Researchers have taken a particular interest in the impact of celiac on our bones. And they should. 70% of celiacs have some form of bone loss or osteomalacia (softening of the bones, per Mayo Clinic) celiac.com reported in 2007. Four percent have osteoporosis.
Bone loss & celiac in children
A study published in the journal Nutrition Reviews looked how a gluten-free diet can help children recover from bone loss. The study – reported in Science Daily says metabolic bone disease is a “significant and common” complication of celiac disease. It can lead to kids not acquiring great bone mass and adults actually losing bone mass.
“…evidence suggests that a gluten-free diet promotes a rapid increase in bone mineral density that leads to complete recovery of bone mineralization in children. A gluten-free diet improves, although rarely normalizes, bone mineral density in adults. Children may attain normal peak bone mass if the diagnosis is made and treatment is given before puberty, thereby preventing osteoporosis in later life.” – Science Daily.com
Also, nutritional supplements can help. Calcium and Vitamin D can increase bone density in children and adolescents.
Osteoporosis and Celiac
A second study also reported in Science Daily looked at the possible link between osteoporosis and celiac disease. As many of us know celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. Researchers say this is “…the first time an autoimmune response…has been shown to cause damage to bones directly”.
Specifically researchers looked at a protein called osteoprotegerin (OPG) in people with celiac. Usually OPG maintains bone health by controlling the rate at which bone tissue is removed. “The latest research shows that 20% of celiac patients produce antibodies that attack the OPG protein” and keep it from doing its job. The result: “rapid bone destruction and severe osteoporosis”.
This form of osteoporosis doesn’t respond well to calcium and vitamin D supplements – but it did respond to drugs.
“Not only have we discovered a new reason to explain why osteoporosis occurs in celiac disease, but we have also found that it responds very well to drugs that prevent bone tissue removal,” said Professor Stuart Ralston from the University of Edinburgh.
Some research perspective
So these studies are all good to know. But I think it’s good to have as part of your wealth of knowledge instead of hanging your hat on one or two studies.
Bone loss is a troubling side effect from undiagnosed celiac disease. The first study touched on this slightly. “Early diagnosis and therapy are critical in preventing celiac disease complications, like reduced bone mineral density,” the authors said. Early diagnosis to prevent — those are the key words. Bone loss, weakening, low mineral density, osteoporosis..no matter what you call it, it could be avoided or seriously lessened in celiac cases – as long as they get diagnosed early.
People with major bone problems who have celiac are likely either undiagnosed, were undiagnosed for a long time or cheat on the gluten-free diet. Their bodies are not absorbing the vitamin D and calcium they need to keep bones healthy. I felt these two studies gave off the vibe that if you have celiac, no matter if you have it controlled with a gluten-free diet or not, you’re stuck with bad bones. Lesson here: stick to the diet and you should reap the health benefits. But getting regular bone density exams is probably a wise choice as well.
In the second study, it mentioned how the bone loss did respond to “drugs that prevent bone tissue removal”. According to CBC News, which also reported this research, “…several of the researchers reported relationships with pharmaceutical companies or patent applications involving osteoprotegerin antibodies for a diagnostic test and treatment.”
This is another thing to keep in mind, do the study’s results lean a certain way because of the interests of the researchers? I am not saying that these researchers skewed the results for their own good. I am only saying that this should be noted when looking at the research.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. If you have concerns about bone loss you should always consult your doctor. Celiac disease is just one possibility that could contribute to a person’s bone loss.