Tips & Tricks

Nutrition & Lymphedema

There are many misconceptions concerning which foods to eat and which to avoid when you have lymphedema. Some people recommend steering clear of sodium, others say protein. Some people even say to reduce fluid intake! What’s a lymphie to do!?

Have no fear – I’ve done a little research on the topic of nutrition and lymphedema and made a list of some quick facts and tips on how to treat your lymphedema by watching what you eat. Remember – I’m no doctor, so please do your own research if you have any questions or doubts.

First things first: there is no special meal plan that will make your swelling disappear or go away. However, there are certain eating habits that you can practice to promote good health, control your swelling, and help your body manage the stresses related to lymphedema.

SODIUM

The facts:

  • No official facts state that a low-salt diet is beneficial in controlling lymphedema – however, being cautious and limiting salt intake has helped some in controlling their swelling
  • Sodium is the main component of the body’s extracellular fluids, and helps carry nutrients into cells
  • Sodium helps regulate other body functions, such as blood pressure and fluid volume
  • Sodium works on the lining of the blood vessels to keep the pressure balance normal
  • Excess salt intake causes too much water to be drawn into the blood vessels, increasing the pressure on the artery walls and causing hypertension

What you can do:

  • Consume no more than 1,500-2,300 milligrams of salt per day
  • Fresh fruits and veggies are a good source of appropriate amounts of sodium

PROTEIN

The facts:

  • Lymphedema is associated with the collection of high protein fluid in the tissue spaces – however, the high concentration of protein in lymphatic fluids has no connection with the protein-rich food you consume!
  • Proteins are essential for rebuilding the wear and tear in your tissues and muscles
  • Proteins are considered to be the building blocks of the body and play a crucial role in the manufacturing of hormones and antibodies to fight off infections
  • A shortage of proteins will cause the body to take the necessary proteins from the muscles and tissues, which will further weaken the body and actually causes connective tissues to swell and your lymphedema to worsen

What you can do:

  • Make sure to get your protein from a variety of sources – not just meat – and include only a minimum amount of fat
  • Try easily digestible protein, such as chicken, fish, and tofu

HYDRATION

The facts:

  • Having adequate fluids in the body removes impurities from the blood
  • Cutting back on fluid intake in effort to reduce the swelling of lymphedema does not work! Instead, the protein-rich lymph attracts more fluid from other parts of the body, increasing the swelling in the affected area

What you can do:

  • Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily, increasing your fluid intake in hot weather or very dry conditions
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which are mild diuretics and reduce the levels of body fluids

BODY WEIGHT

The facts:

  • Excess weight gain creates more work for the lymphatic system and increases the amount of fluid in the already swollen tissues
  • As more weight is gained, the fat cells in the body are enlarged while new ones are formed, meaning there is more waste to be removed by the lymphatic system
  • Weight gain leads to limited mobility, which reduces the movement of the lymphatic flow and leads to stagnation and more swelling
  • Weight gain can lead to other health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems

What you can do:

  • Maintain a healthy, ideal body weight
  • Restrict or avoid fatty foods or those with high cholesterol
  • Increase low sodium or high fiber foods
  • Replaced processed (canned or frozen) foods with fresh and raw potassium-rich foods, such as fruits and veggies
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet that includes whole grains, fruits and veggies, and fish – a healthy diet maintains the body’s immune system, which helps prevent and treat infections!
  • Take vitamins and/or supplements, especially a multi-vitamin, vitamin C for collagen formation, vitamin A for increased cell development, and zinc for wound healing (talk with your doctor before you begin taking any supplements or vitamins, however!)

Sources used for this post were Living with Lymphedema at Cancer Supportive Care Programs, Nutrition and Lymphedema and Salt and Lymphedema at LymphNotes.

20 comments on “Nutrition & Lymphedema

  1. Aria Degillio

    Wonderful post Alexa! “What should I eat?” was one of the first questions I (and my parents) asked when I was diagnosed, but my PT and doctors all just shrugged their shoulders and said “Good luck with that!”. I went vegan six months ago for ethical and environmental reasons. During that time, I was getting my leg wrapped. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the largest reduction in my leg occurred about a month after changing to a vegan diet! I understand it’s not a possibility for everyone (economic, lifestyle, and other reasons), but I’d recommend it to anyone with a chronic condition looking to eat cleaner and greener!

    • Hi Aria something similar happened to me, I changed to a wholefood plant based diet and it has had a huge positive effect on my lymphoedema.

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  3. Great information… Thanks..

  4. Hello…I gave lymphedema what I don’t know is what stage it is right now..thanks very much for the advice I will follow all the rules.

  5. Faith A. Lightfoot

    As someone who works with cancer survivors the challenge with lymphedema is a constant question. I found your article well researched however it would be useful to add that plant based protein is the most beneficial protein for those who are battling lymphedema.

    Lord knows, Americans get more than enough protein through meat and dairy. For anyone who is interested in reading about the connection between animal protein and cancer, check out the book “Whole” by Colin Campball.

    • Thank you for the tip on plant-based protein, Faith! I will definitely be looking into that book.
      Be well!

    • I’m very interested as I’m battling lymphedema myself. Thank you for the post! I’m researching a lot in regards to nutrition and protein.

      • Check out Dr Michael Gregor, Nutrition Facts.org

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  7. Reblogged this on Free From Lymphedema and commented:
    I am reading this while having an afternoon snack: a piece of dark chocolate with hazelnuts and a coffee with cream… Not the perfect combo for such a condition as lymphedema, is it? This is my guilty pleasure I still indulge in sometimes – I think I will do a big coffee+chocolate “party” for myself before giving it up, going cold turkey and see how my body reacts to that. One thing I can positively say that it makes a difference: coconut oil. Maybe the main reason for having a coffee right now is not really the pick-me-up effect (I just had a wonderful shower with a longer dry brushing session than normally and feel fresh as a rose bud), but yesterday I got a new jar of coconut oil after taking a 10-day-or-so break from this heavenly smelling, fatty yumminess and now just can’t get enough of it. A teaspoon of coconut oil in my coffee – ahhh! I can’t say for sure that it makes coffee a health drink but through the chock full of benefits coconut oil has, I chose to afford the black brew from time to time. One addition or suggestion for correction for this article would be about fats: it says “include only a minimum amount of fat” but there are huge differences between fat and fat! Coconut oil, for one, is one of the healthiest thing on earth you can put into your body and it will not only not make the burden on your lymph system worse but will help you to eliminate debris that clog it up. Another point where opinions and experiences can differ is the question of salt. Again: not every salt equals salt equals salt. The qualities, the properties and so the effects on our bodies of various salts are astonishingly different. The white, refined crystal which is sold as table salt, can’t be mentioned on the same day as a few other types of salts with rich mineral content and which are in fact essential for the body: for example Himalayan pink or black salt, Celtic salt and one or two others. Drinking lots of water without the proportionally right amount of salt will throw the body fluids out of balance. Recently I am more conscious of how much water I drink and to each cup of water I put a pinch of pink Himalayan salt – it doesn’t change the taste much but MY LEGS LOVE IT! On the days when I do have the proper amount of water with that pinch of salt, my legs behave much better, and on the days when for some reason I am behind with the water intake and my legs get heavier, I remember to drink my salty water and my legs will be grateful for it immediately. Overall, this article is great summary of what should one eat, and these two points would be my addition, I highly recommend to try them.

    • Sorry but that’s not correct re coconut oil. It is VERY unhealthy to consume, it is 90 something% saturated fat, apply it topically by all means. Check out Dr Michael Gregor nutritionfacts.org

  8. One more thing. Actually, I have so good experiences with these two nutritional items: coconut oil and pink Himalayan salt that for whatever reason I ever got into the situation of having to survive without any food for a week or two, I would make sure I have access to water and have enough of these two with me.

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  11. I suffer now dr gave mi stockings an cream as legs looked like a snake they burne continuously so heavy an red nurse did my legs cream an out on stockings I struggled to roll ov. Every other day but yesterday went an they sed that’s it we can’t do any more sorry. Ask a neighbour aged 62. An now abondoned the socks an cream as can’t do either Way do I do now

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  13. Hazel lloyd

    Helpful

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