After surgery, patients feel fullness after ingesting only a small volume of food, followed soon thereafter by a sense of satiety and loss of appetite. Total food intake is markedly reduced. Due to the reduced size of the newly created stomach pouch, and reduced food intake, adequate nutrition demands that the patient follow the surgeon’s instructions for food consumption, including the number of meals to be taken daily, adequate protein intake, and the use of vitamin and mineral supplements. Calcium supplements, iron supplements, protein supplements, multi-vitamins (sometimes pre-natal vitamins are best), and vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) supplements are all very important to the post-operative bypass patient.
Total food intake and absorbance rate of food will rapidly decline after gastric bypass surgery, and the number of acid-producing cells lining the stomach increases. Doctors often prescribe acid-lowering medications to counteract the high acidity levels. Many patients then experience a condition known as achlorhydria, where there is not enough acid in the stomach. As a result of the low acidity levels, patients can develop an overgrowth of bacteria. A study conducted on 43 post-operative patients revealed that almost all of the patients tested positive for a hydrogen breath test, which indicated an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. Bacterial overgrowth causes the gut ecology to change and induces nausea and vomiting. Recurring nausea and vomiting eventually change the absorbance rate of food, contributing to the vitamin and nutrition deficiencies common in post-operative gastric bypass patients.
Proteins are essential food substances, contained in foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products and eggs. With reduced ability to eat a large volume of food, gastric bypass patients must focus on eating their protein requirements first, and with each meal. In some cases, surgeons may recommend use of a liquid protein supplement. Powdered protein supplements added to smoothies or any food can be an important part of the post-op diet.
The profound weight loss which occurs after bariatric surgery is due to taking in much less energy (calories) than the body needs to use every day. Fat tissue must be burned to offset the deficit, and weight loss results. Eventually, as the body becomes smaller, its energy requirements are decreased, while the patient simultaneously finds it possible to eat somewhat more food. When the energy consumed is equal to the calories eaten, weight loss will stop. Proximal GBP typically results in loss of 60–80% of excess body weight, and very rarely leads to excessive weight loss. The risk of excessive weight loss is slightly greater with distal GBP.
Vitamins are normally contained in foods and supplements. The amount of food eaten after GBP is severely reduced, and vitamin content is correspondingly lowered. Supplements should therefore be taken to complete minimum daily requirements of all vitamins and minerals. Pre-natal vitamins are sometimes suggested by doctors, as they contain more of certain vitamins than most multi-vitamins. Absorption of most vitamins is not seriously affected after proximal GBP, although vitamin B12 may not be well-absorbed in some persons: sublingual preparations of B12 provide adequate absorption. Some studies suggest that GBP patients who took probiotics after surgery are able to absorb and retain higher amounts of B12 than patients who did not take probiotics after surgery. After a distal GBP, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E may not be well-absorbed, particularly if fat intake is large. Water-dispersed forms of these vitamins may be indicated on specific physician recommendation. For some patients, sublingual B12 is not enough, and patients may require B12 injections.
All versions of the GBP bypass the duodenum, which is the primary site of absorption of both iron and calcium. Iron replacement is essential in menstruating females, and supplementation of iron and calcium is preferable in all patients. Ferrous sulfate is poorly tolerated. Alternative forms of iron (fumarate, gluconate, chelates) are less irritating and probably better absorbed. Calcium carbonate preparations should also be avoided; calcium as citrate or gluconate (with 1200 mg as calcium) has greater bioavailability independent of acid in the stomach, and will likely be better absorbed. Chewable calcium supplements that include vitamin K are sometimes recommended by doctors as a good way to get calcium.
Post-operative gastric bypass patients develop a lowered tolerance for alcoholic beverages because their altered digestive tract absorbs alcohol at a faster rate than people who have not undergone the surgery. It also takes a post-operative patient longer to reach sober levels after consuming alcohol.
There have been reported cases in which pica recurs after gastric bypass in patients with a pre-operative history of the disorder, which are possibly due to iron deficiency. Pica is a compulsive tendency to eat substances other than normal food. Some examples would be people eating paper, clay, plaster, ashes, or ice. Low levels of iron and hemoglobin are common in patients who have undergone gastric bypass. This deficiency in the patient’s iron levels may have led to the increase Pica activity. The patient was then given iron supplements that brought her hemoglobin and iron blood levels to normal levels. After one month, the patient’s eating diminished to two to three glasses of ice per day. After one year of taking iron supplements the patient’s iron and hemoglobin levels remained in a normal range and the patient reported that she did not have any further cravings for ice.
Folate deficiency is also a common occurrence in gastric bypass surgery patients.