Water retention: what it is, causes, symptoms, treatments and remedies, diet and menus to defeat it

Water retention: what it is, causes, symptoms, treatments and remedies, diet and menus to defeat it

Water retention is your big enemy, but what do you have to do to defeat it? Tipsforwomens asked Dr. Stefania Giambartolomei, gastroenterologist and nutritionist of SISA (Italian Society of Food Sciences), to explain to you what water retention really is and what are the good habits to follow to defeat it.

Choosing the right foods is essential to counteract it: some more than others, in fact, bring liquids and are also purifying, so they help both to take and eliminate liquids in the body.

It is important to eliminate excess water and liquids from the body, but always paying attention to maintain correct hydration.

Tipsforwomens has prepared a list of foods to drain and deflate, to include in your diet, and an example of a weekly menu to combat water retention.

In fact, in our country, water retention affects about one in three women and is often underestimated. But it is a problem that can also affect men and is accompanied by the presence of swelling and an annoying sense of heaviness, often in the legs.

Find out what it is, symptoms and causes, and what to do to combat water retention.

What is water retention?

Water retention is a tendency of cells to retain liquids, toxins and mineral salts. Usually, water retention is caused by an imbalance between two specific mineral salts, potassium and sodium.

When there is more sodium than potassium, the body tends to retain more water. Furthermore, this disturbance is influenced by the alteration of not only venous, but also lymphatic circulation.

It is a pathological accumulation of liquids in the extra cellular space, therefore interstitial, partly due to a deficient lymphatic drainage or to the increase in the sodium content which, attracting water, causes the accumulation of excess liquids.

The stagnation of fluids occurs in specific areas of the body, which are predisposed to the accumulation of fats, in particular:

  • Abdomen.
  • Thighs.
  • Buttocks.

Due to impaired circulation, toxins also stagnate together with liquids.

Therefore, all this does is alter your cellular metabolism, which is already compromised by the low oxygen supply.

The lack of drainage function of the lymphatic vessels occurs mainly in the summer or in patients who spend a lot of time standing still.

But we need to dispel a false belief. Water retention itself does not affect weight. If it’s true that when you suffer from water retention the scale needle increases, it’s also true that this happens not because you’ve accumulated fat mass, but because you’re retaining liquids.

On the contrary, being overweight helps to slow down diuresis and promote water retention. In a nutshell, if you are already overweight, you risk stimulating water retention to a greater extent than those who are within their ideal weight.

Symptoms of water retention

Fluid retention, also known as edema, is a condition in which the body retains fluid excessively, causing swelling in the affected parts of the body. The causes are different and should be investigated clinically in the most severe cases.

It is important to note, however, that the symptoms of water retention can vary from person to person, and that the presence of one or more of these symptoms may not necessarily be indicative of water retention. Only the doctor’s evaluation can confirm or make a diagnosis.

However, some of the more common symptoms are:

  • Swelling, usually in the legs, ankles, feet and hands. The swelling may be evident both visually and to the touch.
  • Feeling of heaviness, tiredness, tingling and tension in areas of the body with water retention.
  • Imprint on the skin, as if you press your finger on a part of the body affected by water retention, you can notice a temporary imprint or dimple on the skin.
  • Pain and discomfort, because in some cases, swelling may be accompanied by pain, especially if there is excessive fluid collection in the joints or surrounding tissue.
  • Increased frequency of urination, as the body tries to get rid of excess fluid.

Water retention, the main causes

An imbalance between the venous and lymphatic systems and poor blood circulation are the elements that give rise to water retention.

In the absence of a specific pathology, however, the main culprit for these elements is an unbalanced lifestyle.

In particular, they can cause water retention:

  • A low-calorie diet low in protein.
  • Excessive consumption of foods rich in sodium and, more generally, of salty foods.
  • Too much sedentary lifestyle or lack of physical activity.
  • Activities that force you to stand for a long time without moving.
  • Smoking and abuse of alcohol or substances such as coffee.
  • Tendency to wear clothes that are too tight and heels that are too high.
  • Overweight which slows down diuresis and promotes water retention.

Furthermore, standing, due to an effect of gravity, makes the situation worse if you have a venous return problem: it is called venous stasis (slowing of blood circulation) and occurs when the blood, instead of going back towards the heart, tends to stagnate.

If you don’t have serious pathologies, the advice is to change your lifestyle in favor of a healthier and more balanced one, to help you drastically reduce the problem, or even eliminate it altogether.

Water retention and pathologies

Water retention can be caused by conditions such as:

  • Heart and kidney dysfunctions.
  • Chronic inflammations.
  • Arthritis.
  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Diabetes.
  • Premenstrual syndrome.
  • Allergies.


Some drugs can increase sodium intake, such as antacids, widely used to reduce or eliminate gastric acidity because they contain large amounts of sodium bicarbonate and sodium citrate.

Other drugs that promote swelling are those:

  • Hormonal.
  • cortisone.
  • Estroprogestins (hormonal preparations).
  • Anti-inflammatories.

The advice is not to resort to the use of diuretics unless there are concomitant pathologies that indicate their use, such as heart failure or arterial hypertension.

Water retention and hormones

Many women suffer from water retention the week before their period because hormones are subject to numerous fluctuations. The breasts become enlarged and tender while the belly, face, legs and arms may swell.

Even the birth control pill can cause water retention problems. Talk to your doctor if the swelling bothers you, perhaps to find another method of contraception.

Even during menopause, hormonal fluctuations can cause swelling in the legs and belly due to the drop in estrogen.

Finally, a high level of cortisol, called the stress hormone, can also trigger bloating.

If you are interested in the topic, discover our study on swollen legs.

Water retention and pregnancy

During pregnancy and particularly when the due date approaches, the pregnant woman tends to retain fluids because the growing baby exerts pressure on the blood vessels.

Water retention during pregnancy is mainly linked to the fact that your body contains more water (about 4 liters more) and to the fact that the blood circulates more slowly. It manifests itself with swelling of certain parts of the body:

  • Ankles.
  • Dita.
  • Wrists.
  • Total.

The retention can appear as early as the end of the first trimester and amplify during pregnancy.

Indeed, during pregnancy, blood circulation becomes sluggish, while blood flow increases. Venous return is disturbed and the veins have difficulty returning blood and liquids to the heart.

After childbirth, retention generally resolves itself because the body eliminates the fluids accumulated during pregnancy and you can already notice more urination and increased sweating 1 week after childbirth.

Long trips and swelling

Sitting for long hours in a car or on an airplane can cause swelling because the muscles contract and the feet and legs swell as fluid builds up.

Diet to combat water retention

Water retention affects, as we have seen, especially during the hottest season, but there are some precautions you can put into practice to avoid stagnation of liquids.

A healthy and balanced diet is the first element to consider. One of the best ways to counteract or improve water retention can be applied at the table, taking care of your diet.

Tipsforwomens advises you to fill up on foods to combat water retention, to be consumed especially at the beginning of the hot season: in addition to giving you relief from the heat, they can increase your fluid intake.

In fact, there are foods that are particularly draining, diuretic, rich in water and with very low levels of sodium that can help you.

The foods richest in diuretic properties are fruit and vegetables, preferably in season, such as asparagus in spring, which are very useful against water retention thanks to their high water content.

In general, green leafy vegetables: chicory, spinach and agretti, always typical of the spring months, and tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, onions and courgettes, available all year round even if they love the heat.

All these vegetables are rich in mineral salts and water, as are strawberries, which stand out among the seasonal fruit of May: in addition to being light and diuretic, they are also versatile to bring to the table.

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