NEW ORLEANS—People with celiac disease are at risk for osteoporosis, according to physicians at Loyola University Health System (LUHS). A 2009 New England Journal of Medicine study supports this correlation. Researchers believe that people with celiac disease may develop osteoporosis because their body poorly absorbs calcium and vitamin D, which are necessary for bone health.
Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine and does not allow nutrients to properly absorb when foods containing gluten are ingested. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Patients with celiac disease must eliminate foods containing this protein or risk further damage.
“Many people with celiac disease go on to develop osteoporosis later in life," said Pauline Camacho, MD, director of the LUHS Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Disease Center. “We attribute this to the fact that patients with celiac disease do not get the proper amount of nutrients necessary for bone function, which leads to rapid bone destruction and severe osteoporosis."
For the Bobel family, this certainly is the trend. The family first learned that they were at risk for this debilitating disease when Rebecca Bobel, 71, fractured her pelvis, hip and tailbone at age 50. She was diagnosed with osteoporosis at the time and doctors later learned that she carries the gene for celiac disease. Bobel also went on to develop hypothyroidism, another autoimmune disorder, and vitamin D deficiency, which is common in people with these disorders. Today, she is being treated for each of these conditions at Loyola.