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How to fight puffiness

What we tend to refer to as ‘puffiness’ is known to doctors as ‘oedema’, which comes from the Greek word meaning swelling. Oedema occurs when fluids that should be in our lymph system, move into the tissues around it. While this can happen in theory in any part of our body including our face, most often it affects our arms and legs, which can begin to feel heavy and look swollen as a result.  

We tend to notice these increases in ‘puffiness’ when our clothes begin to feel tight and unexpectedly uncomfortable or perhaps, when we press our skin, and realise that the pressure has left a dent. Skin near areas of oedema can also often feel taught and warm and we may find that our joints feel stiffer and harder to move.  

The good news is that most puffiness is a mild and temporary problem triggered by water retention caused, pre-menstrual hormonal changes or after sitting or standing for long periods. It can also happen after insect bites, burns or allergic reactions.  

It is important however, to point out that oedema can also be a symptom of a more serious disease including complications during pregnancy like raised blood pressure as well as by heart or liver issues, varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis and lung disorders. All of which mean that checking in with your doctor is an important step to take if you notice unusual puffiness springing from nowhere.  

Once you have the all-clear and underlying health complaints have been ruled out, then it is well worth trying these tips to help get on top of puffiness.  

Roll back salt: 
When we eat a lot of salt, we retain fluid, to the point where we may hang on to up to 1.5 litres more than usual. In the UK we are encouraged to eat no more than 6g of salt a day, but the average intakes are still some way above this. Experts say that bringing our intakes right down to 3g daily could help our bodies to release up to a litre and a half of excess fluids, with swollen ankles and legs and arms, wrists and fingers benefitting as a result. A bowl of porridge for breakfast, fruit mid-morning, a baked potato with light tuna mayonnaise and salad at lunch, plain almonds mid-afternoon and homemade tomato sauce with pasta and vegetables for dinner bring you in at the 3g mark. It’s not easy to achieve every day, but every little reduction helps and turning our back on processed foods is the first place to start.  

Upping fruit and vegetables: 
Both are rich in the nutrient potassium, a mineral that is present in all our body tissues and plays a vital role helping to keep fluid volumes normal. Increasing the amount of potassium in our diet by making sure we include at least five vegetables and fruits a day while decreasing the amount of salt we consume, can help to both lower blood pressure and help our body to release excess water.  

Strengthen blood vessels:
Vitamin C is vital for helping to keep our skin and the walls of our blood vessels in good health. It is found naturally in berries and citrus fruits; kiwi’s and tomatoes, dark green vegetables and peppers to mention a few. Meanwhile, the super nutrient ‘Quercetin’ is present in everything from apples and onions to grapes and tea. It too, is crucial for helping to keep the walls of blood vessels in good shape, especially the tiny ones known as capillaries. Not only this, Quercetin, helps to dampen down inflammation throughout our bodies. Both of these roles help our bodies blood flow and keeping body fluids in the right place.  

PMS water retention: 
Research reveals oedema to be a common complaint with many women complaining of puffiness around two days before menstruating. In this phase of the menstrual cycle, progesterone is the main hormone present and is likely to be the culprit for triggering salt and water retention in the arms, legs and breast region. It also causes the walls of veins to ‘sag’ so that blood flow is slower than normal, which again, makes water retention more likely. Keeping up advice on salt reduction is important and research suggests that for some women, magnesium supplementation may help to reduce fluid retention too but check with your doctor before taking. Meanwhile, manual lymphatic drainage, a specialist form of massage can often provide relief for PMS related puffiness as may meditation, yoga and breathing exercises.  

Regular activity:
Keeping active stimulates blood flow and improves circulation, which can help to reduce fluid build-up throughout your body, especially in your legs and feet. This does not mean heavy workout sessions. Walking, moving regularly and gentle cycling and dancing all count and the good news is that as well as helping tackle puffiness, they give you’re a natural mood lift too.  

Written by:  
Amanda Ursell
BSc Nutrition
Registered Nutritionist AFN
PG Dip Dietetics,  
Associateship King's College (AKC)

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