Water Retention – What Is It and How to Reduce It?

Simply put, water retention is something that happens when excess fluids build up inside your body. Some health care experts also use the term fluid retention or edema.

No matter the term you use, this condition occurs in the circulatory system or within tissues and cavities. Symptoms include swelling in the hands, ankles, legs, and feet.

When we talk about water retention and why it happens, we must stress there are a number of reasons [1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC438425/.

Most of them are not serious, but it is worth noting that you can do something about it. For example, women often experience fluid retention during pregnancy, or before their regular monthly period.

People who are physically inactive, or even just going through a long flight, can also result in retention in water.

Why is water retention important topic?

Our body is made up of 70% of water. Anything less than 60%, and you might feel symptoms of dehydration. Water is present on both the inside and outside of the cells.

Water retention, as mentioned, refers to an excessive buildup of fluid in the circulatory system, cavities, or body tissues.

While it is not something to freak about or panic in most cases, water retention can also be a symptom of a severe medical condition. These conditions include kidney disease and heart failure.

If you are experiencing sudden or severe fluid retention, the first thing you need to do is seek medical attention.

When the swelling is mild, and there is no underlying health condition, a couple of changes in your lifestyle habits can help you solve the issue.

We stressed that retention of fluids can happen in different areas in the body, but also for different reasons. With that in mind, here are the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for excessive fluid buildup.

Symptoms of fluid retention

An important thing to know is that symptoms always occur in the affected area in which your body retains water.

With that in mind, here are the common symptoms:

  • Areas of skin that stay indented when pushed in with a finger
  • Discolored skin
  • Weight gain
  • Stiffness in the joints
  • Aches and tenderness in the limbs
  • Bloating in the abdominal area
  • Swollen legs, feet, and ankles
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Indentations in the skin, or what you see on the fingers when you’ve been in the bath or shower for a long time
  • Puffiness of the abdomen, face, and hips

What are the causes of edema?


  • Flying in an airplane can cause fluid retention because changes in cabin pressure and sitting for an extended period of time causes your body to hold on to water
  • Standing or sitting for a long period, no matter whether in an airplane or anywhere else will cause retention in fluids. Gravity keeps blood in your lower extremities, and therefore it is important to get up and move around from time to time to keep blood circulating. Those with sedentary job should schedule time to get up
  • Menstrual changes and fluctuating hormones are the most common cause of water retention among women
  • Following a diet that is high in sodium. You might get too much sodium just by using a lot of table salt. But more commonly, people eat too much sodium due to the following diet high in processed foods and soft drinks
  • Weak heart that cannot pump blood well will cause the body to retain water
  • Pregnancy is another common cause of retention in water among women, due to the shift in weight during the period. This causes the legs to retain water, especially if you are not moving around on a regular basis
  • Deep vein thrombosis, which is a clot in the vein often causes leg swelling due to retention in water
  • Certain medications cause fluid retention and edema as a side effect, including medications for chemotherapy treatment, over the counter pain relievers, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications

Why you should not ignore fluid retention?

As mentioned previously, constant and frequent fluid retention and edema can be a sign of an underlying health problem.

Ignoring the persistent water retention will cause complications, including:

  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Fibroids in women
  • Pulmonary edema, or fluid buildup inside the lungs

In case you are experiencing constant edema, you can try some of the natural remedies we will talk about, or seek medical help.

A doctor can determine whether natural remedies and changes in lifestyle can help with the condition, or you might need diuretics, birth control pills, or special supplements to relieve the problem.

7 Natural Ways to Reduce Fluid Retention

Reduce salt consumption


Salt is made of sodium and chloride. As mentioned previously, sodium is the biggest reason why your body retains water. Sodium binds to water in the body and helps maintain the balance of fluids inside and outside of cells.

However, when you consume foods that are high in salt, for example, processed foods, your body retain water, because they are very high in sodium. In fact, processed foods are the biggest dietary source of sodium.

Just by reducing consumption of sodium and salt will help you solve the problem of water retention.

A couple of studies show that increased sodium consumption often results in retention of fluids inside your body [2]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2957126 [3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8306484.

Up your magnesium consumption


Magnesium, as most of us know, is one of the most important minerals in our body. Magnesium is involved in more than 300 enzyme reactions inside the body. These enzymes keep the body functioning at optimum.

In terms of fluid retention, studies show that increasing the consumption of magnesium, either via supplements or magnesium-rich foods, can vastly help with retention [4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9861593.

Just 200mg of magnesium per day helped women with premenstrual symptoms solve their problem.

Other studies of women with PMS have also shown significant benefits [5]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2067759.

The natural way to up your magnesium intake is to consume magnesium-rich foods. Some good sources include dark chocolate, leafy green vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, avocado, banana, broccoli, and salmon.

Up your potassium consumption

Potassium Rich Foods

Potassium is another mineral that can help you with retention of fluids. This mineral serves a number of important functions, but most importantly, potassium is an electrolyte.

One of the functions of potassium is to send electrical signals that keep the body running, but it also benefits the health of your heart.

There are two ways that potassium can help with edema. The first is by decreasing sodium levels, as potassium blunts the effects of sodium.

In other words, the more potassium you consume, the more sodium you pass through urine. In fact, increasing urine production is the second-way potassium can help with retention of water.

The best way to consume more potassium is to include more potassium-rich foods in your diet. These include banana, avocado, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and leafy green vegetables.

Up your vitamin B6 consumption

Vitamin B6 Deficiency

We talked about magnesium and potassium, two important minerals in keeping our body functioning at its best.

When it comes to vitamins and edema, B6 plays a key role. This vitamin is actually a group of several related vitamins that are important for formation of red blood cells and other functions in the body.

This vitamin is especially important for women with premenstrual syndrome. During PMS, vitamin B6 can vastly reduce retention in fluids. You can source the vitamin B6 from foods like lean meat, potatoes, walnuts, and bananas.

Drink more water


You might think drinking water is counterintuitive. But that is not the case. Drinking more water will help you reduce water weight.

One of the reasons why your body might retain water is dehydration. This is your body’s way to make up for lack of incoming water.

Therefore, make sure to drink the widely recommended dose of 8 glasses of water per day. Some people need even more water. In the summer months, when our body loses water through sweating, you need even more than 8 glasses of water per day.

The best way to get to those 8 glasses or 2l of water per day is to simply replace sugary drinks with pure water.

Some other benefits of drinking water include improved kidney function, balancing body temperature, boosting metabolism, relieve pain, and helps in breathing.

Drink some dandelion tea

dandelion tea

Dandelion is a herb that has been used as a natural diuretic for centuries. Folk medicine practitioners swear by dandelion, as it is one of the best natural diuretics.

Dandelion will make you pee more often, which helps with the retention of water in the body. Studies have shown that three cups of dandelion per day will significantly increase the amount of produced urine [6]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19678785.

Avoid refined carbs

Processed foods

This is the most important step in your plan to reduce retention of water. As mentioned previously, processed foods, or what dieters call refined carbs are the major cause of edema.

They cause rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, which causes your body to retain more sodium and increase the re-absorption of sodium in the kidneys [7]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21629870.

The end result is more fluid volume inside the body.


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