Water retention, also known as fluid retention or edema, occurs when excess fluids build up in your body.
Water retention occurs in the circulatory system or within tissues and cavities. It may cause swelling in your hands, feet, ankles, and legs.
There are several potential causes, including:
- Hormonal changes. Water retention may occur during pregnancy or before a menstrual period as a result of changes in levels of certain hormones, such as progesterone (
- Lack of physical activity. People who are physically inactive — whether they’re unable to walk for medical reasons or are simply sitting through a long flight — may be affected by fluid retention, particularly in the lower legs (
- Kidney disease. Because the kidneys are responsible for maintaining fluid levels, people with chronic kidney disease often experience fluid retention (
- Heart failure. If your heart can’t pump enough blood through your body as a result of congestive heart failure, you may experience fluid buildup in your lungs and your arms and legs (
- Capillary damage. Damage to the capillaries — small blood vessels that deliver nutrients to your cells — may cause excess fluid to enter the spaces between your cells, leading to water retention (
- Lymphatic system issues. The lymphatic system plays a key role in immune health and fluid balance. Injury, infections, certain types of cancer, and even local cancer treatment may cause lymphatic issues, leading to fluid buildup and swelling (
- Obesity. Obesity may be associated with increased water retention in the core, arms, and legs (
- Malnutrition. A severe protein deficiency can cause kwashiorkor, a condition characterized by fluid retention and an enlarged stomach (8).
- Infections. Some infections may trigger inflammation and swelling, which are normal parts of your body’s immune response (
- Allergies. When your body detects an allergen, it releases a compound called histamine, which causes fluid to leak from your capillaries into the surrounding tissues, leading to short-term swelling and inflammation (
- Medications. Certain medications, including oral contraceptives, corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), calcium-channel blockers, and some diabetes medications, may increase water retention (11).
Although fluid retention may be a sign of several serious conditions that require medical treatment, you may be able to reduce it with a few simple steps — as long as your swelling is mild and you don’t have an underlying health condition.
Here are 6 ways to reduce water retention.
Salt is made up of sodium and chloride.
Sodium binds to water in your body and helps maintain the balance of fluids both inside and outside your cells.
The most common advice for reducing water retention is to decrease sodium intake. However, the research on this is mixed.
Several studies have found that increased sodium intake leads to increased fluid retention. However, many other factors are involved in regulating fluid balance, and the effects of salt on water retention may vary from person to person (
Sodium binds to water in your body. While research on the topic is inconclusive, decreasing your salt intake may help reduce water retention.
Magnesium is a very important mineral. It’s involved in more than 300 enzymatic reactions that keep your body functioning properly (
Moreover, increasing your magnesium intake may help reduce water retention.
In fact, some research suggests that magnesium supplements may help decrease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), including bloating and water retention (
For example, one older study found that taking 250 mg of magnesium per day improved several symptoms of PMS, including bloating. But keep in mind that further studies are necessary (
It’s also available as a supplement.
Though more research is needed, some studies suggest that magnesium may help reduce water retention associated with PMS.
It also regulates fluid balance and may help reduce water retention.
For example, one older study found that vitamin B6 may decrease bloating and fluid buildup in women with PMS (
While research is lacking on whether vitamin B6 affects fluid retention outside of PMS, you can easily increase your intake of this vitamin by eating foods such as bananas, potatoes, chickpeas, walnuts, and tuna (
Vitamin B6 may help reduce water retention in those with PMS, but further studies are needed.
It’s also essential for maintaining blood volume and fluid balance to help decrease water retention. It works by counteracting the effects of sodium to prevent fluid buildup and swelling, as well as by increasing urine production (
Notably, low potassium levels may even cause disruptions in bowel function, leading to issues such as stomach bloating and discomfort (
Thus, eating enough potassium-rich foods like bananas, avocados, and tomatoes is essential to support healthy fluid balance.
Potassium plays a key role in fluid balance and may reduce water retention by increasing urine production and decreasing the effects of sodium.
In an older study, 17 people took 3 doses of dandelion leaf extract over 24 hours, which led to a significant increase in urine production (
All the same, larger, more recent studies are necessary.
Other studies in test tubes and animals have found that the diuretic properties of dandelion leaf extract may protect against conditions such as kidney stones. What’s more, this herb may offer other benefits, including antiviral, antifungal, and antioxidant effects (26).
Be sure to consult a healthcare professional before adding dandelion supplements to your routine.
Dandelion may help reduce water retention, especially when taken as a leaf extract. Still, more research is needed.
High insulin levels may cause more sodium retention by increasing the reabsorption of this mineral in your kidneys. In turn, this may lead to more fluid volume in your body and increased water retention (
Additionally, your liver and muscles store carbs as glycogen, a form of sugar that’s bound to water. Because each gram of glycogen is stored with at least 3 grams of water, following a high carb diet may cause increased water retention (
It’s best to opt for fiber-rich whole grains instead, such as quinoa, oats, brown rice, or whole wheat bread.
Eating refined carbs may contribute to water retention in several ways, so it’s best to replace these carbs with high fiber whole grains.
Though there’s limited research on natural remedies to reduce water retention, you can try a few other tips.
Note that some of these tips are supported by only anecdotal evidence rather than research. Furthermore, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional before adding supplements to your routine, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking any medications.
- Move around. Simply walking and moving around a bit may be effective in reducing fluid buildup in some areas, such as the lower limbs. Elevating your feet might also help.
- Drink more water. Though it may sound counterintuitive, some people believe that increasing water intake may help reduce water retention (
- Take horsetail. Both older and newer studies suggest that the herb horsetail may act as a natural diuretic (
- Try parsley. This herb has a reputation as a diuretic in folk medicine (
- Supplement with hibiscus. Roselle, a species of hibiscus, has long been used in folk medicine as a diuretic to increase urine production (
- Up your garlic intake. In ancient Greece, garlic was used to treat a variety of ailments and considered a natural diuretic (
- Eat fennel. Some research suggests that fennel may have diuretic effects and increase urine output (39).
- Try corn silk. According to an older review, this herb is traditionally used for the treatment of water retention in some parts of the world (
- Eat nettle. This leafy green is another folk remedy used to reduce water retention and support fluid balance (
Several other natural remedies may help reduce water retention, but their effects haven’t been widely studied.
Many factors, ranging from hormonal changes and physical inactivity to serious health conditions like heart disease or kidney problems, can contribute to water retention.
Though medical treatments may be necessary depending on the cause, several simple dietary and lifestyle changes may help reduce water retention and promote fluid balance.
Following a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes while limiting your intake of processed foods and refined carbs may be especially beneficial.
Several herbs and supplements, including dandelion leaf extract, may also help decrease bloating and fluid buildup.
If water retention persists even after you make changes to your diet or lifestyle, consult a healthcare professional to determine the best course of treatment.
Just one thing
Try this today: In addition to the remedies above, adding more natural diuretics to your diet may help alleviate fluid buildup. Check out this article for 8 diuretic foods and beverages.