Heat can make you gain nearly nine pounds: How to avoid water retention

A practical guide for when your ankles swell, your rings don’t fit and your legs feel heavy

Liquid retention
Water retention primarily affects women.Agencia Getty

If your shoes begin feeling tight in the afternoon, your legs feel tired throughout the day and at night you have trouble removing your rings, you may be suffering from a common effect that heat has on our bodies: water retention. It is not a disease, but can be a silent enemy, as its symptoms, which primarily affect women, mostly in the summer, can make these dog days intolerable. In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, water retention can cause us to accumulate two to four extra kilos (between 4.4 and 8.8 pounds). It is one of the causes of edematous cellulitis, which can be painful and difficult to treat.

We all know that our bodies are 70% water. That water is found in our cells. Liquid retention occurs when water accumulates between cells, in an area called the interstitial space. The Felicidad Carrera centers explain it this way: “The lymphatic system is responsible for draining all the fluids from the organs into the blood, but sometimes it does not work correctly and the fluids are not eliminated properly. They remain in the tissues, in the spaces between cells, and fluid retention occurs. This imbalance in the regulation of fluid in the vascular area is attributed to organic factors —such as circulatory disorders, genetic inheritance and hormonal changes— or constitutional factors —a sedentary lifestyle, stress, excess weight, diet, environmental humidity ... or heat. When we suffer from fluid retention, it is typical for our ankles to ‘disappear.’ Although it most commonly occurs in the lower part of the body, many will have realized that these edemas, as they are known medically, can also appear on the abdomen, on the eyelids or in the eye bags.”

Women are more likely to suffer from it for various reasons, as Dr. Moisés Martín Anaya, a plastic and aesthetic surgeon, explains. “One of the causes that can cause fluid retention is hormonal, because hormones play an important role in the intravascular and intracellular balance. Estrogens and progesterone have a greater capacity for fluid retention. In addition, women have thinner skin and lower muscle mass, and circulatory problems are more frequent.” But water retention can be prevented and relieved using the following five principles.

I feel swollen from the heat. Is it fat or is it water?

Water, both too much and too little, is often behind sudden weight changes. To better identify what is causing those extra pounds, a technique called impedanciometria allows us to know if the increase in volume is due to fat or fluids. It measures the change in speed experienced by the electric current as it passes through the body’s tissues. It thereby calculates the percentage of fat, muscle and water that each person has to find out how the weight is distributed. It also assesses the body’s basal metabolism, that is, the calories we burn at rest.

About lymphatic drainage

One of the best known methods for relieving water retention is manual lymphatic drainage. This massage, which serves to stimulate the natural drainage of lymph and thereby help the body eliminate waste, must be performed by trained physiotherapists and specialists.

Practitioners at Carmen Navarro’s clinic perform lymphatic massages over at least 60 minutes, using gentle maneuvers in repetitive, slow and pumping movements, following the path of the lymphatic ducts. They assure that it is painless and relaxing. “It is a technique of soft, superficial, rhythmic massages along different areas of the body or face in order to improve the circulation of the lymph. It helps us to release edema and any type of anomaly that derives from poor circulation. Let’s not forget that the lymph is like the garbage truck responsible for carrying all the waste that is produced in our cells. If this ‘transportation’ does not work correctly, edemas occur, leaving liquids and substances detained and stagnant. The lymphatic drainage helps to ‘unclog’ and release those areas by dragging the liquids to the circulatory system. The lymphatic system fulfills a fundamental defense function, thanks to the lymph nodes, and we must take care of it.” This type of massage can reduce inflammation, combat cellulite and improve the skin’s appearance.

The horsetail trick

Every expert consulted on this subject points in the same direction: diet plays a fundamental role. It is important to eat healthy foods rich in water. Excessive salt can cause liquid retention to worsen.

Nutrition experts often recommend one particular herbal tea to help with fluid retention: horsetail (various plant species of the genus Equisetum) is a depurative-diuretic that has been traditionally used to prevent swelling of the legs and ankles. Experts recommend drinking horsetail tea between meals but not drinking more than three cups a day, as excessive intake can decrease potassium in the body. The ideal proportion is about 40-50 grams of the plant per liter of water. When drunk cold, it can relieve thirst on the hottest days.

Cosmetic solutions

In the cosmetics industry, every problem has infinite solutions. Specialization is the key to winning the game. Anti-cellulite products can help with water retention. They activate the microcirculation of the skin, and their ingredients should reduce fat nodules by breaking them down.

The trick on hot days (and before your period arrives)

High temperatures fuel this problem. There are no quick fixes to prevent water retention, but some simple and effective tricks can help you feel lighter in the summer. Start by drinking a lot of water, about two liters distributed throughout the day. Avoid carbonated drinks, avoid salt in your meals and include celery and cucumber in your diet. Do not stop exercising, but remember that high-impact exercises are not the most recommended. If you notice inflammation in the abdomen area, exercises such as pilates or hypopressive exercises can help you improve. On days when leg swelling is more noticeable, try to sleep with your feet raised a few inches above your head.

If you know that you tend to retain liquids, you may want to put these tricks into practice before your period arrives. As the Mayo Clinic explains, water retention is also a premenstrual symptom. “Premenstrual water retention is likely caused by fluctuations in your hormones,” they add, “most menstruating women experience symptoms like bloating a day or two before their periods start. Others regularly experience symptoms in the five days before their periods that interfere with some of their normal activities. This is called premenstrual syndrome (PMS).” This occurs because before the period begins, the body produces estrogen which, at high levels, can cause fluid retention and bloating. The other hormone present during the period, progesterone, peaks in the second half of the cycle, also causing water retention, chest pain and possible temporary weight gain.

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