Diet and Lifestyle Modification for Water Retention

Water retention is caused by excessive fluid which is trapped in body tissues. Edema or water retention can affect any part of the body but it is commonly noticed in arms, feet, ankles, hands and legs.
It can be due to medication, pregnancy or an underlying disease – often kidney diseases, heart failure or cirrhosis of the liver. Taking medication to remove excess fluid and reducing the amount of salt in food often relieves edema but when edema is a sign of an underlying disease, the disease itself requires treatment.
Edema according to Ayurveda -Swelling or edema is of three types according to Ayurveda. In Ayurvedic terms, swelling is called “Shotha” or “Shopha”. Charak has explained in 18th chapter of Sutrasthana.

Swellings are of three types

  1. Vataja – arises due to Vata dosha imbalance
  2. Pittaja – arising due to Pitta dosha imbalance.
  3. Kaphaja – arises due to Kapha dosha imbalance.

They are again of 2 types

  • Caused due to internal causes within the body due to endogenous factors.
  • Caused due to external factors such as – injury.

By the intake of cold and non-slimy food, exertion, fasting, excessive emaciation and elimination therapy, Vata gets aggravated and afflicts flesh, blood and skin and causes swellings. The swelling thus caused appear and disappear abruptly. They are mobile and they throb.

By the intake of hot, pungent, bitter, alkaline, saline, sour and heavy food, Pitta gets aggravated and effects skin, flesh and blood and thus swelling is caused. It appears and disappears abruptly and appears black, yellow and coppery in colour, hot and soft in touch. There is a feeling of hot sensation, high temperature, emission of smoke, steaming and sloughing.
Due to the intake of heavy, cold, sweet diet, excessive sleep, lack of exercise etc. Kapha gets aggravated which affects skin, blood, muscles etc. and causes swelling. Such swelling takes a long time to manifest. It is usually white in colour, heavy, compact and smooth. They stand pressure and heat.

Localised Inflammatory Conditions

  • If the aggravated Kapha is located at the root of tongue, it causes instantaneous swelling which is known as “Upajihvika”.
  • If the aggravated Kapha is located outside the throat, it causes swelling. This is known as “Galaganda”. (compared with goitre, cervical lymphadenitis).
  • When the aggravated Pitta together with blood spreads within the skin, it causes red swelling known as “Visarpa”. (compared with herpes)
  • When the aggravated Pitta is located in the skin and Vata, it causes red swelling which is known as “Pidaka”. (abscess/carbuncle)
  • When the aggravated Vata moves from the sides of lower abdomen to testicles and thereby causes swelling and pain, it is known as “Vruddhi” (hydrocele/hernia).

What are the causes of edema?

Edema occurs when tiny blood vessels in the body which are known as capillaries leak fluid. The fluid starts to build in the surrounding areas which leads to swelling.
Other causes are

  1. Eating too much salty food
  2. Premenstrual signs and symptoms
  3. Sitting or staying in one position for too long
  4. Pregnancy
  5. Due to the side effects of certain medicines like – high blood pressure medications, steroid drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, estrogens, certain diabetes medications called- thiazolidinediones.

In some cases, water retention is a sign of serious underlying medical condition like
1. Congestive heart failure – When one or both the heart lower chambers lose their ability to pump effectively, the blood can back up in legs, feet and ankles causing edema. Due to heart failure, there is swelling in abdomen. It can also cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs which can lead to shortness of breath.
2. Cirrhosis – Fluid may accumulate in the abdominal cavity and in the legs due to liver damage.
3. Kidney disease – Due to kidney disease, extra fluid and sodium in circulation can cause edema. The edema associated with kidney disease usually occurs in legs and also around eyes.
4. Due to weakness/damage to veins in legs – Chronic venous insufficiency in which one-way valves in the leg veins are weakened or damaged, allows blood to pool in the leg veins and cause swelling. This is characterised by abrupt onset of swelling in one leg accompanied by pain in calf which may be due to clot in one of the leg veins.

5. Inadequate lymphatic system – Lymphatic system helps in clearing the excessive fluid from the tissues. If this system is damaged, the lymph nodes and lymph vessels draining an area may not work correctly leading to edema.

What are the symptoms of edema?

  • Disorientation
  • Heaviness of the body
  • Warmth
  • Debility in the veins
  • Occasional pain
  • Numbness
  • Soft oedematous lesions
  • Black or yellow coloured lesions
  • Tenderness
  • Severe burning
  • Stable and thick oedema

Home remedies for water retention (Edema)

  1. Take 1 teaspoon of Punarnava (Boerhavia diffusa), ginger and turmeric in a vessel. Add 2 cups of water, boil to reduce to half a cup and then filter it. 20 ml dose of this mixture must be taken 2 times a day with a small piece of jaggery before food helps in relieving edema.
  2. Regular consumption of a mixture of 1 pinch of turmeric along with half teaspoon of ginger along with honey helps in relieving edema.
  3. Erandmool (Eranda communis), Gokshura (Tribulus terrestris) and Jeeraka (Cuminum cyminum) are taken in equal quantity and decoction is prepared and must be taken regularly once a day. This remedy helps in pacifying edema.


Garlic, horse gram, buttermilk, cow’s ghee, Indian gooseberry, light exercise must be included in the diet. Excess intake of salt, dry vegetables, sour substances, long walk, heavy and spicy food, curd, exhaustion, alcohol must be avoided.

Various herbs which are recommended in oedema are

  • Ginger
  • Cumin seeds
  • Punarnava (Boerhavia diffusa)
  • Guggulu (Commiphora mukul)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
  • Haritaki (Terminalia chebula)
  • Shallaki (Boswellia serrata) etc

Although swelling is a simple health complaint but it sometimes denotes serious underlying pathology. It is a simple health problem if it is localised one or is of recent origin. So, one must be careful and must take immediate attention towards such problems.

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