Iron: Your (difficult?) Friend after WLS
What are some of the things you’ve struggled with since your surgery? Staying hydrated? Tolerating certain foods? What about taking your vitamins? You’re not alone.
By 6 months after surgery, as few as 30% of people take their vitamins regularly. This can be for a lot of reasons from not having a set routine to not realizing what you’re supposed to be taking to not tolerating the vitamins you have. One of the main reasons people don’t tolerate their vitamins is one of the main supplements that your body needs after surgery: Iron. And it’s really no wonder since high doses of around 50mg or more per day can be tough on anyone’ss system. But why is it so important, what can you do to help if you’re having troubles, and where can you find it in food?
Why is Iron important after bariatric surgery?
After both a VSG and an RNY, your body does not absorb iron as well as it did before due to less stomach acid and bypassing the part of the main part of the intestine that absorbs iron (for the bypass that is). A lot of people think iron is only an issue for menstruating women. But after bariatric surgery, everyone needs to take it. As a key ingredient to transport oxygen around your body, signs of deficiency include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, cold hands and feet, and more. The tricky thing with iron is, it can take 3-4 years for a deficiency to develop! So while you may get by without taking it in the first few years after surgery, that doesn’t mean you are in the clear long-term. (This is also a key reason to continue to get your blood tests done every year – forever – after bariatric surgery.
What if iron makes my stomach hurt?
One of the main challenges with iron is it can be hard on your stomach, especially a stomach that can be extra sensitive after surgery anyway. There are a few things you can do to help soften the blow.
- Take your vitamins/iron with food.
- Spread your doses out during the day.
- Take your vitamins/iron before bed.
- Try switching up your vitamins/iron. We have 4 different options to choose from (chewable, effervescent, and swallowing tablets or unflavored powder). If one of them bothers your stomach, try the others to see how they feel.
What if Iron adds to my constipation since my WLS?
The changes to your digestive system, diet, water intake, supplements, etc. after surgery are the perfect storm for constipation. Iron can definitely contribute to this, but there are lots of ways to get things moving along while still giving your body what it needs.
- Hydrate! This is by far #1! Aim for 1.5-2L of fluids per day or more.
- Fiber. Get in those veggies, fruits, seeds, beans, lentils, and even supplements like psyllium husk. Try adding chia seeds to your porridge or smoothie next time!
- Stay active. Sitting all day (like many of us do) can compact things even more.
- Add some fats. Oils like fish, flaxseed, or olive oil help things move along.
- Probiotics. Our guts are full of bacteria, and a little extra of the good stuff can help it function a bit better. Find it in fermented foods like yogurt or in supplement form.
- Medications. Ask your doctor about medications that relieve constipation if home remedies don’t work, especially if It’s ongoing. Some medications can be habit-forming, so be sure to follow the directions if you use them.
Which foods have Iron?
As a complement to your supplements, you can find iron in many foods. Most people think of red meat, but there are so many other sources including various plant-based foods. Something interesting is that iron from animal sources tends to absorb best, but if you combine plants that are high in iron with animal sources of iron, they both absorb well. But remember, even if you eat a lot of foods with iron, you still need to take it in supplement form. So what are some of the foods that have iron?
- Liver or liver pâté
- Mussels, oysters, and clams
- Beef and lamb
- Sardines, mackerel, herring, trout, and tuna
- Chicken and pork
- Legumes (soybeans, lentils, beans, peas…)
- Dark leafy greens
- Potatoes with the skin
Keeping your iron levels up is key to staying healthy after surgery. We know that taking your vitamins and minerals is tough in and of itself, and if they are making you feel less than 100%, it’s even harder. But we are here for you! If you have any questions or concerns, give us a call or email us so that we can give you the support you need and help you find what works for you!
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