Wheat and your bones may not be friends - Celiac Disease & Osteoporosis - Aspire Natural Health

Wheat and your bones may not be friends – Celiac Disease & Osteoporosis

Bottom line:  Osteoporosis is a long-term serious consequence of celiac disease.  Traditionally thought to be a problem of poor absorption of nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, a new study suggests that it might also be the result of autoimmunity against a person’s bones.

 

 

Celiac has been getting a lot more attention lately, but I find in my practice there is still a lot of confusion about what celiac actually is.

 

What is celiac (briefly)?

Celiac is an autoimmune disease triggered when a susceptible person eats gluten.  Celiac is not a “wheat allergy”, it is possible to have an allergy or reactivity to wheat or other grains and not have celiac disease.

What makes celiac different from other problems with wheat, grains and gluten is autoimmunity, in celiac disease the body is attacking itself.

 

What is gluten?

Gluten is a family of proteins found in wheat (gliaden & glutenin) and wheat relatives such as spelt and kamut, triticale, barley (hordein), and rye (secalin).  There is conflicting information on whether oats contain gluten (avenin).  Most of the gluten in oats appears to come from contamination with wheat during harvesting, storage, and processing.  Certified gluten-free oats seem to be tolerated by many people with celiac disease.

 

What happens in celiac disease (briefly)?

Gluten is an irritating and mildly inflammatory substance to all humans.  In susceptible individuals (with celiac disease) inadequate digestion of gluten leads to inflammation and damage of the cells of the small intestine.  This allows gluten proteins to enter the damaged cells where they are exposed to enzymes (tissue transglutaminases) which modify them and make them more inflammatory.  This sets up a vicious circle of inflammation leading to the formation of auto-antibodies (antibodies against the body) which leads to the characteristic destruction of the intestines in celiac disease.

This damage to the small intestines can severely damage the body’s ability to absorb nutrients leading to significant nutrient deficiencies.

 

Celiac & Osteoporosis – Nutrient deficiencies

In order to form healthy bone the body needs calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K, sufficient protein and a host of other vitamins and trace minerals.  In celiac disease  the damage to the intestines can prevent the body from absorbing enough of these nutrients.  Over time the body is not able to build bone and this can lead to early and severe osteoporosis.



Celiac & Osteoporosis – Autoimmunity

A recent study by scientists at the University of Edinburgh found that in 20% of celiac patients tested, they found antibodies to a protein called osteoprotegerin which is important in maintaining bone strength.  The antibodies prevented osteoprotegerin from functioning effectively and are thought to be an additional reason for osteoporosis in at least some patients with celiac disease.

 

How to prevent osteoporosis?

While the study authors were quick to propose a drug to block the antibodies interfering with osteoprotegerin as an answer to celiac induced osteoporosis, there are far more effective therapies that you can do now.
 

 

 

  1. The most important is the avoidance of all gluten.  This is much easier said than done as gluten is widely used both as a food in the form of breads, pastas, pastries and other flour containing foods.  More difficult to detect is the fact that gluten is widely used as a flavoring, stabilizing or thickening agent in virtually all processed foods.  The celiac patient must become an expert at label reading and understand all of the names that gluten goes by.  Here is a good place to begin educating yourself on safe and unsafe gluten containing foods.  Gluten can also be found in dietary supplements, pharmaceutical drugs, and health and beauty aids.
  2. The person must ensure adequate nutrients to build healthy bones.  The levels of these nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin D may need to be substantially higher than for a normal person without celiac disease.
  3. The person should engage in regular weight-bearing exercise.  Putting stress on our bones is the single greatest stimulus to make and keep them strong.
  4. From the perspective of an integrative doctor, I also incorporate the following additional strategies in the treatment of celiac disease
    1. Modulation and normalization of the autoimmune response.  By reducing the inflammatory load on the body and using broad-spectrum anti-inflammatory and immune modulating herbs and nutrients, we are often able to reduce or normalize the autoimmune process.  This may help in the newly discovered autoimmune process in celiac disease with osteoprotegrin noted above.
    2. Gut repair.  Using a variety of nutrients and other substances such as glutamine and probiotics we are able to restore normal gut function and structure.  This can help those with celiac disease absorb nutrients from their diet more effectively.

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Photo attribution – https://bit.ly/2KiRg7p

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Autoimmune reactions to Vitamin D