Water makes up the majority of body weight. It is not only present in the blood, but also in muscles, organs and even bones. The extracellular and intracellular spaces are full of water, with some small exceptions in which fats seem to prevail (adipose, nervous tissue, etc.).
In some cases, body water increases abnormally and concentrates in the interstices (especially under the adipose tissue), forming the so-called water retention. But be careful, we specify right away that this condition is NOT a simple imperfection; it is easily diagnosed through medical history, objective analysis and instrumental measurement. Almost always of a pathological nature (complication of other primary diseases) or due to pharmacological therapies, water retention proper can have different degrees of importance.
Water retention as a blemish is more frequent in people with difficulties in blood and / or lymphatic circulation (however normal), in particular in the venous return of the lower limbs. In addition to genetically predisposed subjects, women, sedentary people (in particular those who spend a lot of time sitting), those who remain standing for long periods and those with hormonal irregularities are more at risk.
Water retention is often unfairly blamed by those who, for one reason or another, are unable to lose weight; in most cases it is a "scapegoat". If the weight does not drop, it is almost certainly not the fault of water retention. The rolls clearly visible in the waistline must therefore be eliminated by thinning the adipose tissue, due to an increase in energy consumption and a decrease in calories; water retention has nothing to do with it!
Water retention and cellulite
The speech changes, at least in part, in the case of cellulite (edematous fibro sclerotic panniculopathy); this imperfection, too often “disguised” as a disease, is closely related to water retention and complications (even non-pathological) of the lymphatic and venous circulation. Especially in overweight subjects of female sex, adulthood or old age, with prevalence in the lower limbs over the rest of the body, the first stages of cellulite are closely correlated with water retention.
Water retention, mainly caused by capillary complications, venous return discomfort and lymphatic insufficiency, is at the basis of the cellulite formation process (visible with the orange peel effect). However, if limited to these imperfections, the extra water does not significantly affect the weight, even if the lifestyle corrections necessary to combat it often cause significant and measurable weight loss.
Let's see how you can intervene in the diet to combat water retention.
Let's start by specifying that to combat water retention you must NOT decrease your fluid intake. For clarity, we also specify that there are NO miracle foods, drinks or supplements. Too often we are prey to commercial "fishing" and media influence and, although we are aware that certain effects are completely impossible (cit .: "water that eliminates water"), hope is always the last to die.
Sodium is a mineral necessary for the health and survival of every individual. This cation plays an important role in the regulation of blood pressure and extra cellular fluids. The sodium requirement varies greatly with sweating; those who sweat a lot, especially in sports and in the summer, if they do not use table salt (sodium chloride) to season food, risk a slight deficiency (increase in muscle cramps, low blood pressure, etc.).
Already present almost ubiquitously in foods, in the Western diet sodium is used for various preparations and added (discretionary sodium) to dishes. Table salt, the main source of sodium, contains 40% of this macro-element. For this reason it is often present in excess, with sometimes undesirable consequences (eg pathological increase in blood pressure).
For many years it has been assumed that excess sodium, accumulating in the extracellular compartments, can trigger or aggravate water retention. By suggesting that sodium levels in food and drink be monitored, it has therefore helped spread half the truth. Let's be clear, reducing sodium in the Western diet can only benefit the health of the population. However, the excess of the mineral is easily compensated by the renal filtration system, the main route of elimination of unwanted compounds circulating in the blood. This is why it is not certain that reducing sodium in the diet can achieve great results in the fight against water retention.
Potassium (K +); is another indispensable mineral. This other cation also plays an important role in regulating blood pressure but, unlike sodium, modulates intra cellular fluids. At the metabolic level, potassium exerts an almost opposite function to sodium.
It is no coincidence that this macro-element is also responsible for the so-called "thirst-quenching" effect; at the same time, the richness in potassium transmits a sensation similar to sapidity on the palate, favoring the decrease of discretionary sodium. While neither can be considered a "bad" nutrient, potassium can counteract the side effects of excess sodium. For this reason, it is believed that the richness of potassium is a fundamental requirement for the diet against water retention. Like the previous one, the potassium requirement varies a lot with sweating, but on the contrary it cannot be integrated with the same ease; potassium is contained mainly in vegetables and fruit, but also in meat and fish.
Regarding its effectiveness, however, the same discourse made for sodium is valid even if, objectively, it could be argued that IF the two minerals had a significant impact on water retention, this would be expressed to the maximum by associating the reduction of the first with the increase of the second nutrient in the diet (K +).
Let's not spend words on the importance of water for health and let's start by emphasizing that it is the diuretic nutritional factor par excellence. At the beginning of the article we specified that water retention is caused by a stagnation of extracellular fluids, in turn potentially determined by the impairment of the blood and lymphatic circulation. This amorphous liquid tends to absorb elements of various kinds, such as ions and other molecules, becoming increasingly difficult to reabsorb. Based on this principle, by exploiting our “natural filters”, that is the kidneys, by increasing the diuretic effect we also increase the renal function and the efficiency in disposing of unwanted molecules. After stimulating the peripheral reabsorption of water retention (effect on circulation), by increasing diuresis we can also facilitate the excretion of unwanted or excess molecules. However, as can be deduced, if the venous return, the lymphatic circulation and the capillary action are inadequate, this measure is completely useless.
They are all those foods of plant origin that, for one reason or another, increase the drainage of liquids from the stagnation compartments to the bloodstream and from there, through the kidneys, to the urine.
Diuretics are draining: dandelion, artichoke, fennel, endive, chicory, cucumbers, pineapple, melon, watermelon, peaches, strawberries etc.
In the herbal field, several plants with draining power are also known. For more information see the dedicated article.
Many plants have protective phytotherapeutic properties on the capillary walls; by strengthening them, they improve the circulation and also prevent varicose veins and cellulite. They are particularly known for their effectiveness: blueberry, sweet clover, centella, butcher's broom and horse chestnut.
The only nutrients that have a desirable vasodilating effect are omega 3. Alpha linolenic acid, but above all eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic, increase the vascular section by promoting blood circulation. They also make the blood thinner and less viscous.
Alpha linolenic acid is typically of vegetable origin, from cold-pressed seed oils (such as chia, perilla, flax, etc.); eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids, on the other hand, are mainly contained in sea fish in cold or blue seas, and in their liver.
Of course yes; it is perhaps one of the few systems that are truly effective and independent of other factors against water retention.
Increasing motor activity induces vasodilation, increased blood circulation, oxygenation of the normally less perfused tissues, pumping of venous blood from the lower limbs towards the heart, etc. All this allows an improvement in the reabsorption of peripheral fluids and a decrease in stasis which causes water retention.
Many have tried to show that some activities have a more significant effect than others or that certain sports even aggravate water retention. They are often accused: the production of lactic acid, believed to be responsible for an osmotic effect on the tissues, the effect of gravity and rebounds on the lower limbs in cross-country running and fast walking. In both cases, these are real distortions. Motor activity is always beneficial for water retention in the healthy subject. The swelling effect is instead caused by transient pumping, which is greater in muscle activities that produce lactic acid; lactic acid has nothing to do with it, in fact this waste of anaerobic glycolysis is promptly processed by the liver (usually within a couple of hours) and does not stagnate in any compartment of the body.
Habits, work and how you spend your free time have a big impact on water retention.
At this point it is now clear that the position of the body, in relation to the time spent in it, can increase or decrease venous return, lymphatic drainage and microcirculation. This explains why people who practice a job in a sitting position (for example office workers) are more prone to suffer from water retention. The angles formed by the leg joints and the application of weight on the thighs impair flow and promote stasis. Similarly, those who remain standing for long periods (for example, the workers on the assembly line, kitchen technicians, etc.) have to deal with the force of gravity, which certainly does not facilitate the flow from the feet to the heart. The ideal activity, on the other hand, is the mixed, dynamic one, which does not allow you to remain immobile for long. The same concept can be applied to recreational leisure activities; people without interests or passionate about sedentary hobbies will always have a greater tendency to water retention than those who, on the contrary, delight in hiking, hunting, gathering, gardening, etc.
It is also necessary to say a few words on clothing, over which chaos often rules. Compression garments and tight garments are NOT the same thing. There are garments designed to facilitate reabsorption, containment precisely, which by exerting a constant and uniform pressure and can therefore improve water retention. On the contrary, very tight trousers (especially jeans), "hanged" belts, high boots, etc. tend to tighten the thigh (in the groin) and the leg (just below the knee) in the wrong places, creating a "bottleneck" in the vessels and worsening water retention.
It is important for women to note that the physiological and fertility-responsible hormonal flows are responsible for water retention in a few days before, during or after the menstrual cycle. This is physiological and must not be countered in any way. It is different if the effect, of large entity, is induced by certain hormonal therapies; in this case it may be useful to talk to your doctor.
Pregnancy is responsible for a fairly strong water retention, but obviously it is only necessary to be patient until the moment of delivery.
In any case, for those who feel a clear sensation of swelling in the legs at the end of the day, it may be advisable to lie down in a supine position, leaning the lower limbs against a wall, creating an angle close to 45 °, and thus facilitating venous return.
Water retention is also a side effect of many medications. In particular of those:
- NSAID painkillers such as ibuprofen, but especially cortisone steroids
If water retention is excessive, in addition to not being able to be combated with diet, it may require the reformulation of the responsible drug therapy.
The pathologies responsible for water retention cannot be countered with the diet. Among these we remember above all:
- Venous insufficiency
- Heart failure
- Pulmonary edema
- Pathologies of the lymph nodes
- Cysts and other anatomical compromises.