How do I know if I'm retaining fluids?
The bony parts of our bodies are an easy landmark and can help distinguish a healthy volume of fluid from an abnormal amount. In the fingers, these include the knuckles and bony joints, while in other areas, bony prominences can easily be seen or felt. When the tissue swells due to an excess amount of fluid, these bony parts become less pronounced or defined and the surrounding tissue is typically squishy. It's important to take note of whether or not pressure induces pain or tenderness.
Why do we suffer from fluid retention?
Fluid retention actually performs a protective function in certain cases, and if you find yourself wondering how, let's think of a motor vehicle accident. To protect the driver and passenger, an airbag will inflate at approximately 321km/h to cushion the individuals from injury. There are a variety of sensors that can detect stimuli due to collision, such as increased pressure due to the movement of vehicle components, accelerometers for sudden stopping and more. This is much like the human body which can detect a variety of stimuli, whether mechanical or chemical, and respond appropriately. This response may involve swelling to provide a cushion of fluids around the site of injury.
However, there are other pathological causes of fluid retention, medically referred to as edema. When a woman becomes pregnant, there are a multitude of changes that occur, one of which is an increase in the body's overall blood volume to support the growing fetus, an increase of about 45%. This extra fluid combined with a more sedentary lifestyle and increased pressure on the lower limbs as the fetus grows allows fluid to pool in the legs. Damage to vessels in the body can also allow fluid to leak out, this includes chronic inflammation which can create gaps between cells.
Is it always linked to weather?
Many of those suffering from edema or swelling find themselves especially bogged down on hot, humid days. When there is a greater amount of moisture in the air, the body cannot effectively rid itself of excess fluids since there is already quite a bit in the air. This forces the fluids to be retained in the body. Warm weather also causes the blood vessels to dilate which increases the space between the cells of the vessels and allows that much more fluid to leak out, much like with inflammation.
Who is more prone to fluid retention?
As humans age, the muscles of the body gradually lose the strength they once had. Without this muscle tone, the valves in the lower legs are not contained by the same strength they were years earlier, permitting venous blood to pool in the lower limbs. In addition, the blood vessels themselves lose tone, with the gaps between cells becoming larger and further permitting fluid to leak out into the surrounding tissues. In animal studies of swine and rats, as these species age, their blood becomes thicker as changes in coagulation pathways and platelet activation occur. This could contribute to poor circulation and potentially affect fluid retention in various tissues.
If I don't want to take anything natural or pharmaceutical, are there any options for me?
Tip 1 - A very simple maneuver to reduce swelling in the lower limbs is to lie on your back and place your feet against the wall, scooting close until the backs of your legs and butt are flush against the wall. Holding this position for as little as 15 minutes allows gravity to work with the natural flow of the veins, causing blood to flow back to the heart.
Tip 2 - Herbs and plants with diuretic properties, including Urtica dioica, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and Juniperus communis can help to move fluid through the system, reducing the overall swelling. It's important to discuss with your primary care provider exactly how much fluid you want to move as doing it too quickly can lead to some unpleasant symptoms.
Tip 3 - Urtica dioica is also helpful to increase the excretion of various metabolites from the body, including uric acid due to its role as a diuretic Another study demonstrated that an extraction of the flowering part of the plant had potent anti-inflammatory effects on par with the anti-inflammatory medication, celastrol, but did have some risk of cell damage in the extraction the researchers performed. It is important to discuss the use of this herb with your primary care provider, especially if you have kidney or bladder concerns, or are considering becoming pregnant as the herb may impact a woman's menstrual cycle.
If I want something other than stinging nettle, are there any other options?
Tip 4 - That's a great question, and one for which there is a solution. Swelling in the legs, as we explored, could be due to fluids leaking from blood vessels. An herb known as Aesculus hippocastanum or horse chestnut has properties that allow it to tonify the vasculature throughout the body through the action of a compound known as aescin. Aescin is a combination of saponins that provide the herb with its anti-edematous properties, partly by increasing vessel tension of the veins which reduces leakage. You can find this herb as the principal ingredient in a product known as Venaforce that comes in tablets and a gel to meet your personal preference.
How can exercise help?
Tip 5 - Leading a sedentary lifestyle means the muscles of the body are not being activated as often. This causes a reduction in blood flow and as the fluid becomes more stagnant, it can accumulate and potentially coagulate. This could increase your chance of developing blood clots which can travel to different areas of the body. By engaging the various muscles, the blood vessels are compressed or widened, which circulates blood and lymph. This also engages one-way valves in the lower limbs that only permit fluid to flow in a single direction towards the heart. These valves are meant to counteract the action of gravity that would prefer to keep all of the fluid as close to the Earth as possible, within the feet.