Bariatric surgery works by limiting what and how much you eat — which means that those who have had surgery for weight loss are at increased risk of becoming malnourished. But you can reduce that risk by following your medical team's instructions regarding what vitamin and mineral supplements you should be taking.
Weight-Loss Surgery and Malnutrition
Depending on the type of weight-loss surgery you have, bariatric surgery helps you to lose weight by limiting the amount of food you can consume and perhaps reducing your body's ability to absorb and digest foods. Also, many bariatric surgery patients can no longer tolerate certain foods, like meat, dairy products, and high-fiber foods, after surgery.
Because of these reasons, people who have had weight-loss surgeries (WLS) are at risk of not getting the vitamins and minerals their bodies need, including protein, iron, vitamin B1, folate, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium, and other nutrients.
If you become malnourished you are at risk of a number of health problems, including:
- Pellagra, a disease caused by lack of niacin or the amino acid tryptophan
- Beriberi, a disease caused by lack of thiamine
- Permanent nervous system damage
- Vision problems
- Thyroid problems
- Decreased bone mass
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of muscle mass
- Skin and nail problems
- Hair loss
Supplementation is a vital part of staying healthy after you have bariatric surgery. In fact, your medical team will want to know you are committed to a lifetime of vitamin and mineral supplementation before you are even considered a potential candidate for bariatric surgery.
To reduce your risk of becoming malnourished after surgery for weight loss, your medical team will prescribe vitamin and mineral supplements. Vitamin and mineral supplementation usually begins before your bariatric surgery, as part of your doctor's instructions for getting ready for the surgery.
The specific type of bariatric surgery you have will help dictate what supplements you need. You will need to take protein supplements in the first few weeks after your surgery for weight loss, since you will not be able to eat good sources of protein.
Other supplements that are commonly prescribed for bariatric surgery patients over the long term include:
- Daily multivitamins
- B-complex vitamins
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
- Iron, often along with vitamin C, which is especially important for menstruating women who have had a gastric bypass procedure
Since you may no longer be able to take whole pills after your bariatric surgery, you may need to take either non-pill forms of these supplements — like chewable vitamins or liquid supplements — or crush the pills before you take them. Your medical team will tell you how to safely take your supplement regimen.
Besides taking your supplements as directed, you will work with a dietitian to design a healthful diet that provides the calories and nutrients your body needs.
Because nutritional deficiencies often occur long after you have bariatric surgery, your doctor will assess your health and monitor your vitamin and mineral levels at regular intervals throughout your life. This will involve blood tests to ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need. As your nutritional status and needs change over time, your recommended supplement regimen may be adjusted.