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Study: Young Adults With Inflammatory Bowel Disease Have Increased Risk of Fractures

Written by Dr. Edward Group Founder
young boy with fractured arm

The results of a 2010 study by Swiss scientists at the University Hospitals of Geneva and Lausanne shows strong evidence that children and young adults who suffer from inflammatory bowel disorders, such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, are at an increased risk of fracturing bones [1].

How Does IBD Affect Young Bones?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammation that can devastate the entire gastrointestinal tract. IBD causes severe pain and discomfort and, in many cases, causes permanent damage to sensitive digestive tissue which prevents proper absorption of essential vitamins and minerals, such as calcium. Besides facing malabsorption of nutrients, growing bodies afflicted with severe gastrointestinal conditions usually also suffer from generalized malnutrition due to an understandably reduced desire to eat.

Unfortunately, many doctors eventually resort to prescribing their IBD patients drugs from a class of powerful anti-inflammatory steroids, known as glucocorticoids. These are known to have some serious and, in the case of the Swiss findings, painful side effects. Glucocorticoids are known to suppress the absorption of calcium and inhibit bone formation. They have also been connected with muscle fatigue and extended healing times, as well as an increased tendency toward general infection. Historically, doctors and patients have agreed these side effects are a better alternative to suffering through the frequent and traumatic flare-ups associated with IBD. In light of these new Swiss findings, however, many may reconsider.

How Much Weaker Are these Bones?

Digestive tissue that has been scarred by Inflammatory Bowel Disease is significantly less effective at absorbing calcium and vitamin D – both of which are required by the human body to build and maintain strong, healthy bones. According to the researchers, not only does bowel disease lower bone mineral density, it also alters the micro architecture of developing bones. In particular, the micro architecture of trabecular bone material – the softer form of bone tissue typically found near joints and contained between spinal vertebrate – was found to be especially fragile in young IBD patients.

Tips On Avoiding Bone Fractures With IBD

Fractured bones aren't just painful and inconvenient, they can take a long-term toll on the body, even after they've healed. Once a bone breaks, it's often prone to repeat fractures. Additionally, there are a number of potential complications, such as compartment syndrome, which may even result in permanent deformity or loss of limb.

The researchers responsible for this study recommend that the calcium and vitamin D levels of all IBD patients, especially those of younger ones who are being treated with glucocorticoid anti-inflammatories, be closely monitored by their healthcare provider. If necessary, they also recommend regular weight-bearing exercise and the use of dietary supplementation to ensure proper quantities of calcium and vitamin D are available to the body for proper bone maintenance. I personally recommend eating more foods high in calcium and vitamin d. It may also be wise to take a calcium supplement and a Vitamin D3 supplement.

References (1)
  1. International Osteoporosis Foundation. Young people with inflammatory bowel diseases are at increased risk of fracture. Osteoporosis International. 2010 May 6. vol. 21 sup. 1

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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