“Lymphedema: Diet to Reduce Swelling” 

FOODS TO AVOID FOR LYMPHEDEMA: Introduction What is lymphedema? What does it involve, and why is this condition particularly challenging? How can we intervene, what should we eat, and what should we avoid to improve lymphedema symptoms? If you want clear and scientific answers to these questions, you’re in the right place. Keep reading the article in the following paragraphs. Enjoy your reading! 


Lymphedema: What is it and what causes it Lymphedema refers to a specific clinical condition characterized by lymphatic fluid stagnation in the lymphatic system. Compression of the lymphatic system can be caused by various factors: primary causes are always of genetic origin, which is why primary lymphedema is also called congenital. Secondary lymphedema, on the other hand, affects the lymphatic system but is caused by various primary conditions, including diabetes, bacterial cellulitis, erysipelas, filariasis, and many others. Another co-cause of secondary lymphedema can be the surgical removal of lymph nodes, which can have significant side effects. 

First and foremost, we can and should ask: how does lymphedema present itself? How can we tell if we have it? The first appearance of symptoms usually occurs in middle to old age and consists of persistent swelling in an affected limb, be it an arm or a leg. These symptoms may also be accompanied by persistent itching, mobility difficulties, skin infections, and skin tension. 

Unfortunately, there are currently no definitive treatments for lymphedema. The most common and practiced treatments today are decongestion therapies, including lymphatic drainage, compression therapy, and, in extreme cases, plastic surgery. We can improve the condition of those suffering from lymphedema by trying, through small daily actions, to alleviate the main symptoms. But how can we do that? Through diet. In the next paragraph, we will discuss how to reduce lymphedema symptoms with nutrition, completing our definition of lymphedema and its consequences. 

Lymphedema and diet: Can you heal with diet? We are often asked if it is possible to treat complex conditions like lymphedema through diet alone. Obviously, if no definitive treatments have been found so far, it would be pretentious and excessive to say yes. However, we can say with certainty that there are categories of foods that it is advisable to avoid if you suffer from lymphedema. Here they are: 

The purpose of the diet for those with lymphedema is to avoid foods that increase the accumulation of lymphatic fluid in tissues. Another important aspect is to protect the mucosal barrier of the intestines, which should never be breached, and certain foods can promote its permeability, making them toxic, such as those rich in histamine and pro-inflammatory molecules. 

Carbohydrates and lymphedema: An impossible combination? Avoiding certain categories of foods is, therefore, a valuable ally in decongesting the lymphatic system. The main ally of the diet against lymphedema is balancing carbohydrates, which evoke specific glycemic and insulinemic responses. Properly balancing these two hormones is essential to prevent lymph accumulation in the system. Therefore, it is necessary to follow some rules, perhaps with the help of a nutritionist, that align with what we have discussed in the previous three sections.

In particular, attention should be paid to high glycemic index carbohydrates, such as those rich in simple and refined sugars (sugary drinks, sweetened yogurt, ice cream, refined flours, and all kinds of sweets). These foods cause a sharp rise in blood sugar and insulin response. This practically does not mean completely giving up carbohydrates but rather balancing the diet with your specialist to introduce mainly valid carbohydrate alternatives: sugar-free drinks and sweets, perhaps with stevia or natural sweeteners; use of whole grains or legumes. 

The best diet for those with lymphedema Conversely, a balanced diet against lymphedema should counteract the accumulation of bodily fluids. As mentioned earlier, since carbohydrates naturally require H2O for metabolism and tend to promote abundant fluid retention in the body, the right diet should favor foods with high draining power, such as fruits, vegetables, and all fibers. Here too, be careful not to overdo it to avoid colon inflammation (due to excessive vegetable fermentation). Additionally, don’t forget to supplement with the correct amount of protein and fat. 

It may seem strange, but ensuring a proper balance of fats is crucial: not eliminating them, but introducing the ‘good’ ones, or polyunsaturated ones, the so-called omega-3 and omega-6. Avoid trans fats like the plague, as their trans conformation tends to have difficulty in metabolism and alters cell membranes. 

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