Dear Dr. Roach: I started taking strontium for my bones. I have osteoporosis. Will it help improve my bone density?


Dear L.S.: Yes, strontium will increase your bone density; a better question is whether strontium will reduce your likelihood of getting a fracture, and that answer probably is yes. However, the best question is whether the risks outweigh the benefits, and that answer is a bit unclear.

Strontium is a heavy and dense element, but it is treated like calcium by your body, and is placed into your bones. That makes the bone density appear greater by the standard DEXA test, and the rising bone density does not correlate with the degree of fracture reduction.

Longer studies in Europe did show that strontium reduced the risk of vertebral fractures; however, a European Medicines Agency (similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) committee recommended against the use of strontium ranelate (which is not available in the United States) unless there are no other approved medicines that can be used, and that it should not be used in people with a history of heart attack, angina or stroke. This is because some data showed increased risk of heart disease and blood clots.

Strontium can be purchased in the U.S. as a supplement; however, it is not strontium ranelate; has not been tested for safety and efficacy; and its risks on the heart and on blood clotting are unknown. Most supplements sold in the U.S. are not independently tested for purity. I recommend against taking strontium supplements.

Dear Dr. Roach: I’ve been having shortness of breath whenever I vacation and walk in the mountains. I was a smoker, but quit 31 years ago. I had a lung capacity breathing test, and I passed with flying colors. The technician said my number was one of the highest she has seen. Why this is happening?


Dear N.L.: I have two concerns. The first is that lung capacity is a measure of just what it sounds like — how big the lungs are. When the technician says it’s among the biggest she’s seen, I worry that it’s too big. An elevated lung capacity can go along with emphysema, which can be related to distant smoking or can be due to a condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Emphysema can be diagnosed by other components of pulmonary function tests, particularly a test called the DLCO, and confirmed by X-ray or CT.

However, breathing problems also might indicate heart problems and anemia, so you might need another visit. On the other hand, there is less oxygen in the thin mountain air, so some degree of shortness of breath might not be abnormal.

Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.

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