Lymphedema is a severe and uncomfortable disease which, if left untreated, can be deadly. It occurs when blockages in the lymphatic system prevent fluids from circulating effectively in the body. The most prominent symptom is uncomfortable swelling, usually in an appendage like an arm or a leg. The limitations that this awful disease can put on a patient’s life can create feelings of hopelessness and depression.
Lymphedema is caused by a compromised lymphatic system. It can result from the effects of cancer treatment or removal of the lymph nodes. When lymphedema develops as a result of another condition, it’s called secondary lymphedema. Lymphedema can occur independently in the body a well, but this is far less common.
Unfortunately, there is still no cure for lymphedema. But there are things lymphedema sufferers can do to stay healthy and hopefully more active.
Activities like exercise and physical therapy can certainly help, as well as wearing compression garments (we carry MediUSA, Bauerfeind, and Juzo, both are excellent brands with fantastic products). A specialist should always be consulted before beginning any diet and exercise routine, especially for patients trying to navigate staying active with lymphedema.
One of the biggest things that can help contribute to treating lymphedema symptoms is maintaining a healthy diet. Here are some diet and nutrition tips which may help make the road to living with lymphedema a little less rocky:
- Be sure to eat a balanced diet.
There are always rumors circulating around concerning what exactly constitutes a healthy diet. Some say cutting out protein or other nutrients is a viable strategy to help treat lymphedema symptoms, but this is generally not true. A balanced diet consists of a healthy balance of carbs, protein, and fats. Try to get plenty of fruits and vegetables and stay away from processed foods. Be sure to consult a doctor or a nutritionist for guidance.
- Focus on achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
Lymphedema symptoms may be aggravated when extra weight puts pressure on the body. Try to be conscious of daily caloric intake, and be mindful of portion sizes. Making small changes toward a healthy diet can make a big difference.
- Focus on lean fats and proteins.
Some foods to consider when adding healthy fats to any diet plan include avocado, salmon, and nuts. Poultry tends to be better than red meat for proteins. Eggs are another great option. For vegetarian diets, get lean protein with tofu and other soy-based products.
- Stay away from added sugars and sodium.
This is an important piece to be mindful of when dieting to improve symptoms of lymphedema because overeating foods high in sodium and sugars results in fluid retention within the cells. This retention of fluids hinders the proper flow of fluids throughout the body, aggravating symptoms of lymphedema.
Satisfy sugar cravings through fruit, which is nutrient-dense and very hydrating as well. Craving salt? Fermented foods like yogurt, pickles, and kimchi are a great way to get that savory taste without the added salt.
Living with the effects of lymphedema can be challenging. Staying healthy with a balanced diet and plenty of exercise in conjunction with using compression garments can help tremendously- the symptoms of lymphedema don’t have to eliminate the day-to-day activities that keep us happy and healthy.