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Objectives: Osteopenia is a common complication in adults with celiac disease. The effect of a gluten-free diet on bone mineral density is a matter of controversy. The aim of this study was to investigate bone mineral density in children with celiac disease at diagnosis and in patients treated for 1 year.

Methods: Bone mineral density and bone mineral content were measured in 34 children with untreated celiac disease at diagnosis and in 28 patients on a gluten-free diet for 1 year. The results were compared with those of 64 gender- and age-matched healthy control subjects. Serum calcium, phosphate, alkaline phosphatase, 25 -hydroxy vitamin D, and intact parathormone levels were determined in treated and untreated patients.

Results: The mean values of bone mineral density and bone mineral content of untreated patients with celiac were significantly lower than the control group (P = 0.006 and P = 0.005, respectively) and treated patients (P = 0.015 and P = 0.011 respectively). Treated patients had mean bone mineral density and bone mineral content values not significantly different from those of healthy control subjects. Minor hypocalcemia was detected in 17.6% of the patients with new diagnoses and 3.6% of the treated patients. Of the untreated patients, 29.4% had high intact parathormone concentrations; in untreated patients, the total was 14.3%. Untreated patients had significantly lower serum calcium and significantly higher intact parathormone levels than did treated patients. The other bone metabolism parameters were similar in the two celiac groups.

Conclusion: Children with celiac disease are at risk for reduced bone mineral density. A strict gluten-free diet improves bone mineralization, even in 1 year. Early diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease during childhood will protect the patient from osteoporosis.

(C) 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.