Discover how diet impacts lymphedema management.


The Importance of Diet for the Lymphedema Patient

Let’s talk about diet and lymphedema. We all have to eat, but for a lot of people, not only are they trying to find something to eat, they’re trying to keep symptoms of lymphedema from worsening because of what they eat. While there’s no one-size-fits-all diet for lymphedema, some foods can help manage it while others might make it worse. Our typical Western diet, full of carbs and refined foods, can cause chronic inflammation that makes edema worse. Researchers are now looking into how different foods might help or hurt lymphedema. 

Antioxidants and weight loss for lymphedema

Oxidative stress is another key issue in lymphedema, but good nutrition and supplements with natural antioxidants might help. Polyphenols, found in many plants, have been shown to reduce inflammation and edema and directly affect the lymphatic system.

High body mass index (BMI) is also linked to the onset of lymphedema, and losing weight through a healthy diet can reduce symptoms, especially for those with breast cancer-related lymphedema. Weight loss not only helps with lymphedema, but also improves insulin control. Of course, body image can improve with weight loss and for someone living with lymphedema (who may already be self-conscious about how they look), that can be a very beneficial thing.


Foods to know about

Fruits and veggies, rich in fiber, create short-chain fatty acids in the gut that have anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3 fatty acids and spices like turmeric, garlic, and curry can also help reduce inflammation and edema. On the flip side, foods like salt, caffeine, omega-6 or -9 fatty acids, alcohol, and sweets can make things worse, so it’s best to avoid them. Before you start any supplements, talk to your doctor to make sure there are no contraindications to medication you may be taking. 


Fluid Retention 

For lymphedema patients, the lymphatic system is already struggling to move excess fluid out of the tissues. Adding more fluid retention through a high-salt diet puts additional strain on this compromised system by increasing the pressure in the lymphatic vessels, further impeding their ability to transport lymph fluid effectively. This can worsen the symptoms of lymphedema, such as heaviness, pain, and reduced mobility in the affected areas.

This then creates a vicious cycle where increased fluid retention leads to more swelling, which in turn makes it even harder for the lymphatic system to function properly. 


Reducing the Sodium can help

Reducing salt intake can help ease these symptoms. By cutting back on sodium, you can reduce the amount of excess fluid your body retains, which can help decrease the swelling and improve the overall management of lymphedema. It’s important for lymphedema patients to be mindful of hidden sources of sodium, such as processed foods, canned goods, and restaurant meals, which often contain high levels of salt. A simple trick to reduce sodium from canned goods is to rinse your canned vegetables before you eat them, even if you purchase the low sodium variety. 


Watching what you eat can play a BIG role in your health

Again, there is no diet program specifically for lymphedema, but avoiding high salt intake can play a crucial role in managing the condition. By reducing the amount of sodium in your diet, you can help minimize fluid retention, alleviate swelling, and improve symptoms. 

Alongside good nutrition, specific physical exercises and other interventions can greatly improve quality of life for lymphedema patients. For example, yoga has been shown to be particularly effective for those with lymphedema. 

As your lymphedema therapist, I’m here to help guide you in finding the overall balance that works best for reducing your symptoms. I provide Complete Decongestive Therapy which includes manual lymphatic drainage and compression therapy, exercise, and skin care. All of which are crucial components of lymphedema care. Don’t think you have to deal with this on your own; my team and I have got your back. Give us a call today. 

James Ferrara OTR,WCC, CLWT 

About the author:

James Ferrara is a highly experienced Occupational Therapist with over two decades of career dedicated to improving people’s mobility and quality of life. He has extensive expertise in outpatient therapy and home healthcare, offering personalized care in various settings. James holds a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy and is certified in Lymphedema Therapy. He is also trained in programs for Parkinson’s disease and wound management. James owns Functional Transformation Mobile Rehab and Functional Transformation Clinic, providing top-quality therapy services in Florida’s Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties. His vast knowledge, skills, and passion make him a valuable resource for improving health and well-being.

This article is for informational purposes only. Consult with your physician before starting a new diet or exercise program. Do not take supplements without physician’s approval as they may have side effects or contraindications. Always work with a certified therapist that can create a personalized plan for you and your diagnosis. 

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