Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: Can strontium help treat osteoporosis?

Q. What can you tell me about the mineral strontium, which is advertised for treating osteoporosis?

A. Strontium (Sr) is a chemical element found in water and food. When taken orally, it's absorbed in the body in small amounts, mainly in areas where bone is being remodeled — that is, undergoing the natural process by which it is broken down and formed. The word "strontium" may make some people think of strontium-90, a radioactive form of the element that's present in nuclear fallout. Rising levels of strontium-90 in milk were a major public health concern during the 1950s and early '60s.

But naturally occurring strontium is not radioactive. In the 1950s, it was used to treat osteoporosis, but it fell out of favor because of adverse effects on bone mineralization. The dose may have been too high, or the patients may have had dietary deficiencies. Interest in the use of strontium has recently revived, this time in a new form called strontium ranelate. In animal models, strontium ranelate both slows bone breakdown (resorption) and increases new bone formation. In humans, it increases bone mineral density, improves bone microarchitecture (an indicator of bone strength), and decreases the risk of fractures in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis.

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