To Your Health

There are several causes of water retention or edema, which research suggests may contribute to high blood pressure and other health complications

Q. I tend to get edema from eating high-sodium meals, so I try to watch my sodium intake. If I'm eating at a business luncheon or a friend's house that may not be possible. On those occasions is there any supplement I can take or foods I can eat to help reduce the fluid retention? A. There are several causes of water retention, or edema, which research suggests may contribute to high blood pressure and other health complications. Most often a high sodium intake is blamed but there are other reasons, for instance allergy or hypersensitivity to foods. Although edema is usually not their primary complaint, many people report loss of retained fluid during the first several days of a hypoallergenic diet.

Sodium is an essential nutrient present in virtually all foods and is used to maintain the fluid balance in tissues. This fluid, containing the oxygen and nutrients needed by the cells, moves from the blood into the body's tissues and back to the blood with the help of sodium.

Our Western diets lean toward too much sodium in the form of table salt, but sodium is also present in flavor enhancers like monosodium glutamate and many other ingredients of commercially prepared foods. It is common for adults to consume eight-to-12 grams of salt (sodium chloride) per day, although 2 grams per day is sufficient even in hot weather. Hormones in the body can regulate the amount of sodium excreted in sweat and urine, so that supplementary salt tablets are usually not necessary even in extreme environmental circumstances.

One major contributing factor for sodium excess is an insufficient water intake. Most adults require six or more glasses of water a day to prevent sodium from accumulating in the body. Some people believe that drinking a lot of water causes fluid retention. In fact, the opposite is true. Water helps the body rid itself of excess sodium. If the body receives enough water on a regular basis, there will be no need for the body to attempt to conserve water and this will reduce fluid retention.

Drinking too much water can damage the body but for water intake to reach toxic levels you would have to consume many quarts a day. Water intoxication is mostly found in people with particular mental illnesses and in infants who are fed a formula that is too dilute.

Some commercial mineral waters contain too much salt. Limit the amount of these mineral waters or choose low sodium varieties (80 milligrams per glass or less). Even some foods without high sodium content, such as alcohol and sugar, can worsen edema. Most salad vegetables are higher in potassium than sodium and this will tend to reduce fluid retention.

Vitamin C supplements have been shown to reduce edema. Also, magnesium and vitamin B6 supplements are sometimes recommended for reducing edema, although no peer-reviewed research has confirmed the individual reports of success.

Regular caffeinated tea and several herbal teas, ginkgo biloba being one of the safest and best researched, have a reputation for reducing fluid retention. Other such herbs include butcher's broom, goldenrod, dandelion, corn silk, horse chestnut, horsetail, and cleavers. Few of the herbal teas are risky, but the use of herbs as medicines should be overseen by a health care professional. key words: water retention | edema | high blood pressure | mono sodium glutamate | salt tablets | salt | sodium | ginkgo biloba

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