A US study, published in the medical journal, Archives of Internal Medicine1, in 2006, suggests that all osteoporotic patients should undergo testing for celiac disease.

Celiac disease is a medical condition affecting about 1 in 133 Canadians, where the ingestion of gluten (a protein found in wheat) triggers an abnormal immune response. The villi of the small intestine become flattened, decreasing the surface area available for nutrient absorption.

Osteoporosis is the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time. Osteoporosis occurs when the body fails to form enough new bone, or it reabsorbs too much old bone, or when both happen. Some sufferers of celiac disease develop osteoporosis due to decreased absorption of calcium and vitamin D.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis undertook a large-scale study to determine whether those diagnosed with osteoporosis should undergo routine testing for celiac disease. Previous studies have reached contradictory conclusions.

This study consisted of a group of 840 individuals, 266 with and 574 without osteoporosis. All were tested for celiac disease. While only 0.2% of non-osteoporotic individuals were diagnosed with celiac, 3.4% of osteoporotic patients were found to have celiac disease: a seventeen times higher prevalence rate.

Those individuals diagnosed with celiac disease were then placed on a gluten-free diet for one year, leading to an increase in each patient’s bone mass density.

The authors concluded that celiac testing should be routine for all those diagnosed with osteoporosis, since the incidence of celiac disease is many times greater among osteoporotic patients than in the general population. A gluten-free diet can improve nutrient absorption and thus improve the bone mass density of celiac sufferers with osteoporosis.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 156 – July/August 2006
Stenson et al. Increased prevalence of celiac disease and need for routine screening among patients with osteoporosis. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2005;165:393-9.