Rates of celiac disease are significantly higher in patients with osteoporosis, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. They recommend using blood tests to screen osteoporosis patients for celiac disease because their study has shown that treating celiac disease with diet can restore bone health in these patients.

Celiac disease is an intestinal disorder caused by intolerance to wheat flour (gluten).

“Our results suggest that as many as three to four percent of patients who have osteoporosis have the bone disease as a consequence of having celiac disease, which makes them unable to absorb normal amounts of calcium and vitamin D,” says principal investigator William F. Stenson, M.D.

In celiac disease, an immune reaction to the gluten portion of wheat interferes with the intestine’s absorption of various dietary products. The disease can contribute to malnutrition and gastrointestinal problems. Removing gluten from the diet by excluding certain grain products corrects the condition. Although celiac disease often involves obvious symptoms such as weight loss and diarrhea, some patients do not know they have the disease because they experience only subtle problems such as iron deficiency anemia.

By putting patients who had celiac disease and osteoporosis on a gluten-free diet for one year, the investigators were able to improve gastrointestinal symptoms and improve bone density as well.

Washington University School of Medicine, Feb 28, 2005