Quite frequently women write me to ask: What is strontium and why do you include it in your Better Bones Builder?
Well, there’s a short answer and a long answer to that question. Here’s the short answer: Strontium is an element very much like calcium and naturally present in our food and water. If you are eating a typical diet, you might getting anywhere from 1 mg to more than 10 mg of strontium per day. The reason it’s in the Better Bones Builder is that the elemental form (that is to say, the non-radioactive version found in nature) has been shown to promote formation of healthy teeth and bones. So it makes sense to include dietary doses of strontium in comprehensive bone-building formulas such as our Better Bones Builder because low-dose strontium is a companion nutrient that works with calcium and other minerals to promote bone health.
Low-dose vs. high-dose strontium
Now let’s get to the long answer. Where confusion sets in is when people hear about strontium being used by itself to build bone. What most people don’t realize when they read about strontium as “the solution” for bone health is that such talk isn’t referring to dietary doses of elemental strontium — rather, it’s referring to the extremely high-dose strontium that has been developed and patented as a drug therapy for osteoporosis in Europe. This drug, known as Protelos®, contains 680 mg of elemental strontium and two grams of strontium ranelate, a synthetic salt that combines strontium with ranelic acid.
Risks of high-dose strontium
Elemental strontium is different
Elemental strontium is a natural part of the earth’s crust and is very different from “strontium 90” which is a hazardous radioactive nuclear fallout product from aboveground nuclear testing. All strontium used in bone-building health products is elemental strontium.
One goal of Protelos® is for a small number of strontium atoms to displace calcium atoms in bone. For this effect it is necessary that the strontium drug be taken at least two hours apart from calcium. This separation of calcium from strontium is not necessary for low-dose strontium (22 mg) like that in my bone-building formula, which is used as a nutrient to aid the development of healthy bones. Unlike dietary strontium, the strontium drug has been found to have various adverse side effects including nausea, diarrhea, and, more rarely, memory problems, serious skin rashes, and venous clots. For the first 10 years of its use as an osteoporosis drug, however, more serious drug-induced problems were detected as the strontium drug (Protelos®) was found to substantially increase the risk of heart problems, including heart attack. In 2014, the European Medicines Agency Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC) concluded that the risks of the strontium drug outweighed the benefits and they recommended suspension of its use.
Specifically, PRAC reported in 2014 that:
- For every 1,000 patient years of use of the strontium drug (Protelos®) there were 4 more cases of serious heart problems and 4 more cases of blood clots or blockages of blood vessels than there were with the placebo.
- As for benefits, the strontium drug had only a modest effect in osteoporosis, preventing 5 non-spinal fractures, 15 new spinal fractures, and 0.4 hip fractures for every 1,000 patient years.
Later in 2014 this same European committee revised its recommendation allowing the strontium drug to be used by patients who could not be treated for osteoporosis by other bone medicines, but requiring that patients using the strontium drug be carefully monitored. In addition, those with a history of heart or circulatory problems were not allowed to use this medication.
The high-dose strontium drug is not available in the U.S.
Keeping strontium in perspective
To avoid any confusion, let me be perfectly clear: In the U.S. the strontium drug Protelos® is not approved for use as a bone drug, and it is not available here for purchase. In the U.S. and Canada, however, one can purchase equally high dose natural forms of strontium as strontium citrate or strontium carbonate and some companies promote bone support formulas with 680 mg elemental strontium (the same strontium dose as in the Protelos® strontium drug formula). Keep in mind that this high-dose strontium, be it natural strontium as sold in the U.S. or synthetic as in Protelos®, is best viewed as a “bone drug,” and, as with all bone drugs, it should be used with great caution. While the synthetic strontium drug (Protelos®) has been shown to carry serious adverse effects, to date there have been no studies on the safety or efficacy of high-dose (680 mg) natural strontium as sold here in the U.S.
Here at the Center for Better Bones our mission is to explore the full human potential for natural, life-long bone health. We strive to work with nature and in accord with nature when at all possible. The Better Bones, Better Body program includes small low doses of supplemental strontium, while not generally recommending the use of high-dose strontium (680 mg) or conventional bone drugs.
I hope this helps clear up the confusion when it comes to strontium. I will be writing more on strontium in the future, so stay tuned!
Best wishes to everyone.
2014 European Medicines Agency. PRAC recommends suspending use of Protelos/Osseor (strontium ranelate),Jan 10. EMA/10206/2014 http://www.ema.europa.eu/ema/index.jsp?curl=pages/news_and_events/news/2014/01/news_detail_002005.jsp&mid=WC0b01ac058004d5c1
2014 European Medicines Agency. PRAC. Protelos/Osseor to remain available but with further restrictions. April 14, EMA 235924/2014
I’m Dr. Susan Brown. I am a nutritionist, medical anthropologist, writer, and speaker. Get my free weekly newsletter here.