BACKGROUND Patients with coeliac disease have low bone mineral density (BMD), but the underlying mechanisms are unclear. Our aim was to study circulating insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) and its possible relationship to BMD in adults with untreated coeliac disease and after 1 year on a gluten-free diet. METHODS In 29 consecutive adult coeliac patients fasting IGF-I and BMD (n = 28) were examined before and 1 year after starting a gluten-free diet. Intact parathyroid hormone (PTH) was measured (n = 20) before the gluten-free diet was started. RESULTS Untreated coeliac patients had lower IGF-I values than controls matched for age and sex, and their BMD was low. A relationship was observed between BMD and IGF-I but not independent of age and body mass index. During the 1st year on a gluten-free diet BMD increased (P < 0.001), as did the circulating IGF-I levels in 21 of the 29 patients (P = 0.078). In the subgroup of 14 patients with normal initial PTH the increase in IGF-I correlated positively with the increase in BMD (femoral trochanter, r = 0.62, P < 0.05, and lumbar spine, r = 0.70, P < 0.02). CONCLUSIONS BMD and circulating IGF-I levels are low in adults with untreated coeliac disease. In patients with normal initial PTH level there is an association between the change in BMD and circulating IGF-I, although this parallel increase may not be causally connected.