How water retention affects your body
The main area it tends to affect is under the eyes, resulting in puffy eyes, dark circles or both. It can also affect your breasts, fingers and ankles. And if you experienced water retention while menstruating—if this was one of your PMS symptoms—it very often follows you into menopause too.
What causes water retention?
It’s really quite simple. We know that falling estrogen levels affect the nervous system and two glands, the adrenals, which kind of control the nervous system. One of the other things the adrenals do is control the hormones that regulate your water balance.
If your nervous system gets really stressed, it can affect the way the body retains water. Believe it or not, the culprit is dehydration. When you’re dehydrated, your body goes into a panic because it needs a lot of water.
No less than 75% of your body is water and you need huge amounts of it for everything to take place properly in your body. If you start to lose your ability to retain water, your body flips out and attempts to hold on to every single bit of moisture it can; the areas I just mentioned are the places where your body does that best.
And unfortunately, if you’re like most of us, as soon as you feel that you’re getting a little waterlogged or bloated, you naturally assume it’s because you’re drinking too much water, so you drink less. But drinking less will only make your symptoms worse!
What you can do to reduce water retention during menopause
1. Avoid becoming dehydrated
I say it a lot and I’ll say it again: Water, water, water, lots of it! You’ll be surprised how quickly your water retention problems disappear once you start drinking more water. Once you do, the puffiness and dark circles under the eyes will likely vanish.
Other benefits? You might find that the stiffness and discomfort you’ve been feeling in your hands disappear, your joint aches can fade, and your skin can look a lot better too.
And very often, hot flashes and night sweats often go hand in hand with water retention, because the sweats and flashes are causing extra dehydration. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s especially important to drink plenty of water. I find it really rewarding when women contact me and say, “All I’ve done is just add a little more water to my diet and my symptoms have gotten so much better.”
Another really strong sign that you might be struggling with water is that your kidneys complain—you get a very dull ache on each side of your lower spine. That too may be an indication that you need more water.
Remember that tea, coffee, soft drinks and fruit juices don’t count toward your water intake; it really needs to be plain water.
2. Watch your salt intake
The other thing that can cause water retention is too much salt. Everyone knows that you’re only supposed to get a little salt on a daily basis and a lot of you say, “But I don’t add salt when I cook.” But salt is everywhere—potato chips, processed foods and ready-made meals are all high in salt.
What’s scary is that it can also be in things like your daily breakfast cereal! In fact, you’ll find it in breads, cookies and many things you wouldn’t ever imagine contain salt, so it’s really important to look at everything you buy and check where salt is on the list of ingredients. If it’s really high up the list, then that’s something that you should avoid.
The other thing to look at is the type of salt you use. Most of us tend to use table salt, which is refined and therefore stripped of absolutely everything good. Natural mineral salts, such as sea, Himalayan and other unrefined salts, contain valuable ingredients and can come in different colours too.
Look for the colour of salt and try to avoid table salt because it’s really bad news. Also reconsider the foods you eat: there’s a whole range of great foods that can help with your water retention and salt balance too.
3. Get your lymphatic system moving
The other thing that can happen is a sluggish lymphatic system. It’s a bit like your blood circulation system, but it doesn’t have a pump, like your heart, to pump water and fluid around the body. So if you sit or stand for a long time the lymphatic system basically shuts down, which can cause water retention, especially around the ankles.
If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time sitting at your desk at the office and it can be very difficult to move around. If you can’t get away from your desk or really can’t do any quick form of exercise, then even just pumping your legs up and down for a little while and rotating your ankles will get things moving.
So if you suffer from water retention, it’s really important to try to do some kind of exercise on a daily basis.
4. Eat the right foods
Some foods are really helpful for all of this. There are a lot of them and they tend to be all the wonderful fresh foods you see in the produce section of your supermarket: dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and things like broccoli and leeks. They also include brown rice, avocados, blackcurrants, oily fish and eggs. So make sure to include plenty of these foods in your diet.
5. Try herbal teas
If you’re looking for herbal teas and a quick fix, consider herbal teas made from nettle or fennel. Stinging Nettle extract can help too.
As you see, there are many things you can do to prevent or reduce water retention. One little word of caution: if you’re having serious problems with swollen, red or painful ankles all the time, go and see your doctor, as these symptoms could point to high blood pressure.