Celiac Disease and Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become less dense and more likely to fracture. Fractures from osteoporosis can result in pain and disability. Osteoporosis is a major health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans. While postmenopausal Caucasian women have the highest risk for the disease, men and certain ethnic populations are also at risk.
Risk factors for osteoporosis include:
- Being thin or having a small frame
- Having a family history of the disease
- For women, being postmenopausal, having an early menopause, or not having menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
- Using certain medications, such as glucocorticoids
- Not getting enough calcium
- Not getting enough physical activity
- Drinking too much alcohol.
Osteoporosis is a disease that can often be prevented. However, if undetected, it can progress for many years without symptoms until a fracture occurs.
Osteoporosis is a complication of untreated celiac disease. The small intestine is responsible for absorbing important nutrients, such as calcium. Calcium is essential for building and maintaining healthy bones. Even people with celiac disease who consume what would normally be enough calcium are deficient in this nutrient. And since calcium is needed to keep bones healthy, low bone density is common in both children and adults with untreated and newly diagnosed celiac disease.
When people with celiac disease eliminate foods containing gluten from their diet, normal absorption of nutrients from the intestines is usually restored within a few months -- though it may take up to two years in older adults. Eventually, most children and adults experience significant improvements in their bone density.
A small percentage of people with celiac disease do not improve on a gluten-free diet. These people often have severely damaged intestines that cannot heal and may need to receive intravenous nutrition supplements.