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Gastric Bypass and Managing Hair Loss

Gastric Bypass and Managing Hair Loss

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      If you’re considering gastric bypass as a surgical weight loss option, there can be a lot of information to digest before surgery. Between learning about the surgery itself, changing your diet before and after surgery, and having to plan for time off to heal, it can be an overwhelming journey.

      However, after surgery you can also experience side effects if the body is not provided the right nutrients. One of these side effects is hair loss. Let’s learn a little more about how gastric bypass surgery can cause hair loss and how you can lower your risk of this happening.

      Gastric bypass surgery basics

      Gastric bypass, also known as Roux-en-Y, is a surgery used to help aid weight loss. It basically involves the stomach pouch being made smaller and the intestines being re-routed.

      During this surgery, the small intestine is divided, and the bottom part is attached to the new smaller stomach. Then, the top portion of the divided small intestine is connected to the small intestine that is located further down so that the stomach acids and digestive enzymes can mix with the food.

      Because of this re-routing, fulfilling nutrient needs after surgery is very important. Otherwise, you can put yourself at risk for vitamin or nutrient deficiencies.

      Changes to your vitamin and food needs post-surgery

      After surgery, you will not be eating a whole lot of food at one sitting. Typically, your new stomach pouch will not be able to hold more than two tablespoons, or one ounce of food at a time. Also, your body will not be able to absorb as many nutrients from the foods you eat as before. Therefore, you will be at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

      Multivitamin Capsules
      You may need to take supplements to fill in nutritional gaps in your post-gastric bypass surgery diet.

      To prevent such deficiencies, you will need to take a complete multivitamin for the rest of your life. It will also be very important to ensure that you consume enough protein at each mealtime to meet your nutritional needs.

      How hair loss relates to gastric bypass surgery

      Common nutritional deficiencies linked to hair loss after gastric bypass surgery include protein, folate, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin D. These deficiencies can either be caused by malabsorption issues or by lack of consumption of such nutrients. Such deficiencies can lead to issues in both hair growth and structure.

      Experts report that most hair thinning after gastric bypass surgery usually occurs at around three months and slows down by about seven months after surgery. Those who have had hair loss after pregnancy or those having weight loss surgery during menopause may be at greater risk for hair loss after gastric bypass surgery.

      Sudden weight loss can lead to increased risk of hair loss.

      Lowering the risk of post-op hair loss

      • Consume at least 60 to 80 grams of protein each day. It can be difficult to meet these protein needs every day after surgery since you will not be eating as much as you used to be able to eat. However, you can better meet such needs through protein supplement shakes and bars as well as through frequent protein-rich snacks. Such snacks may include string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, tuna fish, jerky, and nuts, to name a few.
      Nuts and Milk
      Dairy products and nuts are great protein-rich snacks to help meet protein needs after gastric bypass surgery.
      • Take vitamin and mineral supplements daily as recommended by your doctor. Everyone after gastric bypass surgery will be asked to take a daily complete multivitamin. However, some people with identified nutrient deficiencies may be asked to take other supplements as well like zinc, iron, or vitamin D, for example.

      Include foods in your diet that will provide needed nutrients to prevent hair loss. To prevent nutrient deficiencies that could increase your risk of hair loss it will be important to add the following foods to your diet.

      • Folate: Beef liver, spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, avocado, broccoli, peas
      • Vitamin B12: clams, liver, trout, salmon, tuna, beef
      • Iron: liver, lean red meat, chicken, seafood, lentils, beans, tofu, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs, leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, and asparagus
      • Zinc: oysters, beef, crab, pork, chicken, beans, yogurt
      • Calcium: yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, broccoli, kale, spinach, tofu, salmon, sardines, almonds
      • Vitamin D: cod liver oil, oily fish like herring or swordfish, dried shiitake mushrooms, raw maitake mushrooms, egg yolks
      It’s important to eat enough protein as well as a balance of other nutrient-dense foods after gastric bypass surgery.

      In addition to the foods listed above, you can also obtain such nutrients from certain fortified foods like certain cereals, orange juice, and fortified cow or almond milks.  

      • Eat a wide variety of foods every day. This will ensure that you consume plenty of nutrients needed for optimal health. It can be easy to find yourself in a rut eating the same foods every day. This may be due to convenience or because you may be fearful of trying new foods since you are not sure how your newly routed digestive system will tolerate them. However, it’s important to try new foods each week so that your body can reap the nutritional benefits of a variety of proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains over time. If you are not sure how to do this, it may be helpful to speak to a registered dietitian who specializes in weight loss surgery to assist you.

      Along with such steps, it may also be helpful to have your B12, B1, folate, iron and zinc levels checked at least every year to be sure that any hair loss you may be experiencing is not from a nutrient deficiency.

      Note: Some medical experts suggest taking a complete multivitamin, zinc supplement, and perhaps a biotin supplement after gastric bypass surgery to help reduce risk of hair loss. However, it is important to point out that the benefits of zinc and biotin supplementation in reducing risk of hair loss has only been seen in those who have deficiencies of such compounds. Research has not been able to confirm any added benefits of such supplements in those who have no noted deficiencies.

      Bottom line

      Gastric bypass surgery can be a life-changing surgery for many that wish to lose weight and lower their risk of chronic disease. However, it’s important to know that such a big step should not be taken lightly. This is because gastric bypass surgery requires a major change in the way you eat and live.

      Life after gastric bypass surgery requires that you consume certain supplements every day to lower risk of side effects such as nutritional deficiencies and related symptoms like hair loss. It also requires visiting the doctor on a regular basis to make sure you are consuming enough nutrients for optimal health.

      If you do experience hair loss after gastric bypass surgery, and you are not sure how to treat it, be sure to see a qualified healthcare provider for help. And in the meantime, be sure you are following the steps above to consume adequate nutrients to lower your risk of hair loss after gastric bypass surgery.

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        Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD


        Staci has been a registered dietitian with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2010 and has over a decade of experience in the nutrition and dietetics industry.

        Gintas Antanavicius, MD, FACS, FASMBS

        Medical Reviewer

        Dr. G is a co-founder of BariBuilder. A US-based expert surgeon with over 10 years of bariatric experience, he regularly publishes research in medical journals like SOARD, Obesity Surgery, etc.