If you're feeling puffy, bloated and swollen, you're experiencing fluid retention, medically known as "edema."
Fluid retention occurs in different parts of the body for different reasons; gravity is one of them. Standing in one place too long or sitting with legs dangling can restrict circulation and cause swelling in the extremities. Fluid then leaks out of the capillaries and is stored in puffed-up tissues, instead of returning to the circulation. Even your eyeballs can swell, making it uncomfortable to wear contact lenses.
Edema can be a symptom of disease. Its many causes include: allergies, anemia, under-active adrenal glands, kidney, liver or thyroid problems, lung impairment, excess sodium, potassium deficiency, circulatory problems, over-acidity and severe protein deficiency.
Pitting edema exists when pressure on swollen areas leaves a pit-like depression, which may require medical attention.
Alcohol and diuretic drinks such as tea and coffee cause water and sodium losses. Adrenal glands need adequate amounts of sodium to function properly. Someone who craves salt and perspires heavily and urinates frequently, may have and adrenal imbalance.
Sugar and sodium affect fluid retention. Eating at restaurants that use MSG or excessive sodium may result in potassium loss. Hidden sugar is found with names ending in the suffix ose: fructose, dextrose, lactose, sucrose and maltose.
Also look for malted barley and corn syrup.
Fluid retention is a common side effect of birth control pills. They deplete the body of B vitamins, especially vitamin B6, which has a natural diuretic function. Oral contraceptives contain estrogen. Too much estrogen causes the body to hold fluid. Fiber binds the estrogen and helps move it out of the system. Studies confirm that women have fewer PMS symptoms when they eat high-fiber, low-fat diets. Chronic stress also raises estrogen levels, depletes progesterone and causes fluid retention in fingers, ankles and the abdomen.
Physician Barbara Edelstein, author of "The Woman Doctor's Medical Guide for Women," suggests taking vitamin B6 for fluid retention because it blocks the estrogen/sodium relationship.
In addition, vitamin C has some diuretic effect when combined with B6, and it helps reduce capillary permeability.
Certain foods have known diuretic properties, including: cucumbers, alfalfa, parsley, apples, watercress, asparagus and cranberries. Some people reduce fluid buildup by eating only watermelon or drinking fresh juices for a few days a month(not suitable for diabetics or hypoglycemics).
The German Commission E monograph recognizes various herbs for fluid retention, such as horsetail and juniper berries, as well as dandelion use, as directed on the label.
If you are taking medications, consult with your health care practitioner before taking herbs. Better health food stores carry natural diuretic formulations containing B6 and traditional herbal supplements with a long history of safety and effectiveness.
Prescription diuretic drugs rid the body of excess water, but they often flush out essential minerals as well. Over-the-counter diuretics and laxatives used for weight loss also create mineral imbalances and may cause cramping.
"Of all natural diuretics, perhaps the best is water," writes nutrition counselor Maggie Greenwood Robbins. "When you are dehydrated, your body excretes less water and bloating can set in."
Your body uses water most effectively when you drink small amounts more often. If you are drinking too much water at one time and then rushing to the bathroom during the next half hour, you may be flushing away the water instead of flushing away the bloat.
The information in this article is for educational purposes. Consult your physician if you have a medical condition.
Margot Bennett is a licensed nutritionist at Mother Nature's Pantry, located in the Garden Square Shoppes, 4513 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. Call her at (561) 626-4461.