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Woman with long standing osteoporosis. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Woman with long standing osteoporosis. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a metabolic bone disorder characterized by diminished bone mass (density) with normal cell appearance but fragile bone strength that prediposes to broken bones, and with high bone turnover.

This condition usually goes undetected until late when loss of height or a bone fracture occurs. In fact, each year  1.5 million fractures mainly of the hip, spine and wrist are attributed to osteoporosis. Compression fractures of vertebrae bones are the most common, accounting for 700,000 cases.

Bone is composed of specialized connective tissue called osseous tissue. Osseous tissue is made up of living bone cells (osteocytes) that are embedded in a hard matrix (framework) of calcified substance.

Bone matrix contains collagen fibers and the minerals calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate, which provide strength to bone. The copper enzyme, lysyl oxidase, is involved in the cross-linking of collagen in forming the framework for depositing calcium and other minerals to build and repair bone.

Q: How do osteocytes function in bone?

A: Osteocytes maintain the health of bone by their metabolic activity in regulating normal bone turnover. Bone turnover is the breaking down and removal of old or damaged bone and rebuilding or remodeling of healthy bone that is ongoing throughout life. The bone formation process takes about 3 months to complete.

Osteoporosis develops from failure of the body to maintain health and to provide bone tissue with adequate nutrition for proper function. Risk factors that can be modified include: low calcium intake, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, drinking alcohol excessively, eating a diet with excessive caffeine, protein, and phosphate, and taking certain medications over a long time such as steroids, thyroid preparations, the anti-convulsive drug phenytoin, aspirin, antacids, anticoagulants, some diuretics, and some chemotherapeutic drugs. See below for a fuller description.

In addition to celiac disease, osteoporosis is associated with advancing age, family history, nulliparity (no pregnancies) and post-menopause in females, certain disorders such as hyperthyroidism, hypogonadism, inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease, multiple myeloma, anorexia nervosa, and Cushing’s disease.

Bone strength is easily measured by testing bone mineral density (BMD). BMD is evaluated by DEXA scan (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry).  DEXA at the femoral neck and lumbar spine is considered the gold standard to confirm the diagnosis of osteoporosis.  Results are expressed as T and Z scores. T scores compare the result with a 20 to 40 year old helathy person while  Z scores compare the result with persons in the same age group. Both are measured in standard deviations (SD).

According to WHO criteria (World Health Organization), a T-score of -1 SD or greater denotes normal bone, a T-score between −1 to −2.5 SD denotes osteopenia, and a T-score of −2.5 or more denotes osteoporosis.1

Treatment is aimed to preserve and increase bone density, minimize symptoms for better quality of life and reduce risk of bone fractures.

What Is Osteoporosis In Celiac Disease and/or Gluten Sensitivity?

The cumulative effects of gluten-induced inflammation, treatment delay, and malabsorption result in lower bone density and bone fragility.2


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  1. Pantaleoni S, Luchino M, Adriani A, Pellicano R, Stradella D, Ribaldone DG, Sapone N, Isaia GC, Di Stefano M, Astegiano M. Bone mineral density at diagnosis of celiac disease and after 1 year of gluten-free diet. ScientificWorldJournal. 2014;2014:173082. doi: 10.1155/2014/173082. []
  2. Grace-Farfaglia P. Bones of Contention: Bone Mineral Density Recovery in Celiac Disease-A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2015 May 7;7(5):3347-3369. []