Adults with celiac disease are deficient in micronutrients: Study
02/13/2020 // Tracey Watson // Views

Celiac disease affects around 1 in 100 people around the world, including millions of Americans. Experts estimate that around 80 percent of patients with celiac disease remain undiagnosed.

While doctors have traditionally been on the lookout for weight loss and low body weight as signs that someone has the disease, a recent study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that very few adult celiac patients – around 25 percent – were underweight. In fact, the average celiac patient was actually found to be overweight.

What they did discover, however, was that many of these patients were deficient in micronutrients, including Vitamins D and B12, as well as zinc, copper, iron and folate.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause serious health problems, and celiac patients need to be aware of their need to supplement where necessary. (Related: Children with celiac disease need to be regularly evaluated on their vitamin A and D levels.)

What is celiac disease?

The Celiac Disease Foundation explains:

When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.

Celiac disease is hereditary, meaning that it runs in families. People with a first-degree relative with celiac disease (parent, child, sibling) have a 1 in 10 risk of developing celiac disease.


Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start eating foods or medicines that contain gluten. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems.

People who have celiac disease have a two times higher risk of developing coronary artery disease as well as a four times higher risk of small bowel cancer. When celiac disease is not treated, it can lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis (MS) and Type 1 diabetes. It can also cause anemia, osteoporosis, miscarriage and infertility, neurological conditions, and other illnesses. (Related: Celiac disease and gluten intolerance - Does time heal all wounds?)

Micronutrient deficiencies common among celiacs

For the study referenced above, the researchers examined data from 309 adult patients diagnosed with celiac disease between 2000 and 2014. They found that zinc deficiency was incredibly common, with around 59.4 percent of patients involved in the study being zinc deficient at the time of their diagnosis.

Many patients were also found to be deficient in other vitamins and minerals.

“It was somewhat surprising to see the frequency of micronutrient deficiencies in this group of newly diagnosed patients, given that they were presenting fewer symptoms of malabsorption," explained Dr. Adam Bledsoe, a gastroenterology fellow at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus.

"Our study suggests that the presentation of celiac disease has changed from the classic weight loss, anemia and diarrhea, with increasing numbers of patients diagnosed with nonclassical symptoms,” he added. “Micronutrient deficiencies remain common in adults, however, and should be assessed.”

The research team recommends that celiac patients be tested for deficiencies in Vitamins D and B12, as well as zinc, copper, folic acid and iron. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are known to cause symptoms as diverse as brittle hair and nails, mouth ulcers, bleeding gums, poor night vision and hair loss. Dr. Bledsoe believes that further studies are needed to better define the long-term effects of these deficiencies, what replacement strategies would work best, and what type of follow ups might be needed for these patients.

Learn more about the important role of vitamins and minerals at

Sources for this article include:

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