Most people know that to keep bones healthy you should get lots of exercise and lots of calcium. Not many know, though, that these efforts at healthy bones may be undermined by one simple element of their diet – gluten. Even if you aren’t sensitive to gluten, it can still cause damage to your bone tissue.
It turns out that gluten damages bones in a variety of ways. For one, there are phytates, compounds that are found in the outer layer of cereal grains in large amounts. These phytates bind with calcium and other minerals – but phytates don’t digest easily, so these important minerals are wasted instead of digested and used by the bones.
Although you don’t have to have celiac disease or even sensitivity to gluten for it to do damage to your bones, osteopenic bone disease is one problem that arises in celiac disease, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This is a disease where the patient’s bone density is low, but not as severe as that found in patients with osteoporosis. This may be caused in part by impaired kidney function, which is caused by an excess of calcium secretion because of gluten.
A study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolismalso says that patients with celiac disease have an increased risk for a broken hip because of the constant damage that gluten does to the intestinal tissues, interfering with the body’s absorption of elements that are important to bones.
Besides osteopenic bone disease, intolerance to gluten can also increase the risk for osteoporosis, a more serious condition where bones are not dense enough. Osteoporosis affects more than 28 million Americans, and 80% of those affected are women. In America, 18 million more people are on their way to osteoporosis, as they have low bone density. Osteoporosis can result in fracture, disability, and pain. Those with celiac disease and other issues with gluten have a problem absorbing important nutrients such as calcium.
Although you might think that getting more calcium is the answer, to make it all a little more confusing, it also seems that calcium supplementation does little good for celiac patients. Magnesium supplementation, it turns out, is much more important.
Magnesium not only helps to activate osteoblasts, which build bone, but it also helps to keep the parathyroid gland healthy. This gland produces hormones that help to regulate the body’s calcium metabolism, an important task needed to keep bones healthy. In patients with untreated celiac disease, the parathyroid gland releases too much parathyroid hormone, resulting in bone loss.
So what steps can you take to keep bones strong? Of course it helps if you worked to build up strong bones when you were in your younger years. If you didn’t, though, don’t give up. Here are some other things to keep in mind for healthy bones:
- Perform weight-bearing exercises regularly.
- Make sure to eat a variety of foods to get all of the nutrients you need. This means a well-balanced diet including meats, fish, and green, leafy vegetables.
- Ask your doctor about periodic bone density tests, especially if you have a history of osteoporosis or you have made drastic changes to your diet.
- Don’t depend solely on calcium supplementation for healthy bones.
- Make sure you are getting enough vitamin D, which helps the body absorb important nutrients such as calcium and magnesium
- Don’t smoke and avoid excessive amounts of alcohol
Although sometimes it can take longer for a patient to develop normal absorption of nutrients, some see improvements in their bone density within a year of going on a gluten-free diet.