Have you ever had a week where you felt puffy all over? Maybe your hands and feet were a bit swollen or your joints seemed achy beyond their years? You gained and lost pounds in only a couple of days? Most likely, you were a victim of water retention.
While water retention can naturally occur with various conditions — think about overconsumption of water, throughout pregnancy, and during women’s premenstrual syndrome and menstrual cycles — it may also be a sign of a more serious condition.
What is Water Retention?
Water retention, also called edema or fluid retention refers to excess fluid building up inside the body. While many of us are focusing on getting enough water, overhydrating is actually fairly easy to do. If you think about it, the human body is mostly water — “the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water,” also our “skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even” our bones contain around 31 percent water. Therefore, when the body’s “hydration level is not balanced [it] tends to hand on to [the extra] water.”
Along with the feeling of puffiness and heaviness, water retention causes hands, feet, ankles, and legs to physically swell and the body to incur bloating. On top of that, water retention can also manifest in stiff joints, drastic weight fluctuations, and slight indentations in your skin. While water retention is generally seen in bedridden and pregnant individuals — as well as in those with severe conditions such as kidney disease or heart failure — any healthy individual that drinks too much water can suffer from the side effects.
If you can’t seem to avoid water retention, it may be a sign of a more serious condition including deep vein thrombosis — a clot in a vein — pulmonary edema — when fluids buildup inside your lungs — or female fibroids. In these cases, it’s incredibly important to speak with your doctor about possible treatments.
What Causes Water Retention?
There are many unavoidable causes for water retention including genetics, hormonal changes (such as in pregnancy and menstruation), heart complications, essential medications — chemotherapy treatments, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants — and even taking a plane flight.
Narrowing it down a bit further, we find that there is a list of causal factors that we do have control over such as consuming too much sodium in our diet, standing or sitting for too long, or taking over-the-counter pain killers. There are also serious causes of water retention that can be rectified with lifestyle changes such as a severe deficiency in protein — an essential macronutrient that balances our body’s water levels — excess histamine caused by chronic inflammation — leading to “capillary walls to widen, making them leakier”— and too much physical inactivity — making it difficult for blood and fluids to flow properly through our kidneys.
How to Avoid Water Retention
We know what water retention is, how to identify it, the possible causal factors, and what happens if we don’t address a chronic water retention issue. With all that said, how can we avoid water retention in the first place? Luckily, there are a few easy ways to either reduce current water retention or avoid it altogether.
With that said, make sure to speak with your doctor before making any changes to your diet!
Reduce Sodium Consumption
Sodium is an essential compound that our bodies need to function properly — in particular, “it’s needed to transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscle fibers (including those in the heart and blood vessels), and maintain a proper fluid balance.” This is why it is naturally present in most of our fruits and vegetables. Yet, due to the attractive nature of sodium — primarily salt — many pre-packaged, canned, and processed foods, along with restaurant foods and fast foods have high quantities of salt. In fact, “more than 70 percent of the sodium we eat comes from packaged and restaurant foods.”
Therefore, in order to avoid overconsumption of sodium, you need to be conscious in your own kitchen, as well as at the grocery store or when you eat out at a restaurant. Here are a few tips!
- Always check sodium content when purchasing condiments, packaged, canned, or frozen items or look for “no salt added” or even “low sodium” on the packaging.
- Try to choose raw, fresh, organic vegetables and meat products.
- Choose products with the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check.
- Use more spices and herbs than salt when cooking.
- Always rinse your canned foods thoroughly to remove sodium from the can.
- Up your intake of high potassium foods — potatoes, greens, tomatoes, — as potassium “helps counter the effects of sodium and may help lower your blood pressure.”
- At restaurants, taste your food before adding salt, ask for only a little salt, also look out for sodium “cue words” such as “pickled, brined, barbecued, cured, smoked, broth, au jus, soy sauce, miso or teriyaki sauce.”
Avoiding Overconsumption of Refined Carbs
Carbohydrates get a bad rap most of the time. Unfortunately, when it comes to water retention, they earn that reputation. Even though carbs are essential macronutrients that fuel all of your basic metabolic functions and feed your brain,” overconsumption of the wrong types of carbs requires your body to withhold more water. It all comes down to glycogen, which is the stored converted form of glucose. In order for your body to store glycogen, it needs to bind “it to water molecules at a ratio of 1 gram of glycogen to 3 to 4 grams of water, as confirmed by a 2015 study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.”
Think of it in these terms: on average the human body stores “1 pound of glycogen at any given time, which means at least 3 pounds of water.” Yet, if you’re consuming more carbs, your body will store more glycogen, and more water.
Avoid refined and processed carbs — think cookies, crackers, bread and pasta made with white flour — and focus on nutrient-rich and complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat grains, vegetables, and fruits. After you’ve decided on the right type of carb for you, enact portion control. Focus on more vegetables than grain on your plate until your body has released some of that retained water.
Water retention isn’t just about removing or limiting certain foods from your diet, it’s also about amplifying the ones that help keep your sodium and water levels balanced.
Enter magnesium, vitamin B6, and potassium!
Magnesium is an essential mineral that is “involved in more than 300 enzymatic reactions that keep the body functioning.” On top of that, magnesium has been shown to help with water retention, especially in regards to premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In an older study, it was found “that 200 mg of magnesium per day reduced water retention in women with premenstrual symptoms (PMS).” Magnesium can be naturally found in plant-based foods such as “nuts, whole grains, dark chocolate, and leafy, green vegetables.” You can also find a variety of magnesium supplements such as these Doctor’s Best High Absorption Magnesium Glycinate Lysinate supplement which are also non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free.
What if your water retention has nothing to do with PMS? Take a look at your vitamin B6 and potassium levels.
As mentioned earlier, potassium can also do the trick. Potassium is a mineral with a handful of important functions such as sending “the electrical signals that keep the body running.” How does it reduce water retention? First, potassium helps balance and decrease sodium levels. Secondly, it also increases urine production, allowing your body to release some of that held up water! Bananas, avocados, and tomatoes are excellent plant-based sources of potassium, but you can also get this valuable mineral in supplement form, such as these Best Naturals Potassium Gluconate supplements which have zero artificial coloring, flavoring, or sweeteners, zero preservatives, sugar, starch, corn and are soy-free, lactose-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, yeast-free, and sodium-free!
Still not getting the results you want? Try out increasing your vitamin B6!
The first thing to know about vitamin B6 is that it’s actually a group of “several related vitamins” and not a single individual vitamin. What does this group of vitamins do for you? Just like magnesium and potassium, they are incredibly important, yet these guys focus on “the formation of red blood,” as well as a slew of other tasks within the human body.
How does vitamin B6 help with water retention?
One of the many tasks of this vitamin is to “assist in flushing out excess water and water-soluble wastes from your body.” Vitamin B6 can be consumed naturally via plant-based foods such as beans, nuts (walnuts), potatoes, eggs, and brown rice. You can also get this vitamin in supplement form such as this non-GMO and non-synthetic Best Vitamin B6 Dietary Supplement by Superior Labs or in a multi-vitamin such as this non-GMO and gluten-free NATURELO B-Complex Wholefoods supplement.
Along with the above-mentioned avenues for reducing water retention, you can also turn to plant-based resources. There a host of natural ingredients that you can incorporate in your daily diet that will help reduce water retention. With that said, make sure to speak with a doctor before making any changes to your diet.
Even though dandelion is found all over the world and, in many cultures, is revered for its medicinal uses, in the western world we usually just think of it as a weed. With that said, dandelion has been used for centuries to treat many illnesses such as “cancer, acne, liver disease and digestive disorders.” When it comes to water retention, dandelion acts as a diuretic, also called water pills, these agents rid the body of water and sodium.
Along with dandelion, hibiscus is also known as a natural diuretic. A study in 2012 found that hibiscus may have “diuretic, natriuretic, and potassium-sparing effects.” With that said, stick to the roselle species of hibiscus, which is purported to have water retention reducing diuretic agents!
Hibiscus is a great addition to your kitchen! Try out a few of these hibiscus beverage recipes (make sure to substitute roselle species for the most benefits): Hibiscus and Rose Cordial, Hibiscus-Cherry Cooler, or this Boozy Watermelon Hibiscus Cooler.
Fennel is a popular culinary agent, both love and hated for its incredibly potent and acidic flavoring. Yet, fennel has also been widely used as a medicinal agent in the treatment of many ailments from “colic to conjunctivitis.” This worldly plant-based ingredient “is used in many different cuisines, from Indian to Italian, to contemporary fusion, and all parts of the plant are used, including the leaves, seeds, and bulb.” It also happens to be a great natural diuretic and has been used to encourage urination for those in need of relief!
Due to its intense flavors and aroma, fennel may be intimidating to cook with, yet it’s a wonderful ingredient. Here are a few fennel recipes to get you started: Berry and Fennel Salad with Coconut Yogurt, Nutrient-Dense Broccoli, Peas, and Kale Soup, Golden Fennel Soba Noodle Soup, or this Arugula, Kiwi, and Fennel Salad.
Other Ways to Avoid or Reduce Water Retention
Need a bit more help? You’re in luck! Medicine and technology have taken the reigns to help you out. Here are some great ways to help with water retention!
If natural diuretics simply aren’t working for you, water pills (another name for diuretics) can be consumed in their rudimentary supplement form. With that said, there are a few types of water pills: thiazide diuretics for treatment of high blood pressure, loop diuretics for treatment of heart failure, and potassium-sparing diuretics for reducing fluids in the body. This last form, the potassium-sparing, are specifically engineered to reduce water retention without depleting potassium levels, which may happen with the first two forms.
While you can purchase water pills online, such as these Good’n Natural water pills with potassium, it’s absolutely recommended and even necessary to speak with a doctor before doing so. Plus, your doctor may be able to prescribe you a particular type of water pill more curated for your specific needs.
You may have heard of pregnant women, athletes, or older people using compression socks and leggings, yet these can be great aids for those suffering from water retention! How so? Compression clothes “improve your blood flow … lessen pain and swelling in your legs … lower your chances of getting deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a kind of blood clot, and other circulation problems.”
Plus, they are incredibly easy and generally inexpensive to find and purchase! Such as these Run Forever Sports Compression Socks for Men & Women for only $20.00 or, for a bit more money, these CW-X Women’s Stabilyx Joint Support Compression Tight for about $76.00.
Another great tool to help you regulate water in order to avoid water retention are hydration tracking devices. Technology has its ups and downs, yet this is one of those great positive benefits!
Hydration tracking water bottles such this H2OPal Smart Water Bottle Hydration Tracker actually tracks how much water you’ve consumed and can even send reminders or alerts regarding drinking more or less. This specific hydration tracking bottle also “auto-adjusts your goals based on activity, weather,” and body information such as gender, height, weight, etc.
You can also sync your water habits up to your phone! A slew of smartphone apps has come about in the last few years, which help you monitor your water intake in various ways. Such as My Water Balance, which provides a water requirement calculator, automatic reminders regarding your water intake, and useful information regarding how to balance your water intake.
When faced with water retention, diet is a great place to start and we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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