Our body consists of 60% water. Water is needed for many critical bodily functions, including dissolving nutrients and eliminating wastes. However, sometimes our body holds on to too much of it. It can lead to puffiness and swelling in the hands, feet, and legs. This condition is known as edema or water retention.
Water retention can be an indicator of a severe medical health condition. In such cases, you must consult with a doctor. In situations where water retention is not because of a medical condition, you can make several changes in your lifestyle and eating habits to reduce excess water safely. Read on to learn how to recognize the signs of water retention and ways to safely get rid of excess water weight.
Signs of water retention
The symptoms of water retention include:
- Swelling of legs, feet, and ankles
- Swelling and puffiness on the abdomen, face, and hips
- Stiff joints
- Rapid weight gain over a few days of weeks
- Indentation on the skin, similar to those seen on fingers after a long bath or shower
Though anyone can develop water retention, certain factors can increase the risk of edema. These include:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Contraceptive pills
- Heart issues
- Kidney disease
- Liver conditions
Ways to reduce water retention
1. Exercise regularly
Exercising every day is an easy way to lose excess water weight. When you exercise, you lose the excess water through sweat. Depending on the intensity of the exercise, you can lose between 16 to 64 ounces of fluid from your body during one hour of exercise.
Moderate to intense exercise also stimulates the flow of blood and lymphatic fluids, which helps reduce fluid build-up in the extremities. Exercise also helps to burn up the stored glycogen. Keep yourself hydrated throughout the exercise to avoid dehydration.
2. Reduce your salt intake
Another simple step to reduce water retention is to reduce your salt intake. Salt is made up of sodium and chloride. Our body must maintain its sodium to water ratio to work correctly. When we consume too excessive salt, our body will hold on to the water.
Studies also show that excessive intake of sodium can lead to water retention (1,2). Replace food items that are high in salt like processed food from your diet with low-sodium alternatives. According to recent dietary guidelines, we should not consume more than 2,300 mg of salt in a day.
Magnesium is an electrolyte that is involved in many metabolic activities in the body. It also plays an essential role in maintaining water balance in the body. You can increase your magnesium intake to reduce water retention.
According to a study by The University of Reading, UK, a daily supplement of 200 mg of magnesium can reduce mild premenstrual symptoms of fluid retention (3). You can meet your daily magnesium needs by eating foods rich in magnesium like avocados, legumes, dark chocolate, tofu, and nuts.
High sodium intake is one of the most common causes of water retention. Potassium can counterbalance the effect of sodium in the body. When you consume more potassium, more sodium is excreted through the urine (4).
You can thus help flush out more sodium from the body by eating potassium-rich food. Some foods that are rich sources of potassium include bananas, black beans, oranges, grapefruit, avocados, and tomatoes.
Like magnesium and potassium, vitamin B6 can also help reduce water retention. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is a water-soluble vitamin that our body needs for various functions.
Studies have shown that vitamin B6 can help reduce water retention in women with premenstrual syndrome. During one study, 126 women were divided into three groups and were asked to take magnesium, vitamin B6, or a placebo. The results of this study showed that vitamin B6 was the most effective in reducing water retention in women with premenstrual syndrome (5).
Good sources of vitamin B6 include bananas, potatoes, walnuts, and meat. You can also take vitamin B6 supplements. Vitamin B6 supplements are also available online.
6. Take a dandelion supplement
Dandelion, also known as Taraxacum officinale or lions tooth, is a popular herb that is known for its diuretic effects. The high potassium content if this plant is the reason why it is considered an excellent diuretic. Potassium is known to help the kidneys pass out more sodium and water.
There have been a few studies on the effect of dandelion on water retention. During one study, fresh dandelion leaf extract, when taken by volunteers, showed a significant amount of increased urine output five hours after taking the supplement (6).
When you consume carbs and don’t use them for fuel right away, your body converts them into glycogen, which it then stores inside the muscles for energy. For every one gram of glycogen that you store, you store 2.7 grams of water with it. This is the reason why people who go on a low-carb diet, lose a significant amount of weight initially.
Carbohydrates also lead to a rise in insulin levels, which increases sodium retention and reabsorption of water in the kidneys (7). Cutting down on carbs can lower insulin levels and lower water retention.
Drink more water to lose water weight. Being well-hydrated can help prevent water retention. If you are constantly dehydrated, your body responds by holding on to more water. Staying hydrated improves liver and kidney health, which helps reduce water retention. Replace sugary drinks with water. You can also stay hydrated by eating fruits and vegetables like watermelon, cantaloupe, celery, and green leafy vegetables.
9. Lower your stress levels
Our body produces the hormone cortisol in response to stressful situations. Increased cortisol levels can, in turn, increase water retention. Stress and high cortisol levels increase the levels of antidiuretic hormone, a hormone that controls water balance in the body (8). Controlling stress can lower the levels of cortisol and antidiuretic hormone in the body. Try some stress-relieving techniques like meditation and yoga for stress relief.
10. Sleep more
Sleep is as essential for you as a healthy diet and exercise. Adequate sleep helps to manage your cortisol levels, which in turn helps lower water retention. We must all aim to sleep for around 7 to 9 hours every night.
11. Drink tea or coffee
Beverages that contain caffeine like tea or coffee have a diuretic effect, and they can reduce water retention. During one study, when volunteers drank coffee in doses equivalent of that contained in 2 or 3 cups of coffee, it resulted in stimulation of urine output in individuals (9).
During another study, participants took a glass of water with 4.5 mg caffeine per kg of body weight. The results showed a significant increase in urine volume (10). These results show that caffeine has a mild diuretic effect without causing dehydration.
12. Change your daily habits
Avoid sitting or standing in one position for long periods. It can reduce your blood circulation and increase fluid retention. If you think any medication that you are taking is leading to water retention, consult your doctor immediately. Avoid processed foods and excessive alcohol consumption.
When to see the doctor
Water retention can easily be treated at home, but in some conditions, it can be a symptom of a more serious medical condition. In such cases, you must consult a doctor immediately.
- Severe water retention can cause your skin to appear tight. It may retain a dimple when you press down on it. This condition is called pitted edema.
- If fluid retention is accompanied by coughing and shortness of breath while lying down, it may be a sign of fluid in lungs or heart failure.
- Kidney disease and thyroid disorder can also cause edema. They can disrupt the normal flow of blood around the body, leading to water retention.
- If you suspect that specific medication you are taking like anti-inflammatories or oral contraceptives is causing water retention, consult your doctor.
Water retention is a condition in which our body holds on to too much water. Water retention can lead to swelling in hands and feet, bloating, stiff joints, and an increase in weight. Some simple lifestyle and dietary changes can help reduce water retention.
These include exercising regularly, lowering intake of salt, processed food, and alcohol, increasing consumption of magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6, cutting back on carbs, staying hydrated, drinking caffeinated beverages, taking dandelion supplements, lowering stress levels and sleeping better. However, if symptoms of water retention persist, you must consult a doctor as it may be a sign of a severe health condition.