CHICAGO (Reuters) – Some people develop osteoporosis, the mineral loss disease that leads to brittle bones, because their bodies cannot tolerate wheat flour, a study said on Monday.

Gluten intolerance, called celiac disease, can be treated, so the damage done by osteoporosis can be reversed in such patients, added the report published in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
“Our results suggest that as many as three to four percent of patients who have osteoporosis have the bone disease as a consequence of having celiac disease, which makes them unable to absorb normal amounts of calcium and vitamin D,” said William Stenson, a Washington University physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.

He and colleagues recommended blood tests be used to screen osteoporosis patients for celiac disease.

The report was based on a look at 840 patients, some of whom had osteoporosis. It found a much higher prevalence of celiac disease among those with osteoporosis than in those without it.

Celiac disease triggers an immune reaction to the gluten portion of wheat, interfering with the intestine’s absorption of various foods. Some patients do not know they have the disease because their symptoms are minor.

In the study, patients with celiac disease and osteoporosis who went on a gluten-free diet for one year were able to improve both gastrointestinal symptoms and bone density, the report said.
“Bone density … improved dramatically on a gluten-free diet,” Stenson said. “We believe the diet allowed their intestines to heal, and that allowed them to absorb normal amounts of calcium and vitamin D to reverse bone loss.”

While there is a genetic predisposition for celiac disease, many people don’t develop symptoms until later in life, Stenson said.