Celiac Disease and Osteoporosis Link Brings Possible Treatment

Celiac Disease and Osteoporosis Link Brings Possible Treatment

A new study indicates a startling reason that osteoporosis is a risk factor for celiac disease: The body’s immune system may attack its own bone tissue. It also holds promise for treatment.

Scientists previously speculated that the reason for the celiac-osteoporosis link was the body’s failure to absorb vitamin D and calcium, nutrients essential for healthy bones.

But researchers at the University of Edinburgh studied a protein called osteoprotegerin (OPG) in victims of celiac disease. OPG controls the rate that bone is removed and is vital in maintaining good bone health. They found that 20 percent of celiac patients produced antibodies that kept the OPG protein from working properly. The result is rapid destruction of bone and severe osteoporosis.

Although the scientists found that, even though this form of osteoporosis doesn’t respond to calcium and vitamin D supplement, it can be treated with drugs already available that prevent bone loss.

An intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, causes celiac disease, which damages and inflames the small villi that line the small intestines and help in digestion. When inflamed, the villi can’t absorb food normally, which leads to diarrhea and malnutrition.

“This is a very exciting step forward,” said lead researcher Professor Stuart Ralston from the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine. “Not only have we discovered a new reason to explain why osteoporosis occurs in celiac disease, but we have also found that it responds very well to drugs that prevent bone tissue removal,” he told BBC News.

“Testing for these antibodies could make a real and important difference to the lives of people with celiac disease by alerting us to the risk of osteoporosis and helping us find the correct treatment for them.”

Bone Health Fact: Celiac Disease affects 1 in 100 people, and many of them will develop osteoporosis.

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