Research published in NEJM found autoantibodies against a protein necessary for proper bone health.

People with celiac disease may develop osteoporosis because their immune system attacks their bone tissue, according to researchers from the University of Edinburgh. They studied a protein called osteoprotegerin (OPG), which in healthy people plays a crucial role in maintaining bone health by controlling the rate at which bone tissue is removed.

The study appears in the New England Journal of Medicine in a paper titled “Osteoporosis Associated with Neutralizing Autoantibodies against Osteoprotegerin.”

The results showed that 20% of the celiac patients they evaluated produced antibodies that attack the OPG protein and stop it from working properly. This led to rapid bone destruction and severe osteoporosis.

It was previously thought that osteoporosis developed in celiac patients because they cannot properly absorb calcium and vitamin D from their diet. The team found that this new form of osteoporosis did not respond to calcium and vitamin D supplements, but it could be treated with drugs that prevent bone loss.

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