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Magnesium deficiency: Possible role in osteoporosis associated with gluten-sensitive enteropathy


Osteoporosis and magnesium (Mg) deficiency often occur in malabsorption syndromes such as gluten-sensitive enteropathy (GSE). Mg deficiency is known to impair parathyroid hormone (PTH) secretion and action in humans and will result in osteopenia and increased skeletal fragility in animal models. We hypothesize that Mg depletion may contribute to the osteoporosis associated with malabsorption. It was our objective to determine Mg status and bone mass in GSE patients who were clinically asymptomatic and on a stable gluten-free diet, as well as their response to Mg therapy. Twenty-three patients with biopsy-proven GSE on a gluten-free diet were assessed for Mg deficiency by determination of the serum Mg, red blood cell (RBC) and lymphocyte free Mg2+, and total lymphocyte Mg. Fourteen subjects completed a 3-month treatment period in which they were given 504−576 mg MgCl2 or Mg lactate daily. Serum PTH, 25-hydroxyvitamin D, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D and osteocalcin were measured at baseline and monthly thereafter. Eight patients who had documented Mg depletion (RBC Mg2+<150 µM) underwent bone density measurements of the lumbar spine and proximal femur, and 5 of these patients were followed for 2 years on Mg therapy. The mean serum Mg, calcium, phosphorus and alkaline phosphatase concentrations were in the normal range. Most serum calcium values fell below mean normal and the baseline serum PTH was high normal or slightly elevated in 7 of the 14 subjects who completed the 3-month treatment period. No correlation with the serum calcium was noted, however. Mean serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D and osteocalcin concentrations were also normal. Despite only 1 patient having hypomagnesemia, the RBC Mg2+ (153±6.2 µM; mean ± SEM) and lymphocyte Mg2+ (182±5.5 µM) were significantly lower than normal (202±6.0 µM,p<0.001, and 198±6.8 µM,p<0.05, respectively). Bone densitometry revealed that 4 of 8 patients had osteoporosis of the lumbar spine and 5 of 8 had osteoporosis of the proximal femur (T-scores ≥−2.5). Mg therapy resulted in a significant rise in the mean serum PTH concentration from 44.6±3.6 pg/ml to 55.9±5.6 pg/ml (p<0.05). In the 5 patients given Mg supplements for 2 years, a significant increased in bone mineral density was observed in the femoral neck and total proximal femur. This increase in bone mineral density correlated positively with a rise in RBC Mg2+. This study demonstrates that GSE patients have reduction in intracellular free Mg2+, despite being clinically asymptomatic on a gluten-free diet. Bone mass also appears to be reduced. Mg therapy resulted in a rise in PTH, suggesting that the intracellular Mg deficit was impairing PTH secretion in these patients. The increase in bone density in response to Mg therapy suggests that Mg depletion may be one factor contributing to osteoporosis in GSE.

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Correspondence to R. K. Rude MD.

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Rude, R.K., Olerich, M. Magnesium deficiency: Possible role in osteoporosis associated with gluten-sensitive enteropathy. Osteoporosis Int 6, 453–461 (1996).

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  • Gluten-sensitive enteropathy
  • Magnesium
  • Malabsorption
  • Osteoporosis
  • Sprue