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People with celiac disease have increased bone fracture risk and other bone problems

Posted on January 9th, 2012 by Alison Read 4 Comments - Add Your Own »

For anyone with bone density problems, bone fractures, osteoporosis, osteopenia, osteomalacia, bone pain or any other bone-related problems, consider getting tested for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. This is a common symptom that often gets overlooked.  Two recent studies confirm the negative effects of celiac disease on bone health.

A case study of a 29-year old man with no gastrointestinal complaints came in with back pain. It was discovered that he had a compression fracture in his spine, and he reported that he had several bone fractures as a child. Tests revealed low bone density, but that vitamin D levels were normal, despite villous atrophy (damage to his intestines, often preventing the ability to absorb nutrients).

The authors of the report stated that “Celiac disease is often a cause of low bone density and patients with celiac disease have an increased fracture risk, a hazard ratio of 1.43 or 43% increased risk when compared to age-matched healthy populations.” They concluded, “We emphasize considering celiac disease in all patients with idiopathic [arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause] low bone density even if vitamin D and PTH [parathyroid hormone] levels are normal.”

Another study submitted by doctors in Amsterdam profiled a 29-year old woman bound to a wheelchair who had progressive bone pain, short stature, difficulty walking, scoliosis, softening of the bones, low bone mineral density and poor dental condition. Testing showed that she had villous atrophy, antibodies against gluten, and extremely low vitamin D and low calcium, and was deficient in several other vitamins. She had already been diagnosed with celiac disease at age 17, but apparently wasn’t following the gluten-free diet or was at least getting some amount of gluten exposure. The doctors treated her for 14 days with intravenous calcium and vitamin D, and “the symptoms of the patient rapidly improved; the bone pain decreased, muscle strength and physical performance improved markedly, and she was able to walk unassisted.” Incredible! After 5 1/2 months they found that her bone mineral density had indeed improved.

Have you had bone problems as a result of celiac disease or gluten intolerance? Are you looking for answers to your bone-related health issues? Leave a comment so that your experience can help others or others can help you!

Related reading: Gluten and bone health

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  1. A long time celiac (40 years) but living on a gluten free diet… I was surprised to learn that my bone density is not great for my age. I broke my shoulder a few years ago and the doctor was surprised to see how long it was taking for my bone to rebuild. A year later I was also diagnosed with microscopic colitis (not common – but more common in long-term celiacs) – a bone density test revealed that my bones needed some attention.

  2. I had tremendous bone pain in my collar bone and rib cage – the start of osteomalasia. Extraordinarily painful. The pain subsided greatly within 6 months of being gluten-free. and now is gone.

    I also broke both my ankles numerous times in my 30’s. Haven’t broken anything in ages. (knock wood – gently!) 🙂 My bones are much improved now!!

  3. I have a 19 yr old who was not completely diagnosed with Celiac disease a few years ago when she went away to college. The gluten-free diet had helped her immensely. She is always always reading and educating herself on the news in the field. This semester she fell when climbing and broke her arm and ended up with pins in it. Then she told me all about bopne density issues and vitamin D are especially important for those with Celiac to be on top of. Reading your article here confirms and concerns me. There is so much to learn and always new pieces of the puzzle coming together.

  4. I have only been gluten free for just 3 and 1/2 months, stumbled across figuring it out by doing a google search on extremely itchy skin after eating some gluten packed food.

    Then did searches on gluten sensitivity and intolerance and celiac, and found this wonderful site amongst others.

    Quit all gluten primarily due to severe itchy skin, but then my bloated legs and feet (which I did not realize were bloated!) were no longer bloated at all AND severe pain in my feet, nerves and bone seemingly, also decreased greatly, is now gone most of the time.

    I have noticed if I get glutened from hidden gluten or cross contamination, my feet start hurting first and swell a bit, then my skin on my arms starts itching intensely.

    SO much more problematic and bothersome symptoms have totally dissappeared since being gluten free. Lost weight, no more crazy carb food cravings and binging (no purging!) at all, blood sugar is way down, feel so much better, more energy!! Can’t wait to share with my primary care doctor and see how my lab work looks and ask about testing, though I will remain gluten free no matter what any tests might show.

    Going gluten free has increased my quality of life tremendously!!! So thankful for all who have gone before us and share their experiences and knowledge for us newbies!! 🙂

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