Friday, June 10, 2011

Strontium: Calcium’s Evil Alter-Ego?

Even though it got a bad reputation as an evil twin of calcium due to its presence in atomic fallout, does strontium really deserve the reputation as calcium’s evil alter-ego?

By: Ringo Bones

Given that 2011 has been declared as the UN’s International Year of Chemistry what better time to reevaluate some of the reputations that the members of the “Periodic Kingdom” seem to have unfairly deserved for the past hundred years or so. Aside from giving fireworks their rich red color, strontium seemingly got a bad rap during the 20th Century’s “Atomic Age” as the evil alter-ego of life-supporting calcium even though both belong to the Alkaline Earth Metal family of the Periodic Table.

Discovered in 1790, the name strontium is derived from Strontian, Scotland. Though much, much rarer than calcium, radioactive strontium-90 is present in significant amounts in atomic fallout – it is absorbed by bone tissue in place of calcium and enough of it destroys bone marrow and can cause cancer by emitting beta particles. But is strontium’s bad rap as the evil alter-ego of calcium really warranted?

Recent advances in medical science has just found a new use for strontium’s strange chemistry – namely as a treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Strontium ranelate – a chemical compound of stable non-radioactive form of strontium and ranelic acid – is now regularly used to treat postmenopausal osteoporosis to reduce the risk of vertebral and hip fractures. Because calcium containing drugs and foods reduce strontium bioavailability by as much as 60 to 70%, strontium containing drugs that treat postmenopausal osteoporosis should be taken two hours apart from calcium-containing drugs and foods. Even though the radioactive isotope of strontium, strontium-90, can cause bone cancer, the non-radioactive stable strontium isotopes simultaneously increase bone formation and reduces bone resorption.

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