Have your legs and arms been feeling puffier than usual? Does your skin seem ‘shiny’ and stretched and your body feels heavier? If so, you may just have water retention (edema). Even anecdotally, water retention is common enough for many of us to have experienced it even without realising it.
What is Water Retention (Edema)?
Water retention, or edema, refers to the swelling that happens when excess fluid accumulates and is trapped in your body’s tissues. While water retention can happen in any part of your body, it is more common to notice it happening in your extremities, or your hands, arms, feet, ankles, and legs.
Some classic telltale signs of water retention are:
- The tissue directly under your skin becomes swollen or puffy, especially in your legs or arms
- Stretched or ‘shiny’ looking skin
- Skin that retains a dimple or a pit after being pressed for several seconds
- Larger abdominal size
If you, however, experience shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and chest pain along with these symptoms, you should consult a doctor immediately as you may have pulmonary edema, or excess fluid in the lungs, that requires immediate treatment.
In most cases, however, rather than being a disease on its own, edema is usually the symptom of another underlying medical condition.
These medical conditions often include:
- Congestive Heart Failure
- Kidney Disease
- Liver Cirrhosis, or hardening of the liver
- Certain drugs and medications
If you’re unsure about the exact cause of your water retention or would like to ascertain it, you should consult a doctor.
Water retention that is left untreated can lead to rather uncomfortable complications such as:
- Painful Swelling
- Walking Difficulty
- Itchy and uncomfortable stretched skin
- Heightened risk of infection in swollen tissue
- Scarring between layers of tissue
- Poor blood circulation
- Diminished elasticity of arteries, veins, joints and muscles
- Heightened risk of skin ulcers
Dietary Changes for Water Retention
Having water retention isn’t all doom and gloom. We simply need to take proactive steps in making changes to our diets and lifestyles to reduce water retention and keep ourselves healthy. Here at Homage we’ve prepared some easy and simple guidelines for you to do so.
One of the most direct ways that you can begin to reduce water retention is through your diet.
1. Reduce Salt Consumption
The sodium in salt binds to water in your body and is an important element in how your body balances fluid levels inside and outside of your cells. Consuming too much salt, such as by eating processed foods can upset the fluid balance in your body and encourage water retention. An easy way to start combating water retention then, is to simply start cutting back on your salt intake. Choose healthier alternatives to processed food, and when you can use salt substitutes for flavouring in your cooking.
2. Avoid Eating Refined Carbohydrates
Consuming refined carbohydrates like white flour, white bread, pasta or pastries causes rapid spikes in your blood sugar and insulin levels. High levels of insulin can cause your body to retain more sodium by prompting your kidneys to reabsorb more sodium. This in turn then causes water retention as more fluid is retained by the sodium. You should therefore eat refined carbohydrates in moderation and avoid gorging or overeating them during meals. Eat slower and consider switching to complex carbohydrates like brown rice and whole grain alternatives.
3. Increase Magnesium Consumption
Magnesium has been found to help reduce water retention in women with premenstrual symptoms. It may thus be helpful to incorporate more magnesium into your diet to help combat water retention. Common sources of dietary magnesium include nuts, whole grains, dark chocolates and leafy green vegetables. If that’s not enough, you can also consider taking magnesium supplements to really boost your diet against water retention.
4. Increase Your Vitamin B6 Consumption
Like magnesium, vitamin B6 has also been found to have helped reduce water retention in women with premenstrual symptoms. You should therefore also consider incorporating more vitamin B6 into your diet to help reduce water retention. Luckily, vitamin B6 is found in various readily available foods such as fish, offal, potatoes and starchy vegetables. Try adding more of these into your next meal and start fighting water retention.
5. Increase Your Potassium Consumption
Potassium is another important mineral essential to your body’s metabolic processes. It helps reduce water retention by lowering sodium levels in your body and encourages urine production. Foods that are high in potassium include bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes, spinach, and watermelon. Feel free to explore more potassium-rich foods and see what you’d like to have more often in your daily diet.
6. Consume Natural Diuretics
Diuretics help relieve water retention by encouraging you to pee more often, decreasing the overall amount of fluid in your body. While many of the substances we consume daily, like coffee, may already be diuretics, you can also consider taking natural diuretics like dandelion, hawthorn, and green and black tea.
Lifestyle Changes for Water Retention
Apart from making changes to your diet, you can also reduce water retention through other changes to your lifestyle.
7. Get Active
Sedentary lifestyles can contribute to water retention happening. If you’re standing or sitting for long hours every day, fluid can accumulate in your legs due to poor circulation and gravitational force. That’s why your legs and ankles can sometimes get swollen after standing or sitting all day. Take the time to get up and move around or incorporate some form of daily exercise to keep your circulation going to keep water retention at bay.
8. Wear Compression Leggings
Compression leggings are made to fit tight. Designed to wrap tightly around your legs, they help to squeeze your tissues and prevent fluid from accumulating. If you’re unable to avoid being sedentary due to your work, they are a great investment to help you avoid or reduce water retention.
9. Elevate Your Feet
Since we often experience water retention as a result of gravitational force acting on our bodies when we are sedentary, another easy way to reduce water retention is to simply elevate your feet. Doing so encourages fluid to flow away from your legs and back up into your body, reducing water retention. Try doing it several times a day or when your feet feel swollen.
10. Drink More Water
While it may sound counterintuitive, drinking water actually helps to reduce water retention. When your body experiences dehydration, it tends to retain fluid as much as possible, leading to water retention in your tissues, causing the classic swelling. Drinking about 12 glasses of water per day and staying hydrated can thus help reduce water retention.
11. Weight Management
Obesity or being overweight can lead to poor circulation in your body and contribute to water retention in your lower extremities. The swelling can place extra strain on your feet, causing pain when you walk. This can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle that in turn, further exacerbates the swelling. If you feel that your weight is a contributing factor to your water retention issues, you should consider embarking on a weight management plan. Consult a doctor to formulate a healthy way to do so.
12. Get a Massage
Sometimes we all need to relax. Great as they are for your mental health, massages are also a fantastic way to help relieve water retention. Massaging your feet or affected areas with firm strokes and pressure towards your heart, helps to push fluid away and reduce swelling. So, it’s perhaps time for you to get in a massage every now and then, or get someone to do it for you if you can.
13. Try Yoga
One preliminary study suggests that yoga could help women with premenstrual syndrome quickly reduce water retention. While a conclusive verdict about yoga’s ability to reduce water retention for everyone has yet to be announced, it doesn’t hurt to give it a try. You could end up having a lot of fun making yoga a part of your daily life, and it would help keep you active and improve your circulation anyway.
14. Ask for Prescription Diuretics
If you feel that changes to your diet and lifestyle aren’t working out for you as much as you’d like, you can also consider asking your doctor for prescription diuretics. These are medications that are designed to increase the amount of water and salt that your body expels through urine. There are three types of diuretics: thiazide, loop, and sparing diuretics. You must consult a doctor to determine if prescription diuretics are suitable for you and which type of diuretic you should be taking.
15. Review Your Medication
There are also some medications that cause water retention as a side effect. These can include high blood pressure medication, painkillers like ibuprofen, antidepressants, and chemotherapy medication. If water retention is causing major disruptions to your daily living, it may be time to speak to your doctor about readjusting your dosages or possible alternatives.
16. Get Support
Lastly, you should remember that it’s perfectly fine to struggle with water retention and in making these dietary and lifestyle changes. It can often take a while before you see any significant effects or discover which methods work best for you and your particular situation. It is important to remember, however, that you don’t have to manage your water retention condition alone. Have trust in your doctors and schedule regular reviews if possible to work out a suitable water retention management plan together. You should also find support in your family and friends where possible to encourage you on your journey. For instance, learning yoga doesn’t have to be a solitary activity for you alone.
Water retention doesn’t have to be a challenge to overcome. It should be noted, however, that on its own, water retention cannot be cured, but only reduced or managed. To fully address water retention, you need to eventually work towards targeting its root cause.
If you have other unanswered health questions, feel free to check out Homage’s Health and Wellness Hub for quick and simple answers.
Now that you’re better equipped to manage water retention, you should be on your way to saying goodbye to your swollen feet and ankles. Yet, there’s always no harm in seeking further medical advice in managing your condition, especially if you want to figure out the exact cause of your water retention and work towards addressing it. If you’d like personalised and tailored support to help you formulate a water retention treatment plan and target its root cause, Homage is always here to help. Get started by downloading the Homage app today!
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