Diet for Fluid Retention/Oedema/Edema
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Fluid retention causes legs, hands and feet to be puffy and generally swell up as the day goes on. Fluid retention or water retention is also known as Edema or Oedema, depending on where you live in the world.
Fluid retention is considered to be caused by the accumulation of excess fluids in the areas between the body’s cells (extracellular). Whereas our fluids/water should be inside the cells (intracellular).
When the fluid is outside the cells it can cause different parts of the body to swell, particularly the face, hands, feet, ankles and legs. But it can develop anywhere in the body. Fluid retention is very common during pregnancy and usually considered to be toxaemia which can be dangerous to both the mother and baby.
No matter where you have fluid retention, it’s not a healthy sign and needs investigating. While sticking your feet up to allow drainage helps, it is important to find out why this is happening to you.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why this happens…
There are many potential causes of water retention including:
- high or low blood pressure
- sitting or standing for long periods
- heart or thyroid disease
- infection of blood vessels, kidney or liver
- high histamine reactions such as allergies
- head injury, or any injury for that matter
- prescription medication reactions
- hormonal changes during pregnancy or when pre-menstrual
- high altitudes
- dehydration from heat
- dehydration from caffeine drinks
- dehydration from eating too many salty foods
- dehydration from not drinking enough water for your activity level
Diuretics, which can help decrease the level of fluid in the body through urination, are often prescribed by doctors. Certain foods also have diuretic properties, including onions, beans, leafy greens, pineapple, parsley, grapes, beets (beetroot), asparagus and garlic.
Caffeine in coffee, tea and some sports/energy drinks also have a diuretic effect on the body, but these can dehydrate you and make your body want to store more water as a defence, because more fluid is being excreted than consumed.
Some fluid retention situations have been remedied simply by drinking more water, which can make the body let go of thinking it needs to store fluid for protection against dehydration.
The consumption of potassium-rich foods can help excrete excess water. Following are foods that can naturally increase your potassium and release excess fluid around your cells:
- sweet potatoes
- squash/pumpkin in winter
- kiwi fruit
- citrus fruit
- cantaloupe/rockmelon/honeydew melon
You may have noticed someone who is puffy around the eyes because of a hay-fever type of allergic reaction, or someone with a swollen throat from a food allergy. This is due to histamine production as a response to the allergen. The swelling from fluid retention due to histamine reaction is not always as obvious as the swellings we see in immediate allergic reactions.
Avoidance of the allergen is important, but a low histamine diet can help.
However, you may not be aware you have a histamine intolerance. If your doctor cannot find the reason for your fluid retention, then it could be worthwhile to try a Diet for Fluid Retention in conjunction with a Diet for Low Histamine.
Be sure you have had any medical issues checked, as fluid retention can be a sign of:
- kidney, thyroid or cardiovascular problems
- liver disease
- auto-immune conditions, such as Rheumatoid arthritis
- cancer, which sometimes creates ascites (fluid around organs).
A diet for fluid retention includes potassium rich foods as well as natural food diuretics to help your body flush out unwanted fluid, but don’t forget to also keep your healthy fluids up.
While a diet for fluid retention is not considered a cure for any health condition, the idea is to eliminate foods considered detrimental, and include foods that support your body to give it the best chance to heal naturally and regain balance and vitality. That’s why it is so important to exclude antagonistic foods and drinks such as gluten, dairy, additives, and sugar.
Important: Before you commence a new diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
Note: During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
Client name and identifying information changed
Eileen had already been to her doctor to see why she suffered terrible fluid retention and all her tests came back fine, which was great, but didn’t solve the problem.
At the start of each day Eileen was okay, but by mid-afternoon she needed to have a rest to help ease the puffiness in her lower legs and feet. Her feet swelled up so much that she couldn’t put her shoes on in the afternoon and needed to use her slippers instead.
As a grandmother, Eileen was in charge of two little ones after school and it was hard for her to ‘run-around’ after them, so she would often let them watch TV with a snack, just so she could rest.
On examining her diet and daily activities, I discovered that she never drank water, but instead had two cups of tea and three cups of coffee each day, which she thought would be great for her fluid.
Her diet comprised of toast with jam and a cuppa for breakfast, scones with jam and cream and a cuppa for morning and afternoon tea, a bacon and tomato sauce sandwich or a tuna and lettuce sandwich for lunch with a cuppa, and dinner was usually some sort of meat (commonly silverside cured in salt) and vegetables, and she loved piling salt onto all her foods, irrespective of taste.
This combination was drying her up from the inside and making her cells hold onto what little water they could. This was her diet for the past 60 years so you can imagine the look on her face when I talked about changing her hot drinks over to herbal teas like Rooibos or hot or cold water with a splash of lemon or apple juice (or both together).
Apple juice in small amounts helps to hold water inside cells to re-hydrate them, and lemon helps to detoxify the liver. I explained that her body would be somewhat like a dry sponge and if she just drank plain water it would likely run straight through her. That’s a common comment I get from people who drink lots of water. Eileen had experienced this herself so she knew what I meant.
The foods and drinks she was consuming were dehydrating her body, so we needed to change her diet to rehydrate her cells (intracellular) which would facilitate fluid removal from outside her cells (extracellular) to restore her natural fluids balance.
Using small amounts of apple juice in her water (like making a cordial) can rehydrate and make a difference. Liquid chlorophyll in water can do the same thing. Eileen made the change, but still drank one cup of coffee per day and a small amount of chocolate as her ‘sweet treat’. (I needed to compromise to get her to comply).
We also needed to change her food. I asked her to stop the scones and jam and instead have some mixed chopped up fruit. That way she could still have something sweet which would add fluid to the inside of her cells rather than take it away.
I replaced her normal salt with potassium and herb salt, as potassium will help with fluid balance and she could then still have her foods tasting salty. The salty meats had to go and be replaced by ‘normal meats’ and loads more vegetables.
It didn’t take long for Eileen’s body to respond and by week two she was taking her grandkids to the park or local pool instead of being perched in front of the television all afternoon. Not only is this lifestyle healthier for Eileen, it also benefitted her grandchildren.
I do hope they all stick with it.