European drug helps bone loss


POSTED: Saturday, April 04, 2009

Living a long life greatly increases a person's risk of experiencing the pains of excessive bone loss. In the United States, companies are selling strontium supplements to promote bone health and prevent osteoporosis. Based on European studies, it is likely that these supplements are as effective as drugs commonly used to treat osteoporosis in the United States.

Question: What is the European experience with strontium?

Answer: A drug called strontium ranelate is commonly prescribed in several European countries. It is produced by a French company called Servier and sold under the brand name Protelos. The drug works by providing the mineral strontium, which becomes incorporated into the bones much like calcium.

Human trials show that the overall effect of strontium is to stimulate bone growth, inhibit bone loss and therefore decrease the incidence of bone fractures to the same extent as older and more commonly used bisphosphonate drugs such as Fosamax and Boniva.

The patented prescription drug Protelos is growing in popularity in Europe because it does not produce the same side effects as other common osteoporosis drugs. But because it is considered a drug, strontium ranelate must still be approved for use in the United States.

Q: Are strontium dietary supplements likely to function like strontium ranelate?

A: The non-patentable forms of strontium supplements, such as strontium citrate, should dissolve and deliver strontium to the bones just as efficiently as strontium ranelate. Early animal studies showing bone benefits used these common forms of strontium. The ranelate component of strontium ranelate has no active effect in the body and is simply eliminated through the urine.

Q: Are strontium supplements a reliable source of strontium?

A: Not always. A study reported at the International Bone and Mineral Research Conference in Honolulu in 2007 found that three out of five products tested contained significantly less strontium than their labels indicated. The two properly labeled products were AOR Strontium Support and Strontium Bone Maker.

Although strontium supplements are available without a prescription, it is best to use them only with the knowledge and guidance of a physician who can consider any potential risks that might apply to your case. In response to growing interest in strontium supplements, researchers at the University of California—Davis Medical Center just launched a three-month human study on the bone health effects of strontium citrate supplements.


Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., and Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii-Manoa. Dobbs also works with University Health Services.