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Strontium for osteoporosis…if you’ve never heard of it, you will.

Posted Sep 14 2011 12:45pm

I understand your time is valuable.  If you just have a minute, you can read the  conclusion at the end.                                   

                                                      First, understand this…  

We can’t talk about strontium without first talking about osteoporosis .  Osteoporosis is the thinning and weakening of bone tissue.  It seems everywhere you turn, you hear something about the rampant increase in cases of osteoporosis.   In my (and many others) opinion, the drug companies that make the expensive (and harmful) drugs to treat osteoporosis have created guidelines for determining risk for the illness (through studies funding) that puts a huge percentage of women and men in the “diseased” or “high risk” category.  Doctors use one test, the bone density test, to determine if you need treatment even though there are many factors that determine if you are at risk for the disease like your history of smoking, alcohol, and steroid intake, family history and more.

Today, 5 million Americans are following their doctor’s orders, (orders that are based on guidelines funded by the drug companies), and filling these medicines.  (My 85 year old Mom’s doctor actually told her she would “die soon from a hip fracture” if she didn’t take these drugs.)

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You can read all the FDA warning letters to the osteoporosis drug companies here. 
Realize, these drug companies are encouraging doctors to prescribe these drugs… with side effects like jaw bone death, bone cancer, and “unusual fractures”… to people who are just at risk for the disease as well as those who actually have it. Just this week (9/12/11) the FDA convened a special  meeting because of the reports of harmful longterm effects for these drugs.  The drug companies admit they don’t have long term safety studies because “…long term use wasn’t an issue. We treated sicker women in their 70′s and 80′s”. This is a quote from Dr Paul Miller, a representative with mega drug company Warner Chilcott, maker of Actonel.  He’s basically saying “we didn’t care what happened to these women longterm because, let’s face it, how much longer were they gonna live anyway.”
But now that men and women in their 40′s and 50′s are being told to take it for prevention, that may pose a problem for the drug companies….and for patients.

Today, in the USA, there are no alternatives for people who want to take a natural treatment instead of drugs to prevent or reverse osteoporosis.  Strontium may provide that alternative.

                                                           What is strontium?

We ingest strontium  every day as it is all around us in the enviornment. The strontium we ingest goes directly to our bones and is found there along with calcium and phosphorus. Interestingly, the body’s ability to absorb strontium decreases with age. A 1 year old can absorb 60% while a most adults only absorb 30%.

Strontium is also a chemical that occurs in nature and is usually found in naturally formed minerals.  It has a chemical composition much like calcium. For those of you who are science geeks, strontium’s symbol is Sr and its atomic number is 38 (but you already knew that, didn’t you).
All elements in nature can have a radioactive form, and strontium is no exception.  Strontium has been used for years in its radioactive form to treat bone cancer.  Strontium has many other forms.  If you Google “strontium” you may find it listed for bone cancer treatment, used in electronics, and used for the color red you see in fireworks.

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What do red fireworks have to do with treating osteoporosis?

Just like any other element or chemical, when combined with other elements, different compounds can be made with very different properties.  For example, let’s take sodium: sodium chloride is table salt and sodium fluoride i s a harmful by-product of aluminum production.  Both start with the element sodium, but they end up being very different end products.

This is also the case with strontium.

Right now, in Europe, you can get a prescription for strontium ranelate (brand name: Protelos ) to treat, and actually reverse, your osteoporosis.  The “ranelate” part is a synthetic chemical that when joined with strontium forms a stable compound for human ingestion.  The makers of the “drug” combined natural strontium with a man-made compound for one reason: patent rights.  Vitamins and minerals that occur in nature cannot be patented. The cost for strontium ranelate is the same as for the expensive pills and injections we have now in the US for osteoporosis (fosamax, forteo, boniva, actonel, etc)    But is this the only way you can get strontium? No.

Strontium has other forms.  Mainly, strontium citrate and strontium carbonate.  (sound familiar? Your two choices for calcium supplements are calcium citrate and calcium carbonate.  Remember, that strontium and calcium are very similar elements) These are “natural” and can be purchased in the US as vitamin supplements.  The normal daily dose to treat osteoporosis is 680mg/daily.

                                                            Does it work?

In a word: hell yeah. (ok two words)

Obviously, strontium in the form of strontium ranelate has been studied extensively and has shown to markedly improve the bone density tests. Studies show a 31% (yes, that’s thirty-one)  improvement in bone density tests* compared to a 1% loss in the control group that took a placebo.  Longterm (8 years) studies confirm that there is continued benefit with longterm use even among older women (over 80 yeas old).
It was recently mentioned in Mayo Clinics newsletter as an emerging treatment for osteoporosis.  The newsletter stated strontium acts in a way that no other current treatment does with very little side effects. (the Mayo Clinic actually looked at strontium for use in treating osteoporosis in 1959 and found favorable results)   Dr Weil has also commented on it.

There is recent hard evidence that shows a comparison of current drug therapy (bisphophonates) with strontium ranelate.  The study shows “a notable increase in bone volume fraction after one year of SR (strontium ranelate) treatment compared to the bisphosphonate treatment period.”

Currently strontium ranelate is well tolerated, although there are some minor side effects of gastric upset. (I think I’ll take that over jaw bone death any day!)

If you live in Europe you can get strontium ranelate as a prescription from a medical professional.  It is given in doses of 2 g/day.

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If you live in the US, you can get other forms of strontium: Strontium citrate and strontium carbonate.

Again, because strontium citrate and carbonate are natural supplements, drug companies do not want to spend money on research for them.  There is, however some interesting  research on animals that show some promising results.  One looked at strontium citrate as used on zebra fish, which have very similar bone make up to that of humans.  The fish that took the highest does of strontium citrate had significant increases in bone density and bone growth.
OK, you say, I’m not a fish.

There are ongoing studies to look at strontium citrate use and effectiveness in humans.  The results should be out very shortly.

Strontium citrate seems to be better tolerated than strontium carbonate.  It must be taken on an empty stomach and far away from calcium intake as the calcium will win the fight for absorption.

                                                      What can I do now?

If you are trying to prevent osteoporosis there are many things you can do:

  • take calcium according to the recommended dose for your age and sex (usually for adults its 1000-1200 mg /day) take it away from other meds and food.  Recent studies suggest you should take you daily dose divided into 4x/day doses to prevent the spikes in your blood calcium and subsequent negative effects
  • take vitamin D  to aid calcium absorption
  • reduce alcohol intake
  • regular weight bearing exercise (walking, running, jumping rope, aerobics)
If you have osteoporosis, do all the above.  If you choose to try strontium citrate, buy from a reputable company that does not use the scientific studies for strontium ranelate to substantiate the claims for citrate. This is false advertising and the company should not be trusted.
Also, check the ingredients. If the company is selling you a supplement that contains strontium citrate AND calcium together, you might as well just take the calcium as the two should not be taken together because the calcium will get to the bone receptors before the strontium does.

If your doctor has prescribed one of the bisphosphonates (fosamax, actonel, boniva, forteo etc) do not stop it unless you talk to your doctor. All of these medicines take time to work.  They don’t work overnight.  If you doctor is open minded, they should be OK with you trying something else to see if it works.

                                                                  Conclusion

  • osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones and affects millions of people worldwide
  • for severe cases, doctors only had drugs (like boniva, fosamax etc) to prescribe that have many harmful side effects
  • there is a new “drug” made from a natural chemical called strontium
  • strontium ranelate is currently used in Europe and many other countries with very strong evidence of reversing osteoporosis with very little side effects.  Its effects are better than that of the current drug therapy.
  • strontium citrate and strontium carbonate are available in the US, but there are no studies yet (although there are studies being done) to determine dose and effectiveness of those forms.
I’m sure the drug company that released strontium ranelate in Europe is busy working on their FDA approval for the USA.  The process for the FDA is extensive and takes years, so it may be that long before we see anything on the market in the US.
In the meantime, it is your choice to try the strontium preparations available now as a supplement.  Normal dose of strontium supplements are 680mg or less/day.  Please experiment responsibly and conduct your own research.

This post is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness.  If you choose to take                               a strontium supplement, it is your choice.

* it is estimated that about half of the bone density reading in people being treated with strontium ranelate is caused by the “reflection” of the compound in the bone.  These studies were also validated using a bone biopsy, where a needle is inserted into the bone and some of the bone is actually removed for examination.  this is expressed as a percentage of bone surface. The strontium subjects showed 2.94% increase while the bisphosphonate subjects showed 0.2% increase.


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