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Water Retention: Causes and Cures

Updated on July 19, 2015

How Our Bodies Use Water

To combat water retention (A.K.A. edema), it is important to understand how the body works and what goes wrong to create the problem of water retention. The body passes water through the capillaries into the surrounding tissue, bringing oxygen and nutrients to the them. Then, the water passes back into the capillaries, carrying with it the toxin refuse to be flushed out of the body through urine or sweat.

What is Water Retention?

There are several factors that cause the body to retain water, including dehydration, histamine, hormones, medication, and diet. Most of these factors can be controlled with slight changes to a person's diet. More on that later.

Water retention occurs when some factor interferes with the body's natural ability to flush toxins. Instead of the toxin-filled water being flushed, the tissue cells expand to make room for the water. This expansion continues to allow more and more water to build up in the body bloating out the tissue, causing puffiness, tenderness, weight gain (all that water weights a lot!), cellulite (a combination of fat and water) and swelling in the arms, hands, feet or legs.

We can't easily control the side-effects of allergies, hormones, and medications, but we can control our hydration and diet, which can also affect histamine reactions and even fluctuations in hormones.

Foods That Contribute to Water Retention

Foods that cause edema include:

  1. Sodium;
  2. "Bad" saturated fats;
  3. Coffee/tea;
  4. Alcohol;
  5. Sugar.

Fortunately, minor changes in diet can effectively combat these factors and help restore the body's natural process.

Proper Hydration

The first step to combating water retention is to ensure that the body has enough fresh water to flush out the toxin-filled water. Dehydration will cause the body to store as much water as it can, so drinking a minimum of 8 glasses of water daily is highly recommended.

Too Much Water Myth

It is a common misconception that drinking too much water causes water retention. This will occasionally occur when a person mistakenly over-hydrates with water during intense physical instead of drinking fluids specifically engineered to replace the minerals lost through sweat (eg. Emergen C, Gatorade, and Powerade).


While a moderate amount of salt can be healthy, sodium found in processed meats, canned foods, and packaged snacks can cause a multitude of health concerns, including water retention.


Avoid ingesting too much sodium or "bad" saturated fats by eating raw fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meats, and fresh healthy snacks. This includes making soup from scratch instead of eating canned soup and using frozen berries on plain cereal instead of eating cereal with dried/preserved fruit already in it.

Asparagus, tomatoes and garlic are excellent foods for combating water retention. An increase in Calcium, Vitamin A and Potassium (in tablet form or from foods such as dairy and bananas) has also been suggested as beneficial.

Saturated fats

By now, most people know that there are "good" fats which our bodies need to stay healthy and "bad" fats which clog arteries and make us gain unwanted weight. We want to particularly avoid "bad" saturated fats which are found in fried, processed, and canned foods.


"Good" saturated fats are found in healthy proteins such as egg yolks, dark meat poultry, organ meats, beef, veal, and pork.

Diets with a reduced protein intake can cause problems. Protein is essential to the water flushing processes. Reducing protein pulls excess fluid out of the tissues and causes swelling, so it is important to keep protein in the diet. Those who have reduced or removed meat from their diets can benefit greatly from including nuts, coconut water/milk, and avocado in meals and snacks.

Although coffee and tea are diuretics, frequent urination caused by diuretics causes dehydration. Further, the body is forced to adapt to the intake of diuretics, if ingested regularly. To adapt, the body begins to produce hormones which slow down urination and causes even more water retention issues.

Coffee and tea drinkers may want to consider switching to green tea (preferably without sugar), which has been found to assist the body in flushing excess water and toxins.

* Apple Cider Vinegar Tea

Apple Cider Vinegar is popular for its many beneficial properties. Some people recommend drinking a tea of it 1-3 times daily. Here is simple and pleasant recipe that my husband enjoys:

  • 1 mug of hot water
  • 2 Tbsp of Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp of honey (or to taste)

Stir them together in a mug and enjoy.

Tea made from fresh parsley or dandelion leaves are renown for their ability to combat water retention. Tender young dandelion leaves are also a delightful addition to a salad.

Cranberry juice and apple cider vinegar, which can be drank as a hot tea* also combat water retention.

Remember to use diuretic teas and drinks sparingly to avoid creating more problems. No more than 2 (two) cups a day maximum when water retention is an issue.


Alcohol dehydrates, which is great for business if you sell it, but not so good for someone trying to combat edema. The simple solution is to limit or cut out alcoholic beverages from your diet.

Balancing Insulin and Glucose Levels

Sugar causes the body to produce insulin which interferes with the ability to eliminate salt from the system. The resulting salt build-up retains water. So, lowering sugar intake is beneficial in combating water retention.

Sometimes, water retention can be caused by too little glucose in the body. Glucose is a simple sugar that cells need for energy. The body stores glucose after meals and then slowly releases as needed through the day. If there isn't enough, the body will hang onto what it has. Glucose, as a sugar, retains salt and thus, retains water.

Although glucose is a a type sugar the body produced, it does not come from sugar we ingest. Glucose is made from carbohydrates proteins and fats. The body uses starch foods such as grains, pasta, rice, potatoes and crackers, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products to make glucose. Including a helping of rice with supper or snacking on cheese and crackers in the afternoon will help keep glucose levels up, ultimately preventing the body from retaining water.

Small Changes, Big Results

Eliminating foods that cause water retention and responsibly increasing foods that help flush water from the body will help shed the painful and unwanted water weight, making for a happier and healthier life.

If it seems overwhelming, make small changes over time. Start with cutting down on your coffee and tea intake. Introduce healthy fats and as your cupboards need refilling, bring home healthy ingredients. These little changes over time will produce big results in eliminating edema and improving your overall health.

Original published © 2009. Edited for publication on HubPages © 2015

© 2015 Rosa Marchisella


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    • I Am Rosa profile image

      Rosa Marchisella 2 years ago from Canada

      Thank you! Good point about medications. Side effects can suck!

    • BirminghamVoice profile image

      Thom 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      In the UK where I live, many older people seem to get this condition. which is mainly due to medication and age etc.. but as we are drinking less water and more 'processed' sugary drinks and more processed junk many younger people will be getting this issue. Great article! :)