(NaturalNews) Research spanning a century has shown that strontium, a naturally occurring trace mineral, is an important component of healthy bone tissue. Researchers from around the world have found that, in pharmaceutical doses, it dramatically increases bone density and reduces risk for fractures in women with osteoporosis.
National Osteoporosis Foundation statistics indicate that "osteoporosis causes more than 1.5 million fractures annually: 700,000 vertebral, 300,000 hip, 250,000 wrist and 300,000 fractures at other sites".  Sadly, "an average of 24% of hip fracture patients aged 50 and over dies in the year following their fracture." 
As our population ages in huge numbers, finding a safe and effective treatment for osteoporosis is more important than ever before. Dr. Susan Brown, director of the Osteoporosis Education Project (OEP) in East Syracuse, N.Y., says "Our bone crisis worsens each year, despite intensive public health and disease treatment efforts". 
So, exactly what is strontium? It is element number 38 on the periodic table of elements. It is in the same group of elements as calcium and magnesium. That means it has similar chemical properties as these better known elements.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services, notes that safe, non- toxic forms of strontium most often occur in mineral form. Another form of strontium known as strontium 90 is found in nuclear fall out and is a known radioactive toxin.
Strontium is found in the minerals celestite and strontianite. It's in the air, water, soil and in plant and animal tissue. It's found in human bone tissue. In nature strontium exists in different forms, some are safe and stable while others are extremely toxic. This may lead to confusion about which forms are safe and beneficial to bone health. 
The bulk of dietary strontium is found in whole grains, spices, leafy and root vegetables, seafood and legumes. Soil content of strontium affects the amount found in plant and animal tissue. In the article Strontium for Osteoporosis: To Dose or Megadose, Alan Gaby, MD says that the "typical diet contains 1 to 3 milligrams of strontium a day." 
Researchers believe that strontium stimulates bone cells that build new bone tissue (osteoblasts) and inhibit cells that break down or resorb bone tissue (osteoclasts).
Osteoblast activity is predominant in children as they are growing and building bone tissue, while osteoclast activity becomes more predominant as we age. In healthy people this process of building up and breaking down of bone tissue stays in relative balance throughout life however, bone loss accelerates for most in their late twenties and early thirties.
According to Dr. Susan Brown, the healthy human skeletal system is rebuilt about every ten years in a process called "remodeling".  This remodeling process is tightly regulated by multiple physiological mechanisms and depends on healthy nutritional status, exposure to sunlight, internal acid/alkaline balance, hormone balance and the ability to regularly engage in weight bearing physical activity. It is an intricate and amazing balancing act! But can we lose bone mass while maintaining healthy bone strength? And is bone mass less important to health than bone strength? These are questions that researchers are currently attempting to answer.
In Europe strontium is available in a patented prescription product that contains strontium ranelate. Ranelate is a synthetic salt of ranelic acid. This product is not available in the US or Canada.
In the US, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) classifies strontium as a dietary supplement. It is manufactured in several unpatentable forms including strontium citrate, gluconate and carbonate. It can be derived from mined ore, processed with citric acid from corn dextrose and fermented with palm oil to produce strontium citrate.  Without carrier compounds like citrate, carbonate, gluconate, lactate, or malate, to name just a few, minerals would pass through our digestive tracts unabsorbed.
It is the carrier compound for strontium that has fueled international strontium research and it is the carrier compound that has raised scientific debate about how strontium is best delivered to bone tissue.
In 1959 researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN conducted case study research designed to assess the effects of strontium lactate on a group of 32 people with osteoporosis.
Although dual energy X-ray assessment for bone density (DEXA) did not exist in 1959 researchers did however conclude that 84% of patients with painful osteoporosis showed "marked subjective improvement" and that "the therapeutic value of the drug appears to be established". 
More recent international studies, including the large, placebo controlled double blind multi-center STRATOS study (Meunier et al ) and the TROPOS study (Reginster et al), used strontium ranelate, a synthetic, patented form of strontium.
Results of the STRATOS study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2004. Researchers concluded that "Treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis with strontium ranelate leads to early and sustained reductions in the risk of vertebral fractures and that strontium ranelate may be as effective as current drug therapy without the side effects". 
The TROPOS study was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2005. Researchers found a 39% risk reduction in vertebral fractures and a 36% risk reduction in hip fracture in post menopausal women over a 3 year time period. Bone mineral density increased 8.2% at the femoral neck and 9.8% at the hip.
Researchers concluded that "over a 3 year period (strontium ranelate) is well tolerated. It confirms that strontium ranelate reduces vertebral fractures (and) offers a safe and effective means of reducing the risk of fracture associated with osteoporosis".
Ranelate. Citrate. Carbonate. Gluconate. Lactate. Does the carrier molecule really matter in these positive outcomes? Several high profile physicians in the CAM community believe that it is the strontium that has the effect on bone health rather than the carrier compound used to deliver it to tissue.
Ronald Hoffman, MD, founder of the Hoffman Center in New York City says that "strontium has been safely used as a medicinal substance for more than a hundred years. In clinical research strontium gluconate was absorbed better than strontium carbonate. It is my clinical opinion that strontium citrate is absorbed better than the other forms of this mineral". 
Jonathan V. Wright, MD, founder of the Tahoma Clinic in Kent, WA says that both natural and semi-synthetic forms of strontium are effective (in treating osteoporosis). 
Calcium inhibits the absorption of strontium. If you choose to use supplemental strontium it is very important not to take it at the same time that you take calcium containing supplements or even eat calcium rich foods. Therefore, avoid bone support supplement formulas that contain both calcium and magnesium in the same dose.
Choose your supplement carefully, look for one manufactured by a company that participates in GMP, Good Manufacturing Practices. These companies tend to rigorously test raw materials and post production products for purity and potency although this designation is currently not a guarantee of quality.
Also look for a supplement that lists the "elemental" content of strontium. For example one manufacturer of strontium citrate states that 1 serving (one capsule) contains 720mg of strontium citrate (providing 227mg of elemental calcium). That way you know the precise dosage of strontium that you are taking.
Alan Gaby, MD says that "The evidence is clear that strontium supplementation can help prevent osteoporotic fractures. Additional research is needed, however, to determine what dose provides the optimal balance of safety and efficacy."  With this in mind, if you are at risk for low bone density, if you already have osteoporosis or have experienced an osteoporosis related fracture, talk with your physician about strontium, about what form and dosage of strontium might help you improve your bone health and reduce your risks for fracture.