The results of this new study from the University of Edinburgh were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and explained in Science Daily. In addition to osteoporosis being "a known complication of celiac disease" because of vitamins and minerals not being properly absorbed, the study found a new reason for osteoporosis in patients with celiac disease.
"It is the first time an autoimmune response – a condition whereby the body can attack itself – has been shown to cause damage to bones directly. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh studied a protein called osteoprotegerin (OPG) in people with celiac disease – a digestive condition that affects 1 in 100 people.
In healthy people, OPG plays a crucial role in maintaining bone health by controlling the rate at which bone tissue is removed.
The latest research shows that 20 per cent of celiac patients produce antibodies that attack the OPG protein and stop it working properly. This results in rapid bone destruction and severe osteoporosis."
One of the most interesting findings is that this new type of osteoporosis cannot be treated with calcium and vitamin D supplements. Drugs to prevent bone loss, like bisphosphonates, are necessary to treat it. This raises a crucial question that requires more research. Are osteoporosis medicines approved for use in premenopausal women? Currently, the answer is no, but perhaps in light of this new research, there will be a different recommendation.
The Science Daily article concludes with an important statement about testing.
"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."
This raises an additional question. Does production of these antibodies stop when the patient adheres to a gluten free diet?