Although lymphedema affects as many as 250 million people around the world, solutions to the condition's symptoms are not commonly discussed. While the pain and swelling that come with lymphedema may seem permanent, there are many methods for minimizing lymphedema symptoms. Specifically, eating the right foods and dieting can greatly reduce the effects of lymphedema.
To shed more light on the topic, this article will explain what lymphedema is, common lymphedema symptoms, what foods help lymphedema and a few additional ways to manage lymphedema symptoms. Keep reading to find out what a lymphedema diet consists of, along with other practical methods of coping with the condition.
Lymphedema is a medical condition commonly caused by damage to or the removal of your lymph nodes as a part of treatment for cancer, such as radiation therapy or surgery. Although most often caused by cancer treatment, lymphedema may not appear until months or even years after the initial treatment.
While surgery and radiation treatments are secondary causes for lymphedema, some rare conditions can cause primary lymphedema. These conditions include Milroy's disease, Meige's disease and late-onset lymphedema, all of which involve an inherited condition that leads to complications with the development of the body's lymph vessels.
Lymphedema occurs when a blockage forms in the lymphatic system, which is a part of the immune system, preventing the lymph fluid from properly draining. With nowhere else to go, the lymph fluid begins to build up and cause swelling. This swelling can range from mild, barely noticeable changes in limb size to intense swelling that makes the limb difficult to use.
The following symptoms are strong signs of lymphedema:
Although there is currently no cure for lymphedema, an early diagnosis can make the symptoms quite manageable and reduce the damage done to the affected limbs.
Adhering to a healthy diet can help alleviate lymphedema symptoms because an increased amount of fat makes it more difficult for the lymphatic system to drain and pass fluid properly. Specifically, those with lymphedema can eat to starve lymphedema by consuming foods that fight both lymphedema and cancer, along with avoiding foods that contribute to symptoms.
Below are five dieting tips to starve lymphedema and lessen its symptoms:
Does drinking water help with lymphedema? Absolutely! Because the body is more prone to hold onto excess liquid when it feels dehydrated, drinking enough water is especially important for those with lymphedema so they can maintain a healthy fluid and chemical balance. Of course, lymphedema patients should be careful not to drink too much water, which can overwhelm the body and make swelling worse.
Those with lymphedema should be wary of beverages that contain alcohol and caffeine, both of which can contribute to dehydration. For this reason, coffee and lymphedema do not mix well.
Although drinking enough water is essential for those with lymphedema, diuretics — also known as water pills — should be avoided. Although diuretics may have positive short-term effects by removing the water content of swelling, taking diuretics can worsen lymphedema symptoms in the long-term because the dehydration effect of diuretics leaves a higher concentration of protein mass in the lymph fluid that draws more water to the swollen area as soon as the diuretic wears off. However, before stopping taking diuretics, check with your healthcare provider as to what your options are.
Protein is essential to keeping your body healthy and fully functional. When you do not eat enough protein, fluid can seep from your bloodstream into your tissues, making lymphedema worse. For this reason, you should work healthy protein from seeds, nuts, eggs, legumes, fish, poultry and tofu into your regular diet.
To maintain your body's fluid balance, you should consume enough protein each day. The recommended amount of daily dietary protein is 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women. Be careful not to consume an excessive amount of protein, which can overwhelm the kidneys and cause other fluid retention issues.
Consuming a large amount of sodium often causes water retention within the body. This means that the more salt you eat, the more fluid your body holds onto, which can make pre-existing lymphedema symptoms worse.
Because salt is most often found in processed foods, you can limit your daily intake of sodium by avoiding canned foods, pickled foods, frozen and boxed meals, salty condiments, cured meats and fast food. Be sure to read nutrition labels carefully so you can steer clear of excess sodium.
Whole foods are the best types of foods to eat for those with lymphedema because they are not processed. Unlike whole foods, prepared foods typically contain added sugar, soy, salt, unhealthy fats and other unnatural additives.
For those who cannot eat solid whole foods, juicing is an alternative option. However, juicing is not recommended if you can eat solid food because the process of juicing breaks down fiber, which is a valuable health benefit of whole foods. Fruit juices can also spike blood glucose levels more rapidly than whole fruits.
Along with incorporating whole foods into your diet, you should try to cut other foods out of your diet. Some foods can exacerbate lymphedema symptoms because of the way they are processed and the additives or high salt content they contain. These foods include added sugars — specifically fructose — refined grains, chemically modified fats and most animal and dairy products.
In addition to following a healthy diet, you can do other things to keep lymphedema symptoms to a minimum. Combining a proper lymphedema diet with other strategies for managing lymphedema can help mitigate the condition's effects.
Here are seven extra ways to manage lymphedema symptoms:
A full lymphedema treatment program will provide you with all the tools and techniques you need to manage your lymphedema symptoms. At Post Acute Medical, patients can benefit from a full range of lymphedema therapies, from manual lymphatic drainage to compression therapy.
Post Acute Medical focuses on delivering patients the highest quality care possible to achieve long-term positive outcomes. The dedicated and caring staff at Post Acute Medical will work with you to develop a treatment plan that reduces the pain caused by lymphedema and improve your quality of life.
To get started on reducing the effects of your lymphedema today, contact the Post Acute Medical facility nearest you.