 2007 J Clin Densitom. 10(3):259-65