You wake up in the morning after too many salty chips or margaritas (a double whammy, you’ll soon learn) the night before, and stare in the mirror at your chipmunk cheeks and puffy eyes. You can’t pull the rings off your fingers, and when you step on the scale you discover that somehow, you managed to gain 3 pounds overnight. Worse, when you try to put on your jeans you can’t get them buttoned. Or: It’s the end of a long workday, and you struggle to squeeze your swollen feet into a pair of pumps before going out for the evening. If these scenarios sound familiar, your body is probably holding on to water.
Unlike gas, which builds up in your stomach and intestine and cause abdominal bloating, water can swell every part of your body. If you feel inflated like an air bag, that’s probably gas; when you like a waterlogged sponge, that’s fluid retention. And although it’s often considered normal and is usually temporary, water retention can be annoying and uncomfortable while it lasts.
Body fluids (not including blood) account for approximately 60 percent of most women’s weight. They contain water, salts, electrolytes (minerals such as sodium and potassium) and other substances whose levels are regulated by your hormones and kidneys. “Your body has to maintain a balance between sodium and water” says an expert in body fluid disorders. When the ideal ratio changes, your kidneys hold on to water so they can dilute the sodium. The result is bloating.
Because of hormonal shifts, fluid retention commonly occurs during the premenstrual phase of a woman’s cycle as well as during pregnancy. Puffiness that’s unrelated to PMS or pregnancy is often due to overeating, which can alter insulin production in such a way that the kidneys retain sodium and fluid.
Besides avoiding overeating, the following lifestyles changes and natural remedies can help flush out fluids from a bloated but otherwise healthy body.
Drink more – yes, more – water It may seem counterintuitive, but this helps relieve bloating. “When you don’t drink enough water, your body releases a hormone that reduces the amount if urine you produce”. Aim for 64 ounces a day.
Shake the salt habit While some people are more sensitive to sodium than others and thus retain fluids more easily, many people experience temporary fluid retention after eating a particular large load of salt. If this happens, cut back for a while and increase your water intake. Sodium is everywhere, so read labels and try to keep your intake to 2,300 milligrams a day, or 1,500 milligrams max if you are 40 or older, African-American or have high blood pressure.
Eat pee-producing foods Many vegetables, including cucumbers, asparagus, celery, eggplant and fennel – as well as herbs such as parsley, coriander and cardamon-act as natural diuretics. These foods have high water content and/or contain minerals such as potassium and magnesium, along with phytochemicals that promote proper water balance.
Drink your diuretics Cranberry juice and several teas, including black, green, chamomile and alfalfa, are safe and well known for their diuretic properties. “Dandelion leaf is one of the best herbs for this purpose”. Recommends using it in tea or extract form. “Celery seed teas (but not tinctures) can also be safely used”.
Commercial diuretic teas, sometimes called dieters’ teas, should be used with cautions. “If you overdo them, you can lose normal fluid from your bloodstream as well as essential minerals”. “You could become dehydrated and harm your kidneys, or develop an electrolyte imbalance that could trigger fatigue, muscle cramps and even potentially fatal heart rhythm disturbances.”
Cut carbs Eat fewer high-carbohydrate foods like pasta, bread and pastries, and more lean proteins and vegetables. “Extra carbs are broken down and stored in the body as glycogen, which has a high water content and so contributes to excess water weight”. Protein, by contrast, has a lower water content, and body fluids are used in the process of breaking it down.
Limit alcohol. Alcohol blocks the release of an anti-diuretic hormone, so heavy drinking can lead to dehydration. This might sound like a good thing when you’re bloated, but it eventually backfires and causes your body to retain fluid.
Maintain a consistent eating pattern Starving yourself because you’re feeling heavy from water weight, then overeating when you feel better, is a big mistake. “Seen serious fluid problems in women who fast as a means to lose weight”. “When they eat again, they experience a rebound in fluid retention.”
Eat warm foods Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) recommends avoiding diary and greasy, sweet, raw and cold foods if you’re prone to bloating. “Focus on cooked, warm foods”, who treats many women with PMS – and pregnancy-related water retention. “According to TCM, cold foods are harder to digest, which creates dampness in the body; water retention is a form of dampness.” Adzuki (aka aduki or azuki) and mug beans as well as barley are especially helpful foods for bloating.
Break a sweat Cardiovascular exercise promotes water loss by boosting circulation, which moves fluid from your extremities back toward your heart and kidneys, where it’s turned into urine. It will also make you sweat, which helps you excrete both water and sodium. No need to go all-out; a fast walk is enough to do the trick.
Take the plunge. Pregnant women know that there’s nothing like being submerged in a pool to help relieve fluid retention. The way it works is the pressure of the water pushes the body fluid back into the blood vessels and on to the kidneys. Even better: Do water aerobics and get two-for-one benefits.
Apply some pressure. “Massage, especially lymphatic-type massage, can help alleviate bloating by moving fluid out of the body’s tissues.
Take a load off Elevating swollen feet and ankles above the level of your heart promotes the return of of excess fluid to the kidneys. And don’t sit with your legs crossed, as this inhibits the removal of fluids from your lower body. Wearing tight jeans can have the same effect.
Stick a needle in it No, getting acupuncture won’t drain the water from your bloated body, but it can help otherwise. “Acupuncture can stimulate your body’s fluid-regulating mechanisms”. A number of herbal formulas will also help; as with acupuncture, the treatment depends on which imbalance is to blame in your case.
Try homeopathy “If you have premenstrual water retention, it’s best to choose homeopathic remedy that takes into account other PMS symptoms that are occurring”. “Good remedies include Lycopodium, nux vomica, pulsatilla, sepia, Natrum muriaticum, lachesis, caulophylumm and cimicifuga; Cyclease from Boiron is a good combination product.”
Consider supplements The balance between certain minerals, like sodium and potassium or calcium and magnesium, can play a critical role in preventing bloating. If you think you aren’t getting enough of these minerals from food, ask your doctor about taking a multivitamin-and-mineral and/or calcium supplement. Research has found that magnesium (found in nuts, beans, seeds, grains and some vegetables) can reduce premenstrual bloating, and vitamin B6 is also a natural diuretic, Kimball says, Brown rice and red meat are good food sources of B6.
If these solutions don’t help you feel less, uh, swell, your doctor might prescribe a short course of low-dose diuretics. Unless there’s a serious underlying medical need, “We don’t like to put people on long-term diuretics because of the side effects”. These side effects include potassium loss, increased blood pressure and strain on the heart, and “rebound” fluid retention – the last thing you need.
When to call your doc
Several medical conditions – including heart, kidney, or liver disease, hypothyroidism and diabetes – can cause significant ongoing fluid retention, aka chronic edema, So can certain medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), some hypertension meds (such as calcium channel blockers), steroids, joint supplements (like glucosamine), and some diabetes and anti-seizure meds. If you press your thumb against your shin and the indentation lasts more than a minute, this can be a red flag; contact your doctor.