Your bone health is a big deal. Sure, osteoporosis may not sound as scary as heart disease or cancer, but in many ways it can be just as devastating. Imagine for a moment, having to second-guess yourself before taking your grandkids roller skating or even for a walk in a park. Just a minor fall and you could end up with a fracture.
Having to end up playing board games with the kids is just how osteoporosis will reduce the quality of your life. It doesn’t stop there though.
As you age, fractures become a serious concern. About half of all the “falls” by people over the age of 65 lead to fractures that require hospitalization. Often, a fracture will steal your independence. You may find you have to move to a nursing home long before you ever expected to make such a drastic decision. And after being hospitalized for a fall-related fracture, there’s a 50% chance you’ll die within the following year.
I told you osteoporosis was serious business.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect your bones. Most people know that calcium and vitamin D are crucial to healthy bones, but many people don’t realize that wheat can actually weaken your bones. This medical condition is referred to as celiac disease. About 1 in 33 Americans suffer with celiac disease. When you have celiac disease, your body is intolerant of gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, oats, barley, rye and spelt. In other words, it’s everywhere in the average diet. And yes, it’s the main component of bagels—the popular breakfast staple eaten by millions.
How Grains Can Devastate Your Bones
When you suffer from celiac disease, every time you eat wheat or any other food with gluten in it, you damage the cells in your intestines. It becomes difficult for your body to uptake nutrients from the food you eat—from any food, not just grains. That means all the vitamins and nutrients you need to be at your best just aren’t getting into your blood and reaching all the places your body needs to use them.
That includes vitamin D and calcium. While it’s true that you can get vitamin D from sunlight and bypass the need to get it from food, the same is not true of calcium. Over time, celiac disease, left unrecognized and untreated, can dramatically weaken your bones and lead to osteoporosis. In fact, people with celiac disease are at a much higher risk for osteoporosis.
In some cases, celiac disease might cause you to suffer with minor symptoms that your doctor easily mistakes with irritable bowel syndrome. Other times, the disease can lead to fatigue, weight loss, and diarrhea. In extreme cases, celiac disease can lead to neurological conditions and osteoporosis, among other serious conditions.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Bones and Your Health
Given the prevalence of celiac disease, and given that most doctors don’t think to test for it, it’s a good idea for you to request a test from your doctor. Determining celiac disease means taking a simple blood test called an antigliadin antibody test. If this test result is positive, your doctor will likely request that you do a small intestine biopsy to determine if you have celiac disease for sure.
If you do have celiac disease, your doctor will refer you to a dietician who will help you build a healthy, well-rounded, but gluten-free diet. The difference this will make to how you feel every day will amaze you.
If you have osteoporosis, schedule a visit with your doctor to test for celiac disease right away. Once you switch to a gluten-free diet and your bones start receiving the nutrients they need again, research shows your bones will start to grow stronger again. In other words, if you have osteoporosis because of celiac disease, your body can repair your bones once you remove gluten from your diet.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Photo Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images