- How strontium can help you rebuild your bones.
Last December, a seventy-seven year old woman (we’ll call her Sarah, although that’s not her real name) told me that she’d been advised that her recent bone scan was 100% normal. In 2010, she’d been told she was “into osteoporosis.” She’d been advised to use a patent medicine. She’d read about the ones mentioned to her, looked online about others, but didn’t like the various potential adverse effects of any of them. After talking to friends and neighbors, she had decided to come to the Tahoma Clinic to inquire about natural alternatives.
She told me she’d been surprised by the osteoporosis diagnosis, as she’d been working to stay as healthy as possible ever since she went through menopause. She’d been “eating right, as much organic I can afford,” no sugar, nothing refined, green vegetables every day, taking a multiple vitamin and mineral, and since her mother had osteoporosis she’d been taking extra calcium and magnesium. Instead of coffee, she drank tea because she’d read it was good for her bones. She went for a walk every day.
Unfortunately (as she might have prevented or at least reduced her risk of osteoporosis), she had not been using bioidentical hormone replacement. Her “regular” physician had told her it was dangerous. Since she felt well “except for getting older, of course,” she hadn’t thought about it until she was told about “entering osteoporosis.” That was one of the reasons she’d talked to her friends and neighbors, some of whom had been consulting with Tahoma Clinic and (among other health-promoting measures) using bioidentical hormones.
But we didn’t begin by discussing bioidentical hormones, as there was a more important topic to start with. Instead, we reviewed the research concerning a key mineral for bone health. (As this is now 2017, it’s very likely that you know this mineral is naturally occurring, non-radioactive strontium.)
Strontium was first found to improve bone health in animals in the early 1900s. After the mid-century, Mayo Clinic physicians reported that strontium carbonate (unfortunately, not the most absorbable form for many of us) can significantly improve even severe osteoporosis. But the key research—deserving a footnote citation[i] and much, much more recognition—was reported by a team from France, Canada, and these United States in 1985.
These researchers were able to persuade three women and three men to have not just one, but two bone biopsies (ouch! ouch!) done of their “iliac crests” (in English, the very uppermost part of each hip bone, located a few inches below the last rib on either side). One biopsy was taken before starting to swallow strontium carbonate (yes, the form more poorly absorbed by many), and the second was taken after six months of strontium ingestion.
Although many measurements were taken, the most important ones were of the “bone-forming cells” termed osteoblasts (since we just can’t name them “bone-building cells” in English to describe what they do) and the “bone-breaking-down cells” termed osteoclasts. In adults, these types of cells have approximately equal activity, so bone formation and breakdown proceed at the same rate, and our bones stay strong. The researchers also measured the rate of formation of new bone.
They reported that the total surface area of osteoblasts (remember, these build new bone) increased by 97%, the total surface area of the osteoclasts (bone dissolvers) decreased by 69.7%. Overall, the formation of new bone went up by 59.8%! Simply put, strontium carbonate very significantly increased building and very significantly decreased breakdown of bones!
Despite these very significant results, there was a very significant problem for the “healthcare industry”: strontium carbonate or any other form of naturally occurring strontium wasn’t patentable! And since los federales (this time at the FDA) punish supplement companies who print the truth about “unapproved” natural substance scientific research on bottle labels or post it on their websites—no kidding, there are many examples[ii] of FDA threatening and performing punishment for repeating scientific truth—we can’t get the information there, either.
And of course we all read, saw, or heard very little about strontium rebuilding bone from newspapers, television, or radio. Major medical journals (where all the patent medicines—with their adverse effects—are and were heavily advertised) printed nothing either, from 1985 until . . .
. . . 2002, when a research report[iii] was published in Osteoporosis International about a PATENTABLE form of strontium. But how could strontium—an entirely natural substance—be patented? By combining it with another molecule to make a combination (strontium ranelate) never, ever found in Nature, which makes it PATENTABLE and (of course) DANGEROUS UNTIL PROVEN OTHERWISE!
And dangerous it was soon found to be. Although strontium ranelate was reported by many publications in the years following the initial 2002 reports (including at least two by a physician member of the team, who wrote the 1985 report about strontium carbonate) to significantly increase bone density, it was also found to increase the yearly incidence of venous thromboembolism (blood clots) by 7%, as well as scattered cases of DRESS (drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms) syndrome. DRESS syndrome is often severe and can result in death if not diagnosed early.
Very fortunately, strontium ranelate never made its way from its European origins to these United States, as “approval” wasn’t likely to be easy because of the emerging adverse effects. However, because the FDA-enforced the “you can’t tell the scientific truth about your products” edict, the majority of Americans don’t know about it and (a bit shamefully) the large majority of American MDs continue to prescribe much more expensive, less effective, and much more dangerous patent medicines for anyone with osteoporosis.
After listening patiently to the explanation about strontium, Sarah observed, “So strontium is a catalyst, like they told us about in chemistry class, helping reactions to go better—in this case speeding bone-building a lot. Can strontium along with all the other things needed to rebuild bone help reverse osteoporosis all the way back to normal? You’ve seen that, right?”
“Yes, it can. Since 2004, many women as well as men—although they develop osteoporosis significantly less—have told me about their osteoporosis reverting to the less serious ‘osteopenia’ stage, and then to normal. The whole process takes time, usually several years. And very importantly, strontium promotes the formation of normal bone crystals,[iv] not abnormal and more breakable bone crystals, as fluoride does.”
“How long does it take to make a noticeable difference on a bone scan?”
“Most results are similar to the first two women who used the strontium catalyzed treatment recommended in 2003. One woman’s bone scan (DEXA) report showed a 4.1% improvement in spinal bone density, and a 7.1% improvement in hip bone density in a year. The other woman had a 4% percent improvement in both hip and spinal bone density in just ten months.”
“So it takes years to fully normalize.”
“Yes, but with persistence. . . .”
“And a lot of capsule and pill swallowing from a lot of bottles, right? Bones are more than just calcium and magnesium catalyzed by strontium. Must take a whole lot of minerals and vitamins.”
“Yes, a whole lot of vitamins and minerals—ten capsules a day—but no, only two bottles. Two capsules of Osteo-Mins AM with breakfast, four capsules of Osteo-mins PM with lunch and dinner. No prescription needed, but I’m writing a note about it so that we’ll both remember.”
“What’s the difference between the AM and PM, and why so many of the PM type?”
“All of the strontium is contained in the AM formula, along with seven other minerals. All of the calcium (as well as magnesium, vitamin D, and three active forms of vitamin K) are in the PM formula. One of the researchers involved in the breakthrough 1985 research report tells us that if calcium and strontium are taken at the same time, neither one absorbs as well, so they’re in the different formulations to be taken apart from each other.”
Sarah looked puzzled. “I understand the part about separating the calcium and the strontium, but . . . I think I heard you correctly . . . there are eight minerals in the capsules in the AM bottle, and only calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and three active forms of vitamin K in the capsules in the PM bottle—that’s just six things, right?—but I should take a total of eight capsules of that PM one, and just two capsules of the first one? Is it the other way around?”
“You counted correctly, and that’s logical, but remember that bones contain overwhelmingly more calcium—which is all in the PM formula—than any other mineral. Some of the eight minerals in the AM formula—such as selenium and molybdenum—are needed in just trace amounts. Also, the calcium and magnesium are in the citrate form, because those forms are absorbed best, even by those of us who are older and more likely than younger people to have lower levels of stomach acid.
“Lastly, calcium citrate and magnesium citrate are—relatively speaking—very large molecules which occupy more space than most other forms of calcium and magnesium.”
“I guess ten capsules a day isn’t too many if there’s a good chance to normalize my bones again. But I can stop taking any of these vitamins and minerals from other sources or formulas?”
“Yes, except for the vitamin D. What’s in the PM formula is a bare minimum for anyone who’s taking care of their health as best they can. Fortunately, most of us are already taking considerably more, and also fortunately most mainstream medical doctors in our Seattle area are actually ordering routine vitamin D blood tests.”
“The doctor who ordered my bone scan test told me I should have that test since I’ve been taking two thousand IU of vitamin D every day for a few years now. He says the result was normal.”
“Do you remember your test result?”
“Yes, it was thirty-three . . . thirty-three . . . nanograms per milliter, I think.”
“That’s better than it would be if you weren’t taking any at all, but the optimal level is between sixty and one hundred. That’s what people who live in tropical areas have in their blood tests, and no one in the tropics has died—or even gotten any bad effects—from vitamin D at those levels. Please increase your vitamin D to maybe four thousand units a day in addition to what’s in the Osteo-Mins formula, and have your vitamin D level checked again in about three months. There—that’s added to the note.”
“Is that all?”
“To reverse osteoporosis, anyway. Let’s talk about any other health matters next time. The forms you filled out indicate you don’t have many other health problems.”
“That’s true. Two last things: are there any other tests I need, and did you put the Osteo-Mins formulas together?”
“Thank you for sending in copies of your blood test and bone scan reports before your appointment so I’d have a chance to review them. The blood tests were normal. There is just one additional test that would be a good idea with the degree of osteoporosis that your test—and you—reported. Remember that those of us who are older are more likely to have low, suboptimal levels of stomach acid secretion than younger people? If stomach acid is low, the food we eat can’t be digested optimally and many of the minerals can’t be separated as well as they should be from the rest of the food. If they can’t be separated as well, they can’t be absorbed as well, and osteoporosis is one of the possible results of that.”
Sarah laughed. “One of my friends told me about that! Do I really need to do it? She said it didn’t hurt at all, but was a bit of a hassle.”
“Let me tell you about the report published in 1932[v] by a team of Mayo Clinic researchers, who performed stomach acidity tests with 3,308 research volunteers . . . 1,454 women and 1,854 men . . . between the ages of twenty and seventy nine years old. In the sixty to sixty-nine year old group, 50.1% of the men and 52.4% of the women were found to have suboptimal stomach acid secretion.”
“OK, I’m over sixty, I’ll get it done. If I have that problem it will affect my whole body, not just my bones, right?”
“You’re right about that. And the only other test that’s frequently positive for anyone—especially younger individuals—diagnosed with osteoporosis is the one for ‘hidden’ gluten sensitivity. Your family history, other information on the forms you filled out—thank for doing that, it’s very helpful—and your physical exam didn’t suggest that, so we’ll skip that one for now.”
“Good! One more test is enough! And what about this formula? You did put it together, right? When was that? I looked at the Tahoma Clinic Dispensary website. . . .”
“You do your homework! That’s important to stay as healthy as we can! Yes, it’s my formula, put together in 2003 before all but the first research about that potentially dangerous, patented form of strontium was published. The reports about those dangers weren’t published until a few years later, but no one needs to be a genius to know that anytime any natural substance is combined with another substance to make a combination not found in Nature it’s likely to cause problems.
“Osteo-Mins was formulated partly because at that time strontium was only available from a Canadian source, and partly to make sure that if strontium ranelate ever arrived in these United States—which fortunately it didn’t—there would be a safe, effective alternative available.”
Sarah got up to go. “Well, I’m convinced it’s safe—now let’s hope it will be effective for me!”
Sarah returned with a smile after each follow-up bone scan, which all showed steady improvement. As mentioned at the beginning, her bone scan in December 2016 was “100% normal.”
[i] Marie PJ et al. Histomorphometry of bone changes in stable strontium therapy. Trace Substances in Environmental Health (Proceedings of the University of Missouri’s 19th Annual Conference on Trace substances in Environmental Health) 1985;XIX:193-208
[ii] One of many, many examples: Even though there were over 30 published research reports about the health benefits of walnuts available through the National Library of Medicine, los federales sent the Diamond Walnut Company a “warning letter” ordering them to remove any of this information from their website
[iii] Reginster JY, Deroisy R, Dougados M, et al. Prevention of early postmenopausal bone loss by strontium ranelate: the randomized, two-year, double-masked, dose-ranging, placebo-controlled PREVOS trial. Osteoporos Int. 2002 Dec;13(12):925-31.
[iv] Boivin G, Meunier PJ. The mineralization of bone tissue: a forgotten dimension in osteoporosis research. Osteoporosis International 2003; 14(Suppl 3): S9-S12
[v] VanZant F et al., Normal Range of Gastric Acidity from Youth to Old Age, Archives of Internal Medicine 1932;49(3):345