Strontium is a chemical element said to offer a number of health benefits. Structurally similar to calcium, strontium is often touted as a natural treatment for osteoporosis.
Sources of Strontium
Available in supplement form, strontium is found in seawater (and, in turn, in seafood and sea vegetables). Strontium can also be found in wheat bran, root vegetables, whole milk, meat, and poultry.
Strontium and Osteoporosis
In laboratory research, scientists have found that strontium ranelate (a form of strontium registered as a prescription drug in many countries) may help increase bone formation by promoting the growth of osteoblasts (a type of bone-forming cell).
In addition, laboratory studies suggest that strontium ranelate may help protect against breakdown of bone (a process known as "bone resorption"). Since bone resorption plays a key role in the development of osteoporosis, it's thought that inhibiting bone resorption through use of strontium ranelate may help reduce osteoporosis risk and/or aid in the treatment of osteoporosis.
So far, many clinical trials on the use of strontium ranelate for osteoporosis treatment and prevention have focused on postmenopausal women. Because menopause-related declines in estrogen levels are closely linked to increased bone resorption, postmenopausal women face an increased risk of osteoporosis.
For a 2006 research review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, scientists looked at data from clinical trials (of at least one year in duration) that compared strontium ranelate to placebo in its effects on bone health in postmenopausal women. Analyzing findings from the four studies that met the review's criteria, the scientists found that strontium ranelate appears to reduce fractures in postmenopausal osteoporosis patients and increase bone mineral density in postmenopausal women with or without osteoporosis.
Noting that use of strontium ranelate may cause diarrhea, the review's authors call for more research into the potential side effects of strontium ranelate.
Strontium and Osteoarthritis
There's some evidence that strontium may benefit people with osteoarthritis. For example, a 2011 study published in the journal Climacteric found that strontium ranelate may help slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
The study included 2,617 postmenopausal women with osteoporosis (some of whom had a history of osteoarthritis). For 36 months, study members took either strontium ranelate or a placebo. In their analysis of the study findings, researchers concluded that strontium ranelate helped protect against the breakdown of cartilage (a key component of osteoarthritis).
Strontium and Cancer
Strontium is sometimes touted as a natural treatment for cancer-related bone pain. However, in a 2011 research review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, researchers note that there is currently a lack of scientific evidence to support strontium's effectiveness as a treatment for bone pain.
Is Strontium Safe?
Strontium is considered safe when consumed in amounts typically found in food. However, the use of strontium supplements may be unsafe for some people, including people with blood disorders and people using certain medications (such as nifedipine, a drug used to treat high blood pressure and control angina). Therefore, it's important to seek medical advice if you're considering the use of strontium supplements.
Should You Use Strontium for Health Purposes?
Although there's some evidence that strontium may offer certain health benefits, it's important to consult your doctor prior to using strontium to treat a chronic condition. Self-treating osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, or any other condition with strontium and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.
Alexandersen P, Karsdal MA, Byrjalsen I, Christiansen C. "Strontium ranelate effect in postmenopausal women with different clinical levels of osteoarthritis." Climacteric. 2011 Apr;14(2):236-43.
O'Donnell S, Cranney A, Wells GA, Adachi JD, Reginster JY. "Strontium ranelate for preventing and treating postmenopausal osteoporosis." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Oct 18;(4):CD005326.
Roqué I Figuls M, Martinez-Zapata MJ, Scott-Brown M, Alonso-Coello P. "Radioisotopes for metastatic bone pain." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Jul 6;(7):CD003347.
Reginster JY. "Strontium ranelate in osteoporosis." Curr Pharm Des. 2002;8(21):1907-16.