Imagine if your ankles persistently ached due to painful swelling that greatly restricted your movements. Now imagine having to contend with swollen fingers and eyelids too. This type of debilitating swelling is experienced by sufferers of oedema – a condition that causes too much fluid (mainly water) to accumulate in your body. Any tissue or organ can be affected, particularly the hands, feet and around the eyes. It’s your kidneys’ job to eliminate excess fluids from your body in your urine. If they fail to do this properly then fluid can soon build up in your tissues and result in swelling.
Risk factors include prolonged periods spent sitting or standing (the pressure of fluid in the legs from doing either pushes it into the surrounding tissues), high blood pressure (abnormal pressure in the blood capillaries can result in the abnormal exchange of fluids to and from the tissues), heart failure (when the heart can’t pump blood round fast enough to clear fluid from the tissues), or kidney problems (which can cause large amounts of protein to be lost in the urine and cause fluid to accumulate in the tissues).
You can check whether you have oedema using a simple test. Press with your thumb on the lower part of your shin for 2 to 3 seconds. Then stop pressing and gently feel with your fingers over that area. If you notice a small hole like a dent where your thumb was pressing then this is a sign of oedema and a sluggish circulation. If you think you might have the condition then see your doctor for further tests.
If you’re diagnosed with oedema your doctor may prescribe one of the following diuretic drugs that stimulate your kidneys to increase urinary water output: bendrofluazide, frusemide, indapamide or bumetanide. However they can cause a range of unpleasant side effects including low blood pressure, dizziness, tinnitus, impotence, stomach upset and nausea. Fortunately there are several natural diuretics that are just as effective as prescription-only drugs in some cases but without the side effects.
Oedema: Natural remedies that help your body eliminate excess fluid and reduce swelling
The following remedies can bring effective relief from oedema symptoms. As with all natural remedies it may be the case that you have to try a few different treatments before you find one that works for you. It’s important that you consult your doctor before deciding to take any of the supplements listed, especially if you’re already taking medication, in order to prevent any possible contraindications.
Dandelion (Taraxacum) extracts are renowned for their excellent diuretic action, which have been extensively studied. In fact, some of these studies date back as far as 30 years or more and traditional healers have been prescribing dandelion extract for thousands of years (Planta Med 1974, 26(3):212-217). Dandelion root has also been used to help treat high blood pressure (a risk factor for oedema) – its water-eliminating ability reduces the water content in the blood, which helps lower blood pressure. This is exactly how other prescription-only water tablets work. For example, the commonly prescribed drug bendrofluazide reduces blood pressure by increasing water elimination from the kidneys. However it can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach upset and can worsen diabetes. This in contrast to dandelion, which has been found to actually improve diabetes. The recommended dose is 500mg taken up to 8 times a day. Or you can drink it in tea form – aim to have at least two cups a day.
Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica). The humble stinging nettle is credited with having many medicinal properties, including an ability to help combat water retention and oedema. Whereas the leaf of the plant is effective against oedema, the root is used for prostate problems. The two should not be confused, as the root contains natural plant chemicals that influence male hormones, whereas the leaves contain active ingredients that help oedema — particularly silica which is a diuretic.
In an animal study conducted by researchers from the Faculty of Sciences, University of Mohammed Premier in Morocco, nettle leaf extracts were compared with the prescription drug frusemide (a powerful diuretic). The researchers found that the nettle leaf extract increased diuresis (elimination of water from the kidneys) by 84 per cent whereas frusemide increased it by 85 per cent. The researchers also found that the nettle leaf extract decreased blood pressure by acting directly on the arteries (J Ethnopharmacol 2000, 73(1-2):95-100).
While the diuresis effect between the two treatments was very similar, it’s important to be aware that frusemide can cause side effects like abnormal heart rhythm, dizziness, confusion, nausea, digestive problems, gout and muscle pain. While nettle leaf can also cause side effects, these are far milder, such as stomach upset or a skin rash – both of which soon improve after stopping the treatment for a few days. Nettle leaf is available in tea form and can be drunk daily.
Follow These Simple Tips To Ward Off Oedema
Put your feet up! To improve your circulation try to put your feet up at regular intervals throughout the day and rotate your ankles frequently to prevent fluid build-up in your legs. Wearing support stockings can also help.
Cut down on the amount of salt in your diet and eat more potassium-rich foods. The fluid regulating action of the kidneys is based on the dual pumping action of sodium and potassium. Sodium draws water into the body and potassium helps excrete it. So to reduce water retention limit your salt intake and eat more potassium-rich foods, such as leafy green vegetables, citrus fruit and sunflower seeds. However, taking a potassium supplement might be risking your health too, so it’s preferable that you stick to moderate dietary sources only.
Add fresh parsley to your meals… it’s a natural diuretic that helps cleanse your blood and stimulates the movement of toxins through your kidneys. In fact most salad vegetables exert a diuretic action, celery in particular. Drink plenty of water – up to 2 litres a day. Although many people think that if they’re accumulating fluid in their bodies then a sensible solution is to drink less, this isn’t the case. Drinking water does not make you retain fluid but it does promote proper kidney functioning – this is vital as your kidneys excrete excess water from your body. However, avoid tea and coffee, which have a dehydrating effect and can cause fluid retention.
Always speak to your doctor before you make drastic changes to your diet or think of adding additional supplements to your regime.