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Treating Water Retention Naturally

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Learn how herbs, food, compression stockings, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, and massage can help reduce edema.

The retention of fluids in the body is known as edema. It is characterized by swelling and can occur in various parts of the body. Usually, it affects the legs, ankles, feet, knees, arms, and hands. While in some cases, swelling can occur around the face, chest, and abdomen.

Knowing the particular underlying cause of edema is the first step in treating this condition. However, not all cases of edema occur as a result of a specific underlying medical condition. Some cases of edema are caused by injury, high salt intake, posture, and even a combination of different factors.

For example, edema is common during pregnancy when it causes swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs.

Although diuretics are commonly prescribed to treat edema, many patients prefer a natural approach. Natural remedies are generally known to be safer and with lesser side effects compared to other synthetic medications.

Some of the natural solutions to edema are discussed below.

Diuretics Herbs and Foods

Some various foods and herbs can help reduce swelling associated with edema. They are commonly referred to as natural diuretics.

Natural diuretics work by increasing the volume of urine and frequency of urination. This is done by reducing the number of salts that are reabsorbed by the kidney into the bloodstream. Through this process, they induce the removal of excess fluid from the body.

Along with the frequent urination, some minerals essential to the body may be lost. Examples of minerals lost along with sodium and water are potassium and calcium. To avoid deficiencies in these minerals, you should carefully select the natural diuretics you choose to treat edema.

One of the most popular diuretic herbs is dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). One advantage of dandelion as a natural diuretic is that it contains essential minerals such as potassium and can, therefore, replace the ones lost during diuresis.

A group of sesquiterpene lactones, one of the active phytochemicals found in dandelion, is responsible for the herb’s diuretic property.

Dandelion improves kidney and liver function by increasing the frequency of urination as well as increasing bile flow. This prevents water from accumulating in the body.

Corn silk is another natural diuretic that is capable of replacing potassium in the body when it is being washed out through increased urination. There are even some clinical studies that have established its diuretic properties.

Corn silk contains phytochemicals such as cryptoxanthin and tannins which are dehydrating agents.

It increases urination by reducing the amount of sodium and chlorine reabsorbed back into the bloodstream in the kidney.

Another well-known diuretic herb is horse chestnut. The two major phytochemicals responsible for its diuretic property are aescin and aesculin.

Aesculin promotes the excretion of potassium, sodium as well as fluids from the body, while aescin works by improving the blood vessels especially the veins, and protecting them from inflammation. Furthermore, aescin also helps reabsorb fluids back into the circulatory system and prevent leakage of fluids from the walls of the veins.

Other herbs such as artichoke, parsley, and green tea are also known to help reduce edematous swelling.

Furthermore, some fruits with high water content such as watermelon, grapes, tomato, cucumber, and cranberry juice can also prevent water retention in the body. As well as being used as natural diuretics, these fruits also provide the body with various essential minerals and vitamins.

Compression Stockings for Edema

Compression stockings are special elastic garments worn on the legs to prevent and protect against the progression of venous problems such as edema and thrombosis.

When edema presents as swollen legs, ankles, and feet, compression stockings are especially useful.

These special stockings are also useful for people who have to stand or sit for a long period of time during the day. Prolonged inactivity can cause swelling in the lower limbs.

Unlike conventional stockings, compression stockings are designed to provide a gentle force on the veins and promote the circulation of blood in the legs.

These elastic stockings squeeze the veins thereby reducing their diameter and improving the effectiveness of valves in the veins. These effects increase the rate of blood flow and a reduction in the number of fluids retained in the legs.

The highest pressure from the compression stockings is exerted at the ankles and it gradually reduces towards the knees and thighs. Since ankles are joints, the high pressure there prevents fluids from pooling there. The graduated pressure up the leg provides a directional force to move the retained fluids towards the lymph nodes.

To use a compression stocking, it is important to know your ABI (Ankle Brachial Index) so as not to impede the flow of blood in the arteries. However, most non-prescription compression stockings available have a low pressure of 20mmHg and are suitable for most mild cases of edema.

Patients with ABI indices lower than 1.0 should not wear compression stockings.

Depending on the severity of the swelling, higher pressure compression stocking (20 - 30 mmHg and 30 - 40 mmHg) may be needed. This usually requires a prescription by a doctor after the ABI of the patient has been determined.

Patients suffering from peripheral obstructive arterial disease, congestive heart failure, septic phlebitis, oozing dermatitis, and advanced peripheral neuropathy should not use compression stockings.


Hydrotherapy involves the use of water to treat various ailments. Water used in hydrotherapy may come in the form of ice, steam, or liquid.

Usually, when there is swelling in the lower limbs, the feet are immersed in hot water for about 5 minutes and also cold water for about 30 seconds afterward. This process is usually repeated two to three times.

The hot and cold immersion allows the blood vessels to alternately dilate and contract, thereby, effectively improving circulation.

Hydrotherapy reduces and prevents the pooling of fluids in the lower extremities of the body.

It is also recommended to drink a lot of water. Although this sounds counterintuitive, it has actually been shown to help.

Drinking water helps to correct the feedback mechanism the body uses to determine whether it is dehydrated or overhydrated. If you don't drink water, the body can keep retaining water because the thirst reflex is engaged. Therefore, drinking a lot of water signals the body to excrete more water.

Applying an ice pack to the swollen part is another form of hydrotherapy (actually cryotherapy) that can help reduce the inflammation causing the edematous swelling of the legs.

Edema Massage (Manual Lymphatic Drainage)

This massage practice involves the drainage of interstitial fluid through the lymphatic system in swollen areas of the body. Massage therapy stimulates and improves the flow of blood as well as lymphatic functions.

Manual lymphatic drainage works by activating the lymphatic system through the pressure applied by massage the swelling towards the direction of the heart.

Better knowledge of the lymphatic system has improved the approach to this practice. Unlike the previous technique, the body parts closer to the heart are massaged before moving towards the farther parts.

Starting from the heart ensures that there will be no obstruction to the flow of fluids when the extreme parts are massaged. The route to the lymph nodes will be blocked if the extreme parts are massaged before the proximal parts thereby resulting in the swelling being displaced from one place to another.

The part affected by edema should be dressed in low-stretch bandages after a manual lymphatic massage.

To begin with manual lymphatic drainage in the lower limbs,  the legs are inclined on a pillow or stool above the level of the heart, then a firm, steady pressure is applied from the proximal part of the body in the direction of the groin for about 15 minutes.

For edema in the arms and hands, gentle strokes are applied towards the direction of the armpit. The procedure is usually repeated a few times to achieve optimum effect.

Manual lymphatic massage can be done with passive or active exercises to improve both blood and lymph flow.

However, manual lymphatic massage is not recommended for patients with widespread edema because it can actually worsen generalized edema.

Homeopathy Remedies

Homeopathic medicine is a form of alternative medicine that was introduced by a German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann, in 1796.

This system of medicine was based on his principle of “like cures like” which means that disease in a sick person can be cured by a substance that can cause the symptoms of the disease in a healthy person.

The homeopathy remedies are made by choosing a substance and diluting it with alcohol or distilled water over and over again. It is then followed by a process called succussion (done by forcefully striking the diluted substance in an elastic container).

Repeating these two processes is believed to increase the potency of the remedy. Dilution is usually done repeatedly until none of the original poison is available.

Plant, animal, and mineral sources are used for homeopathic remedies. Homeopathy is believed to work by stimulating the body’s natural healing power to combat symptoms that are similar in nature.

They are generally considered safe and without side effects.

For edema, homeopathy remedies that are chosen include those with descriptions similar to water retention and swelling.

The following homeopathy remedies are recommended for swelling in the lower extremities:

  • Apis mellifica
  • Calcarea carbonica
  • Ferrum metallicum
  • Ledum palustre

For swelling around other parts of the body, the following homeopathy remedies are recommended:

  • Bovista
  • Kali carbonicum
  • Lycopodium
  • Natrum muriaticum

The dose and dosage form is usually printed on the labels of the remedies. They might, however, vary accordingly in different people and symptoms observed.

Usually, it is recommended to wait for a response after each dose. The doses can then be gradually increased if an improvement is not observed.





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