Celiac disease quadruples risk of osteoporosis

For individuals who are not otherwise at risk for osteoporosis, having celiac disease puts them at more than four times the risk of developing progressive bone loss, according to researchers from the Lancaster University School of Health and Medicine.

This association was announced at the European League Against Rheumatism's 2011 Annual Congress. The UK scientists who discovered the correlation said they did so after collecting bone mass density measurements for more than 1,000 adults with celiac disease.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) states that more than 2 million Americans have celiac disease, a condition in which an allergy to grain-based gluten results in autoimmune damage to the lining of the intestines.

Researchers think this illness may be inherited. The NIDDK notes that although the national prevalence of celiac disease is roughly one in every 133 people, one in 22 of those who have a first-degree relative with a gluten allergy have the disease themselves.

The National Institutes of Health states that eating fortified breads and cereals, something that people with gluten allergies cannot do, may provide the body with adequate amounts of vitamin D, an essential nutrient for the prevention of osteoporosis.

In the latest study, the team took bone mass density readings of participants' skeletal health using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry scans. Researchers found that the lumbar vertebrae of individuals with celiac disease were significantly less dense than those without the condition.

Though all participants had no other risk factors for bone loss, the team concluded that having celiac disease boosted the likelihood of osteoporosis by a factor of four and a half, even among otherwise healthy adults.

Because they are so low in the spinal column, the lumbar vertebrae experience the most pressure from the body's mass, which makes them a likely site for osteoporosis-related fractures.

In the U.S., vertebral pressure fractures are the most common skeletal injury caused by progressive bone loss, accounting for more than one-quarter of all osteoporosis-related fractures each year, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

The agency estimates that 547,000 vertebral pressure fractures occur annually.

The UK study is not the first to address the connection between celiac disease and poor bone health. A 2010 report from Canada's University of Alberta found that, on average, children diagnosed with gluten allergies consume less than half the amount of vitamin K they should, as well as too little vitamin D.

Its authors suggested that dietary supplementation may improve the nutrition of children with celiac disease, reducing their likelihood of being osteoporotic later in life.