Lymphedema & Nutrition

Why is nutrition important?

Diet plays a huge role in our bodies, affecting our health in many ways. Mental, emotional and physical health are all impacted by what we eat. Nutrition also has a large impact on our disease states. Our diet can impact the worsening or decreasing of sickness in our bodies! This is very much the case with lymphedema. While diet does not cause lymphedema, it certainly can affect the condition.

What is lymphedema?

Lymph is a protein rich fluid found in the lymphatic system. It contains white blood cells which help remove waste and play a key role in our immunity. If lymph fluid accumulates for some reason, it can cause abnormal swelling in the extremities, abdomen, face or neck.

Lymphedema can either be primary or secondary. Primary lymphedema occurs at birth, while secondary lymphedema can be caused by the effects from surgery, cancer treatments,
trauma and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

When one has noticed or been diagnosed with lymphedema, what they eat becomes very important.Some foods will fight the condition, while others will contribute to it. There is not a specific diet for lymphedema but there are guidelines to wise eating.

What are some recommended foods for those diagnosed with lymphedema?

Diet recommendations for lymphedema are:

– Primarily whole foods, mostly consisting of a wide variety of rainbow colored fruits and vegetables.

– Whole foods should be the largest portion of the diet because they do not contain added sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, soy or additives.

– Gluten free grains such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, and wild rice are among the foods one should consume primarily.

– Almond, coconut, and hemp milk are included in the primary list while sweetened dairy milk should be avoided.

– Fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, pickles, and kimchi provide good bacteria for gut health.

Are there foods that should be limited?

Foods to be eaten in limited quantities include:

– Nuts
– Dairy
– Eggs
– Poultry
– Meat
– Oils and condiments
– Dried fruit, sugar, and real maple syrup are only to be eaten occasionally as well.
– Wine, specifically red, is only to be drank occasionally, with no more than 3 servings a       

Are there foods that should be avoided altogether? 

Some foods should rarely or never be eaten including: 

– Grains with gluten. These are in most breads, cakes, cookies, breakfast cereals, crackers, pasta, pies, etc. Gluten free food substitutes should also be avoided and they can be included in those same foods as previously mentioned through the use of cornstarch, rice starch, potato starch, etc.

– Processed meat, meats preserved with salt, nitrates, or nitrites or meat substitutes with gluten or highly processed soy are also to be avoided or rarely eaten.

– Drinks to avoid include the following: sweet drinks (sugar and artificially sweetened), soft drinks, teas, coffee based beverages, fruit drinks, soy milk, beer, liquor, mixed drinks, and wine coolers.

Watch Your Weight: A healthy weight is also a must for those with lymphedema. The risk for
lymphedema actually increases with a high body mass index (BMI). More adipose (fat) tissue makes it more difficult for the body to pass lymphatic fluid promoting further inflammation.

Are fluid pills the answer?

You should avoid diuretics unless directed by your physician. These cause the body to get rid of extra fluid, which seems like what you would want with lymphedema, but this can actually be harmful and worsen lymphedema. Diuretics remove the water from the swollen areas but leave behind the protein molecules in the tissues. This high concentration of protein in the tissue can actually cause the tissue to harden or become fibrotic. It can also draw more water to the area, increasing the swelling. The International Society of Lymphology does state that “diuretic agents are occasionally useful during the initial treatment of complete decongestive therapy (CDT). Long-term administration, however, is discouraged for its marginal benefits in treatment of peripheral lymphedema and potentially may induce fluid and electrolyte imbalance.”

At this point, There have not been any proven benefit to taking any vitamins, herbs or food supplements for reduction of lymphedema. If suffering from repeated infections, the person affected with lymphedema may need vitamins or supplements and should consult their physician.

If you or someone you know would like more detailed information about lymphedema and nutrition, or if you have any questions as to whether or not you have lymphedema, please call us at 318-396-1969.

Lymphedema and Lipedema Nutrition Guide ©2015, 2016 by Lymph Notes
Gampel, S.(2017, Nov29).Lifestyle tips for managing lymphedema.
Zuther,J. (2018, Mar 16), Diet and lymphedema


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