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Copper Deficiency After Bariatric Surgery Can Be Misdiagnosed


For obese individuals, losing weight via bariatric surgery can result in positive and healthful changes, such as the normalization of blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. However, some post-gastric bypass patients do not receive adequate medical follow-up that can result in long-term negative health effects, including nutrient deficiencies such as copper.

Copper Deficiency Uncommon In Healthy Individuals with Adequate Diet

Copper is an essential trace mineral for humans and is a critical component of many enzymes, especially those that produce energy. Copper is also important for iron transport, connective tissue formation, and in the synthesis of neurotransmitters.

Dr. Nana Gletsu Miller PhD, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at Emory University, found in a recent study of 155 patients who underwent gastric bypass in 1999 that 12 percent of subjects displayed a severe deficiency in copper.

Read: Success After Weight Loss Surgery Improved with Family Member Support

“Mild or beginning copper deficiency is extremely hard to diagnose,” says Ruth Danzeisen PhD, Assistant Program Director for Health at the International Copper Association (ICA). “Because copper deficiency resembles many other conditions, such as iron or vitamin B12 deficiency, doctors generally run tests for several conditions before they diagnose a copper deficiency simply by excluding all other possibilities.”

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Symptoms of copper deficiency include anemia, neutropenia (failure of the bone marrow to make enough white blood cells, and neurological issues, such as trouble walking, tingling in the fingertips and numbness.

Foods high in copper include meats, nuts, shellfish, and leafy greens.

Read: Post-Surgical Care Critical for Optimal Weight Loss After Bariatric Surgery

In 2008, the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) estimates that 220,000 people had undergone gastric bypass surgery, a procedure where a portion of the stomach is partitioned off and the small intestine is partially bypassed, resulting in weight loss due to both caloric restriction and a malabsorption of nutrients.

To prevent post-operative complications Dr. Gletsu-Miller stresses the importance of routine follow-up appointments with a bariatric surgery professional. She notes that less than 20% of patients continue with medical check-ups six months after they undergo surgery which can quickly lead to complications. Copper deficiency, for example, is typically diagnosed beyond the “mild”, treatable stage, and is more difficult to correct when it becomes severe.

“Blood cell production can be improved, but neurological damage can be permanent,” she warns.