Gluten Intolerance and Bone Health
December 02, 2017
Submitted by Elizabeth Madlem, APN, The Bone Health Clinic at Millennium Pain Center
Stroll through the aisles of any grocery store and it’s obvious that more and more people are following a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, farina, and bulgur. People who have celiac disease, an intestinal disorder, cannot consume any foods containing gluten, or their immune systems respond by attacking and damaging the lining of the small intestine. Many people do not have celiac disease, but they have a gluten intolerance. This means that they suffer many of the same symptoms as those with celiac disease if they eat foods that contain gluten. Still others avoid gluten simply because they believe that eliminating it makes them feel better.
Celiac disease and gluten intolerance affect people differently. Some people develop symptoms as children and others as adults. Symptoms vary and may or may not occur in the digestive system. They may include diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, joint pain, headaches, fatigue, and irritability, among others. Celiac disease and gluten intolerance often goes undiagnosed because the symptoms are so varied or may only flare up occasionally.
The link between celiac disease and osteoporosis
So, what does celiac disease and gluten intolerance have to do with bone health? Quite simply, if a person has celiac disease, they are at a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become less dense and more likely to fracture. The small intestine is responsible for absorbing important nutrients into the bloodstream for the body to use. Calcium is one nutrient that is essential for building bone mass in young people and maintaining healthy bones in adults. When the lining of the small intestine is damaged, so is its ability to absorb calcium and other vital nutrients. Therefore, even though a person with celiac disease may be consuming plenty of calcium, the body cannot absorb it properly, thus greatly increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
The prevalence of osteoporosis and osteopenia in patients newly diagnosed with celiac disease may be as high as 75 percent. A study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that celiac disease was associated with a 69 percent increased risk of hip fracture and a 30 percent increased risk of any fracture. Because of this strong correlation between the two conditions, it is recommended that patients with celiac disease or gluten intolerance be evaluated and monitored for calcium and vitamin D deficiencies.
The risk of losing bone density is in those people who are not yet aware that they have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. When people with celiac disease adopt a strict gluten-free diet, normal absorption of nutrients from the intestines is usually restored within a few months, although it may take up to two years in adults, depending on how long they have been undiagnosed. The earlier in life a person with celiac disease switches to a gluten-free diet, the better their chances of significantly improving their bone density.
People with celiac disease on a gluten-free diet should follow the same basic strategies for bone health that apply to everyone. These strategies include getting adequate vitamins and minerals, including calcium and vitamin D, performing weight-bearing exercise, not smoking, and avoiding excessive use of alcohol.
It’s important for everyone to take control of their health — and this includes bone health. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, it’s important to be aware of the connection to osteoporosis. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or have many risk factors for developing the disease, a comprehensive osteoporosis treatment program can be very beneficial in helping you to improve your health.
For more information on osteoporosis, you may contact The Bone Health Clinic at Millennium Pain Center, 309-662-4321. They have a new location at 2406 East Empire St. in Bloomington, next to Orthopedic & Sports Enhancement Center. Elizabeth Madlem is a certified bone health consultant. The clinic provides screening, diagnosis, and a comprehensive treatment plan for people who have or are at risk of developing osteoporosis.
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