Why All of Your Calcium Information is Wrong

By: Bel Marra Health | Anti-Aging | Monday, December 17, 2012 - 10:41 AM

side effects of calcium supplementIn order for your body to function properly and stay healthy, it needs a variety of vitamins and minerals that can be obtained from the food you eat or from supplements. Approximately half of Americans take supplements of vitamins and minerals in an effort to maintain optimal health.  Bone health is a top priority for many individuals, especially aging women, as the risk of developing osteoporosis increases with aging.  Osteoporosis leads to a weakening of your bones and leaves you more susceptible to fracture.

While calcium and magnesium have long been considered optimal minerals for bone health, strontium has been pushed aside and nearly forgotten.  With recent studies linking calcium supplements to an increased risk of heart attack, perhaps it’s time to take a look back at the long forgotten mineral, strontium, as a possible supplement that can provide you with bone health benefits.

Side Effects of Calcium Supplements

While calcium supplements are commonly prescribed to post-menopausal women at risk of osteoporosis, possible side effects do exist when taking this supplement.  Common side effects of calcium supplements include constipation and upset stomach.  However, some individuals may also experience nausea and/or vomiting, loss of appetite, abnormal weight loss, mood changes, bone and/or muscle pain, headaches, increased urination or thirst, and weakness.   It is important that individuals taking calcium supplements speak to their doctor if any of these unusual side effects occur when taking calcium supplements.  Additionally, although it’s rare, some people may have an allergic reaction to calcium supplements.  Signs of an allergic reaction include rash, itching, swelling, dizziness, and/or difficulty breathing. If an allergic reaction is suspected, it is important that the individual seek medical attention immediately.

Scary Link between Calcium Supplements and Heart Attack

In addition to the side effects of calcium supplements that you might expect, recent research from the University of Zurich found that calcium supplements may actually increase the risk of heart attack.  The researchers followed approximately 24,000 participants over a period of 11 years.  Participants were asked to complete food surveys and were also interviewed about their consumption of vitamins and minerals. The findings showed that the participants who took calcium supplements were at a significantly increased risk of suffering a heart attack. The researchers state that this may be due to the fact that calcium supplements increase serum calcium and may promote calcification in the arteries.  This calcification can lead to a narrowing of the arteries making blood flow to the heart difficult.  Also, if one of the plaques breaks off, it can trigger a heart attack or stroke.  The researchers advise that calcium supplements should be taken with caution as they may pose a serious risk to many individuals.

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What is Strontium?

Strontium is a trace mineral that is found naturally in your body with approximately 99% of it being found in your bones.  Strontium is also found in nature in seawater and soil.  When looking at a periodic table, strontium is found directly below calcium; this means that strontium, calcium and magnesium are all part of the same chemical family.  Most dietary strontium is obtained by eating seafood but it is also found in whole wheat, wheat bran, meat, poultry and root vegetables.  Additionally, strontium can be taken in supplement form and is found in various medicinal treatments.

History of Strontium Research

Research on the use of strontium for the treatment of osteoporosis began back in 1959 at the Mayo Clinic.  Researchers investigated the effects that strontium had on 32 individuals who had osteoporosis.  The findings showed that 84% of the participants had significant improvement in bone pain and the remaining 16% had moderate improvement in their bone pain when taking 1.7grams of strontium per day in the form of strontium lactate.  Radiographs (x-rays) were also taken at the beginning and at the end of the study and showed what the researchers termed “probable” increased bone mass in 78% of the participants. It is important to remember that back in 1959, technology was not as advanced as today so researchers had to interpret bone mass changes seen on x-ray and that is why the bone mass changes are “probable”.

Around the same time that this research was being conducted, strontium-90 (which is a highly dangerous, radioactive substance) was produced in the atmosphere as a by-product of nuclear testing that was going on during this time period. The radioactive strontium spread through the environment and contaminated many products including dairy products.  As a result of this contamination, radioactive strontium built up in the bones of children and adults.  The media made it known that strontium-90 could lead to cancer and other diseases. Because of this, many people believed that strontium was a poison and should be avoided.

While the research findings from the Mayo Clinic showed promise for the use of strontium for the treatment of osteoporosis, the “strontium scare” of the 1950’s lead to strontium being forgotten and pushed aside.  Little follow-up research was conducted until about 30 years later.

Strontium and Osteoporosis

Strontium ranelate may help to improve bone health by increasing bone formation by promoting the growth of osteoblasts.  Osteoblasts are a type of bone forming cell and are important for optimal bone health.  Additionally, there is also some evidence that suggests that strontium ranelate may also help to prevent bone resorption (bone loss).  Bone resorption is a key feature in the development and progression of osteoporosis. It is therefore believed that the use of strontium ranelate may help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and may also help to treat osteoporosis.

There have been a number of clinical trials in post-menopausal women using strontium ranelate.  The findings from these clinical trials show that the use of strontium ranelate is associated with a decreased risk of fracture in post-menopausal women with osteoporosis.  Additionally, the use of strontium ranelate was also correlated with an increased bone mineral density in post-menopausal women that had osteoporosis as well as in those that did not have osteoporosis.

Strontium and Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder and is a chronic condition.  It commonly causes joint pain and stiffness as the cartilage between the joints breaks down and wears away.  Extra bone may form around the joint and the muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint may become weaker and stiff.   There is no cure for osteoarthritis but symptom control can be obtained through medications, lifestyle changes including diet and exercise, physical therapy, bracing, alternative therapies including massage and acupuncture and surgery. However, the use of strontium in the treatment of osteoarthritis may also be beneficial as it may help to slow the progression of the disease.

Research on the use of strontium for the treatment of osteoarthritis shows that it may help to boost the formation of collagen and cartilage in the joints.  Additionally, a 2011 study that was published in Climacteric followed over 2,600 post-menopausal women for a period of 36 months.  During the study time, the participants either took strontium ranelate or a placebo.  The researchers analyzed the data and found that taking strontium ranelate helped to prevent the breakdown of cartilage in the joints.

Recent research is showing that strontium may be more beneficial than calcium and magnesium for bone health.  In recent years, various studies have shown strontium to have superior bone supporting properties compared to calcium supplements.  Additionally, strontium supplements do not pose the same risky side effects that are now being discovered with calcium supplements.  Recent research published in Heart followed over 24,000 participants over a decade and found that taking calcium supplements may actually increase the risk of heart attack. The researchers from this study concluded that calcium supplements, which are commonly recommended to the elderly as well as post-menopausal women, should be taken with caution.  Research supports the bone health benefits of strontium and considering the recent risks that have been uncovered with calcium supplements, now may be the perfect time for strontium to make a come-back as the ideal mineral for bone health.

Risks Associated With Strontium
As with a number of other vitamins and minerals, strontium is generally safe when taken in recommended dosages.   However, some individuals may experience mild gastrointestinal side effects including diarrhea when taking strontium.   Like many other vitamins and minerals, if strontium is taken in high doses there may be additional undesirable side effects.  If too much strontium is taken it may replace too much of the calcium found in your bones and impair vitamin D metabolism; this will harm your bone health by weakening them.  Strontium is eliminated by the kidneys and will build up if your kidneys aren’t functioning correctly.  There is also a small increased risk of blood clots, especially in individuals who have clotting disorders when taking strontium ranelate.  It is therefore advisable to speak to your doctor before starting to take strontium, especially if you have a kidney disorder or history of blood clots.

Another important point is that calcium significantly decreases the absorption of strontium.  This occurs because both calcium and strontium use the same carrier protein for transport within the body. It is therefore advisable that strontium not be taken at the same time as calcium supplements.

If you’re looking to maintain your bone health but don’t want to accept the risks that have recently been associated with calcium supplements, you may want to consider adding strontium to your daily routine.  Taking strontium in combination with a healthy diet might be the right choice for you.

Related Reading: The Side Effects of Calcium Supplements You Wouldn’t Expect

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