Harvard Health Letter

By the way, doctor: Celiac disease and thin bones

Q. I have celiac disease, and the disease has weakened my bones. But I'm male; I thought thin bones were primarily a problem for women? And why should a disease of my intestines affect my bones? Finally, what can be done about it?

A. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the small intestine. It's triggered by gluten, a protein found in barley, rye, and wheat. Oats may also be a problem, but only if small amounts of the other grains get incorporated into them during milling or at some other time. Celiac disease can lead to thin bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis) because the attack on the small intestine interferes with the absorption of many substances, including vitamin D, which is important for building healthy bone.

Thin bones are more common in women but are an important problem for men, too. In fact, a 60-year-old man has a one-in-four chance of developing a fracture from thin bones before he dies — even if he doesn't have celiac disease.

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