This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2002 edition of Celiac.coms Scott-Free newsletter.
Copyright © 2002 Scott Adams. All rights reserved worldwide.
My explorations taught me that calcium absorption probably is not our main problem. People with celiac disease seem to be able to absorb adequate calcium1, but the primary problem appears to come from excreting too much of it, thus causing us to lose more calcium than we are absorbing. I also learned that research shows little or no benefit from calcium supplementation for celiac patients, while magnesium supplementation alone results in significant improvements2. The explanation for this may be that some of the antibodies caused by active celiac disease attack the parathyroid gland3. This organ is an important player in regulating calcium metabolism. Magnesium is necessary for the body to repair the parathyroid and to maintain its continued good function.
Being convinced by this research, I began to take magnesium supplements without any calcium. I found that I had to be careful. Too much had me visiting the washroom frequently, and I was afraid that too little would fail to provide me the benefits I was seeking.
At the same time, I also requested a bone density test. I wanted objective information that would allow me to evaluate the progress I hoped to make. The first test was conducted in March of 1997. The results (called "T scores") are reported based on comparison with the density of bones found in young adults. For instance, a score of 0 indicates that the bone density is about the same as would be found in an average young adult. A score in the minus range indicates a bone that has less mineral and more pores than is found in the same young adult. Thus, a score of –1.0 to –2.5 indicates mild mineral losses, while a score of –2.5 or lower indicates osteoporosis.
My test results were not as bad as I had feared. The mineral density in my lower back was normal for my age, at –0.23. However, my upper leg, where it fits into my hip, was reported as –2.02, and my forearm was slightly stronger than that of a normal young adult at +0.19.
As I saw it, there were only two causes for concern. First, at the tender age of 50, my hips were very close to osteoporotic, and certainly at a substantially increased risk of fracture. Such fractures can be very serious. Secondly, since only three skeletal areas had been tested for mineral density—and since there was such a wide range of density reported for each of these areas, it seemed impossible to estimate the density of the rest of the bones in my body.
About three years after my first bone density test, some Calgary-based research made me suspect that the amount of vitamin D supplements I was taking might be too low4. I increased my intake to 1,000 IU daily.
By the fall of 2001, I began to wonder if I was being foolish by avoiding calcium supplements based on the reports I had read. I therefore began to supplement 350 mg of calcium each day.
In July of 2002, I underwent a second bone scan. They did not test my forearm, but the other two areas appear to have improved substantially. The T score for my lower back was now at + 0.06, and the T score for my hip had improved to –0.72.
I realize that what I am reporting is just one persons experience. It is what the medical professionals call "anecdotal," and does not usually carry much weight. However, my experience does support the only published research of the impact of mineral supplements on bone density in celiac patients that I can find. Based on my own experience, and the relevant research, I am now convinced that magnesium is the most important supplement to consider in the context of celiac disease. I was thrilled to read my latest bone density report. Vitamin D may also be an important factor, but limitations of time and space force me to leave this topic for another day.
- Marsh MN. Bone disease and gluten sensitivity: time to act, to treat, and to prevent. Am J Gastroenterol. 1994 Dec;89(12):2105-7.
- Rude RK, Olerich M. Magnesium deficiency: possible role in osteoporosis associated with gluten-sensitive enteropathy. Osteoporos Int. 1996;6(6):453-61.
- Kumar V, Valeski JE, Wortsman J. Celiac disease and hypoparathyroidism: cross-reaction of endomysial antibodies with parathyroid tissue. Clin Diagn Lab Immunol. 1996 Mar;3(2):143-6.
- Embry AF, Snowdon LR, Vieth R. Vitamin D and seasonal fluctuations of gadolinium-enhancing magnetic resonance imaging lesions in multiple sclerosis. Ann Neurol. 2000 Aug;48(2):271-2.
Ron Hoggan is an author, teacher and diagnosed celiac who lives in Canada. His new book "Dangerous Grains" is available at Celiac.com.