Feeling swollen and puffy? Here’s some tips to help manage water retention during the menopause…
Feeling hot and bothered is one thing, but if you are starting to experience puffiness or feel swollen and tender then your menopause may be impacting on your day-to-day fluid balance. If left unchecked, this could have a knock-on effect of rising blood pressure. Food Scientist and Nutritional Therapist Susie Debice suggests some sensible food advice to help support fluid balance…
During the menopause oestrogen and progesterone go through a transition ceasing to follow a monthly cycle and achieve a constant resting level in which menstruation ceases. Oestrogen tends to have an impact on sodium and fluid retention, and progesterone helps keep oestrogen activity on fluid retention in check. However, during the transition oestrogen and progesterone levels become unpredictable and fluctuate vastly from one day to the next. These fluctuations may create a disruption in the body’s ability to maintain normal fluid balance and the signs of water retention may start to be experienced.
What are the signs of water retention?
- Puffy eyes and face
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Sore or swollen breasts
- Swollen hands, ankles and feet
- Daily weight fluctuation of 1-3 pounds
- Abdominal discomfort and bloating
- Raised blood pressure
During times of prolonged stress, the adrenal glands secrete stress hormones which function to trip the nervous system into high-alert status, a very physiologically different state from the natural ‘rest and digest’ status. These hormones are effective and quickly flip the muscles, lungs, heart, brain and eyes into a flight or fight standby mode. As the stress hormone cortisol increases so too does the level of ADH (antidiuretic hormone) which encourages the body to retain water. The menopause, for some women, brings many challenges and heightened anxiety, poor sleep and fatigue may leave you feeling more stressed than normal. Finding ways to manage stress levels with counselling, massage, exercise or asking for more support could help settle stress hormones and take the pressure off your water balance.
Cut back on sodium
Salt provides an important flavour profile to food and when the body is low on minerals, cravings for salty foods may start to become more apparent. Salt is made up of crystals of sodium chloride and it’s the sodium part of the compound that is important. If you are suffering from water retention or high blood pressure then cutting back on sodium is a recommended guideline since too much sodium encourages the body to hold on to water which could be a contributing factor for those looking to find natural ways to deal with swollen and puffy extremities.
The body requires no more than 2.4g of sodium a day and this can be found in as little as 6g of salt, that’s equal to just one teaspoon of salt. When it comes to the practical steps for reducing sodium it’s good to get an understanding between sodium and salt values found on the nutrition information table on food packaging. It can be confusing because some food products list the salt value and some list the sodium value – here’s how to work out the sodium value
To convert sodium to salt: multiply sodium by 2.5 (1g sodium per 100g = 2.5 g of salt per 100g)
To convert salt into sodium: divided salt value by 2.5 (3.5g salt per serving = 1.4g sodium per serving)
Foods high in salt and best avoided during times of water retention include – bacon, anchovies, cheese, ham, olives, pickles, prawns, salami, salted nuts, salted snacks, crisps, stock cubes, yeast extract, soy sauce and smoked meat and fish.
Foods containing hidden salt include pasta sauces, bread, bakery products, pizza, soup, sandwiches, sausages, ketchup, mayonnaise and breakfast cereals. These foods don’t always taste salty, but you need to check the labels as you could be in for surprise at just how much salt they contain.
The power of potassium
Nature always provides us with a tool to help restore balance and in the case of sodium, it’s another mineral called potassium which has an opposing influence on fluid balance. Whereas sodium encourages the body to retain water, as an electrolyte, potassium contributes fluid balance and is involved with the normal functioning of the nervous system and the maintenance of normal blood pressure. So where do we find potassium in nature? The answer is fruits and vegetables, which is why eating your 5-a-day is so important. The AI (Adequate Intake) for potassium is 3.5g a day, but it’s thought that most people don’t achieve this daily level.
Good sources of potassium: bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes, pomegranate, spinach, swiss chard, watermelon, cannellini beans, edamame, butternut squash, dried apricots and beetroot.
Your first instinct may be to stop drinking as much when you recognise that your body is retaining water, however this could be counterproductive. Keeping hydrated becomes even more of a priority as your body is going to need extra water to help cope with fluid balance. One way to support hydration and help your body cope with fluid retention is to focus on herbal teas such as nettle tea, fennel tea, dandelion tea and green tea which have a mild diuretic effect.