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Fluid retention: Causes and remedies

Women's Health, Inflammation, Joint disorders | January 6, 2021 | Author: Naturopath

Inflammation, women's health

Fluid retention: Causes and remedies

Feeling puffy, shoes don’t fit or having trouble putting on your rings – sounds like fluid retention. Fluid retention, also called water retention or oedema, is an accumulation of fluid inside of the tissues and cavities of the body which causes swelling. Common areas of the body affected are hands, feet, ankles and legs.

Fluid retention can be caused by innocuous reasons such as hot weather, eating too much salt or from sitting or standing too long in one spot, or be a symptom of hormonal disturbances and arthritis, but it can also be associated with more serious disorders of the liver, heart or kidneys. Because of this it is always important to get a correct diagnosis from a medical practitioner.

Why does fluid retention occur?

To put it simply, the lymphatic system is responsible for removing fluid from tissues in the body back into the blood stream. It is when this doesn’t occur the result is oedema. Generalised oedema affects the whole body whilst localised oedema is isolated to one part.

Symptoms of fluid retention

​Why does fluid retention occur?Swelling. You may notice you cannot fit your shoes for instance after a long plane flight. This might occur due to sitting in one spot too long, from excess alcohol, dehydration or too much salt.

Weight gain. You may not be able to do up your jeans or your bra feels tight. This can occur overnight or over weeks. Weight may also fluctuate in some instances.

Tight feeling joints. Often you can see the fluid build-up around the knee or above the middle knuckles of the fingers (or you cannot remove rings from fingers). Joints may ache.

Dimples in skin. This is when the skin holds it shape when pressed or pinched (known as pitting oedema).

Causes of Fluid retention

Hormones – Fluid retention can be associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) with symptoms of breast fullness, abdominal bloating, weight gain and swollen extremities. These changes are thought due to changes in circulating hormone - aldosterone which may elevate due to decreased progesterone, elevated oestrogen, magnesium deficiency or stress. If breast tenderness is a major symptom – prolactin may be responsible. 

Following a low-salt diet and increasing potassium-rich foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits may be all that is needed. Supplementing with magnesium to address deficiencies will assist with fluid elimination and also stress. Vitamin B6 may help reduce fluid retention and anxiety. Herbal diuretics can aid in the removial of excess fluid. These suggestions can offer symptom relief but there is still a need to address the underlying cause. Chaste berry (vitex agnus castus) can be helpful for elevated prolactin.
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Contraceptive pill. Oestrogen in the contraceptive pill can cause fluid retention.
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Joint disorders. An accumulation of fluid in the tissues surrounding joints can cause swelling making it difficult to move the affected joint. Joints most commonly affected are knees, ankles and feet, elbows, wrists and shoulders, hips and spine. Conditions such as gout, rheumatism, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome are some disorders associated with fluid retention. Swelling can be acute or chronic, be accompanied by heat, stiffness and aches, be intermittent and interfere with daily activity. Acute swelling of a joint is usually associated with an injury, over-use, infection or illness, whereas chronic is commonly an arthritic condition. Herbal supplements such as celery, juniper and dandelion leaf are useful in these conditions.
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Causes of Fluid retentionHot weather may be responsible for fluid retention due to dehydration or inefficient lymphatic movement.

Dehydration. Sounds weird but not enough water can result in fluid retention. This is because when you are dehydrated the body holds on to the fluid to re-use instead of excreting it with toxins and waste products as it should. Keep up with your water and the body has no need for this drastic measure.

The force of Gravity – such as when standing in one spot for too long which causes fluid to pool in the lower limbs.

Nutrient deficiencies. Protein, magnesium and other electrolytes, vitamin B6 and vitamin B5 are associated with fluid retention.

Chronic venous insufficiency. When the valves in the legs fail to fully close this can result in the blood returning from the heart, to pool in the legs. This is also the cause of varicose veins.
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Medications. Some medications can result in fluid retention. Some of these include antihypertensives (high blood pressure medication) and corticosteroids (anti-inflammatories) are some examples of medications which may cause fluid retention. Check with your medical practitioner if you are taking medication and have fluid retention.

When it’s a serious cause

Fluid retention can be a symptom of a more serious medical condition. These may include:

  • Heart failure 
  • Kidney disease
  • Lung disease
  • Malignant lymphoedema
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Liver disease
  • Auto-immune disorders
  • Allergic reactions

What can help reduce fluid

First priority is to checking with your health care provider to establish a diagnosis and check medications.

Look at the diet

What can help reduce fluidSalt. Is there too much salt in the diet. Salt is often used in processed foods and you may be consuming more than you think, if fact it is more probable in some instances than the amount you may be shaking on your dinner.

Increase fruit and vegetables in the diet to provide a natural source of minerals.

Reduce tea, coffee and alcohol

Hydrate with water

Nutritional deficits and demands

Magnesium is one of the electrolytes of the body, along with potassium, sodium, chloride, calcium phosphate and bicarbonate. Electrolytes are minerals which hold an electric charge and are found in sweat, urine and blood. They are involved in many essential metabolic processes within the body such as helping with hydration and energy production. Fluid in the body needs to be kept at the right balance, inside and outside of cells. An imbalance of electrolytes can interfere with fluid balance. Electrolytes use a method called osmosis to move fluids in and out of cells through the wall of the cell membrane. This is a process where dilute solutions (those containing more water and few electrolytes) move towards a more concentrated solution (less fluid more electrolytes) thus creating balance. Magnesium is often deficient and can be rewarding and beneficial when supplemented as if helps in many areas of health.
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Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). This important B group vitamin is essential for many activities in the body. Demand is increased in many circumstances such as aging, excess intake of tea, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, hypertension, diabetes, kidney stones, oral contraception, and the regulation of steroid hormone action. Deficiency may cause or be associated with premenstrual fluid retention. Note some medicinal diuretics can increase the excretion of B6.

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid). Fluid retention, arthritis, stress, and excess tea, coffee and alcohol increase the demand for vitamin B5.

Herbal Diuretics

Herbal diuretics can help regulate and restore body fluid balance, support the channels of elimination and the removal of the waste products of metabolism.

Celery (Apium graveolens) offers significant diuretic properties helpful with joint associated fluid retention such as in rheumatism, arthritis and gout. The action of celery includes reducing blood pressure, as a urinary antiseptic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory and antirheumatic. Celery stimulates the enzyme glutathione-S-transferase which helps clear accumulated toxic substances from the body. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (BHP) list celery as a specific application for rheumatoid arthritis. Celery is contraindicated in disorders of the kidney.

Juniper berries (Juniperus communis) are high in the nutrient’s potassium, magnesium and calcium and its action includes diuretic, urinary antiseptic and antirheumatic making it a useful herb for fluid retention.

Dandelion leaves (Taraxacum officinale) acts as a diuretic and an antirheumatic. They contain vitamin A, B, C and D and the mineral potassium. Dandelion is considered one of the strongest herbal diuretics.

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Romm, Aviva; 2010; Botanical Medicine of Women’s Health, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, USA

Effects of Magnesium and Vitamin B6 on the Severity of Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4161081/

Fisher, Carole; 2009, MATERIA MEDICA OF WESTERN HERBS, Vitex Medica, New Zealand

Fluid, electrolytes and nutrition https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15656483/

Causes and signs of edema https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279409/

Henry, Osiecki; The Nutrient Bible 9th Edition, Bio Concepts, AG Publishing; QLD, Australia



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