Water represents some 60-70% of bodyweight, and is distributed as follows:
The body’s fluid balance is maintained through continuous movement determined by a complex interplay between osmotic and hydrostatic pressure. Even so, it usually follows the same journey. From the bloodstream, it first crosses capillary membranes to ‘feed’ interstitial fluid and cells. Any excess is then reabsorbed by capillaries and lymphatic channels.
Unfortunately, however, things don’t always go according to plan in which case fluid may accumulate in the extracellular milieu. When it fails to be eliminated via venous and lymphatic networks and remains trapped in tissues, this is referred to as water retention.
This usually manifests in swelling (or oedema) most commonly of the ankles and feet due to gravity. Occasionally, it can affect the stomach or face. There can be rapid weight gain – up to 3kg in 24 hours – without any significant change in diet.
How can you tell whether swelling is due to water retention? A persistent white mark when the swollen area is pressed firmly is a good indication.
There are a number of predisposing factors, often combined:
So how do you get rid of this excess fluid? Let’s take a look at the best natural ways of making water retention a thing of the past.
To bid farewell to water retention, it’s important to revitalise your venous and lymphatic circulation as they play a key role in maintaining fluid balance. It’s the perfect motivation for getting back into sport!
However, as is the case with ‘heavy leg syndrome’, it’s best to avoid high-impact sports as they weaken venous valves. A better option is water-based exercise (swimming, aqua cycling, aqua gym…) which combines strength-training of the legs, a swirling, massaging action, and the vasoconstricting effects of cold water.
If you’re not a natural water-baby, no problem: speed-walking, cycling or Pilates will also do the job.
If you routinely add salt to your food, this seemingly insignificant habit could well be causing you to suffer persistent swelling. .
The body’s water flow relies on the right balance between sodium and potassium: while sodium draws fluid out of cells, potassium retains it. So eating too much salt leads to fluid being driven out of the intracellular milieu… to take up residence in tissues (3).
As a guide, the World Health Organization recommends we should not consume more than 5g of salt a day. So to ensure your cooking remains full of flavour, replace the salt with herbs and spices!
What if Nature could provide some help with this problem? If you suffer from water retention, you might find ‘diuretic’ plants beneficial: they help the body get rid of excess water via urine and tissue drainage.
Barbary fig (Opuntia ficus), also known as ‘prickly pear’, is used in cooking for its sweet, soft flesh. Phytotherapists like it for its exceptional content of indicaxanthin, a pigment from the betalain family. Interestingly, it also supports weight control, as while water retention can lead to excess pounds, so being overweight can hinder the movement of fluid because of defective circulation … (4-6).
Other plants often mentioned in the context of reducing water retention include dandelion, meadowsweet and caraway (7-9).
You’ll find all these natural little wonders combined in dietary supplements (such as Water Retention Formula, a formulation with a high content of Barbary fig, and enriched with troxerutin for even greater efficacy).
Lymphatic drainage, carried out by a physiotherapist, encourages oedema resorption by regulating lymph circulation (10). While the nature and number of sessions vary, lymphatic drainage usually consists of manually massaging the swollen areas, using varying degrees of pressure depending on the site.
Be aware, however, that this therapeutic approach is not recommended for phlebitis, cardiac oedema, hyperthyroidism, asthma and hypertension.
If it’s your lower limbs that are primarily affected by water retention, adopt these measures to ease swollen legs:
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