Bone Loss is a Complex Process
After being diagnosed with bone loss, many doctors make a general recommendation for women to take calcium, vitamin D, combined with medications that prevent bone from breaking down. Unfortunately, this over simplified advice can create problems for long term bone health. Because most doctors do not study nutrition, the generic advice above is typically given without further investigation. But the bigger question looming in the background is – Why is bone loss occurring? If this question can be accurately answered, a person can take meaningful action toward building stronger and healthier bone tissue. Take a look at the short video below as I break down some of the complex reasons in an easy to understand way.
It is common knowledge that celiac disease is one of the causes of osteoporosis due to the intestinal damage leading to malabsorption of vitamins and minerals (mainly vitamin D and calcium). However; new research links an autoimmune process of bone loss to gluten sensitivity separate and distinct from gluten induced malabsorption. This finding begs us to ask the questions – Is Osteoporosis an autoimmune process? Should all patients with bone loss be assessed for gluten sensitivity?
Is Gluten one of the Causes of Osteoporosis?
If osteoporosis has an autoimmune component, then we have to go back and look at gluten as a potential cause as it is a major contributor to bone loss. That means that everyone with osteoporosis should potentially be screened for gluten sensitivity. Additionally, we have to consider the possibility that osteoporosis is another manifestation of the “gluten syndrome” AKA – non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Very few are aware of the field of research called Osteoimmunology. This relatively new field of research explores the connection between a healthy immune system and bone tissue. It has been well established that many immune system derived chemicals help regulate inflammation, bone cell growth, bone resorption, and more. That being said, we know that gluten can cause a dysfunctional immune system leading to a host of different immune chemical reactions that have negative impacts on human health (especially bone health).
The diagram below displays some common effects gluten can have on bone:
Supplementing with High Doses of Vitamin D and Calcium Not the Only Solution…
There are many causes of osteoporosis, unfortunately, most doctors generically recommend high doses of calcium mixed with vitamin D as part of the treatment component to patients with osteopenia or osteoporosis. This recommendation is fundamentally flawed because bone is a dynamic structure that is made up of multiple minerals under the direction of hormones and co-enzymes (vitamins). Vitamin D and calcium are only 2 pieces of a very dynamic puzzle. Boron, magnesium, zinc, manganese, chromium, selenium, B-vitamins, and vitamin C all play a role in bone health.
Those diagnosed with bone loss should have their vitamin and mineral levels tested specifically. This allows targeted supplementation as opposed to guess work on the part of the doctor or patient. This unique individual targeting allows for a specific food/supplemental protocol to help maximize and optimize bone growth potential.
The Calcium – Vitamin D – Dairy Myth
Another common bad recommendation for those with gluten induced bone disease is to increase the intake of fortified dairy products. There are a number of problems with milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, and other dairy products produced in the U.S. One of the biggest – the cows are fed genetically modified grains high in gluten in order to keep up with milking demands. Additionally, the use of hormones to enhance milk production can be very problematic to human health. Some research has also identified similarities in the protein casein. This milk based protein has been shown to resemble gluten and contribute to a number of medical conditions. If you have ever come across the term – gluten free/casein free diet, you are probably aware of this connection. There is a large body of evidence suggesting that children with developmental disorders like autism show marked improvement when removing dairy and gluten from the diet. The take away here is simply this – don’t assume that dairy is as healthy as TV has led you to believe. Additional food sources rich in calcium are:
- meat (especially sardines and canned salmon)
- organ meat
- bone meal
- turnip and mustard greens
Weight Bearing Exercise Builds Bone (& Muscle)
Often times one of the biggest missing components to rebuilding bone tissue is resistance exercise. Keep in mind that we define walking as movement, not as a form of resistance exercise. Walking is not enough to restore bone health. The following exercise are considered very effective to build muscle and bone tissue without the need for expensive gym equipment:
- Push ups
- Jump ropes
These exercise are fundamental body weight movements and should be performed on a regular basis to maintain strong skeletal tissue. If you aren’t strong enough to perform the above exercises, watch the following exercise video that I recently put together on the topic for Gluten Free Society members. It teaches how to start slowly to build you strength without injury. If you need help with getting started on a body weight exercise program, I highly recommend hiring a professional to work with you.
You might also consider whole body vibration. This technology was developed by the Russian space program to help restore bone density in astronauts after returning from zero gravity environments. Learn more about WBV here.
The bottom line is simple. Bone health goes deeper than supplementation. It requires strict dietary adherence to the gluten free diet as well as the avoidance of other food allergens, intolerances, sensitivities. It requires regular resistance exercise activities. It is recommended to test nutritional levels bi-annually and take supplementation as appropriate.