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This Diet Helps Reduction Lymphedema

Lymphedema is very common and serious condition that affects millions of individuals. While there is no consistency in the data of the overall incidence of lymphedema in the United States, it is estimated that at least 3 million Americans are affected by this condition.

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Secondary lymphedema is much more common; most patients in the western hemisphere develop lymphedema after surgery and/or radiation therapy for various cancers (breast, uterus, prostate, bladder, lymphoma, and melanoma). Other patients develop lymphedema after trauma or deep vein thrombosis. In certain countries, parasites (filariasis) account for millions of cases of lymphedema. Its cosmetic deformities are difficult to hide, and complications, such as fibrosis, cellulitis, lymphangitis, lymphorrhea, etc. do occur frequently. Lymphedema may be present in the extremities, trunk, head and neck, abdomen, the external genitalia as well as in inner organs; its onset is gradual in some patients and sudden in others.Lymphedema is classified as either primary or secondary. Primary lymphedema is caused by congenital malformations of the lymphatic system and usually affects the lower extremities. It may be present at birth, but more often develops later in life, often in puberty or during pregnancy.

The focus of this article is to discuss the role of nutrition as an additional approach to manage lymphedema effectively. For information on Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT), the accepted gold standard treatment for lymphedema, please click here.

Nutritional Aspects:

There is no special diet for lymphedema. An accepted nutritional approach in the management of lymphedema is to follow a balanced diet, which in addition to physical activity and exercises promotes weight loss. Excessive weight contributes to greater demands on the lymphatic systems ability to drain fluid from the tissues; weight control therefore positively affects lymphedema.

Studies indicate that obesity does have an influence on lymph fluid level and extremity volume (1, 2). Obesity and overweight often worsen the symptoms associated with lymphedema; a nutrition balanced and portion appropriate diet contributes in reducing the risk factors associated with lymphedema.

A balanced healthy diet including whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables and avoiding fatty foods will greatly assist in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight without restricting the intake of important nutrients and vitamins. Crash diets or diets which restrict certain food groups and nutrients are not advisable.

There is a common misconception that lymphedema may be positively affected by limiting the protein intake. This is not the case – although lymphedema is defined as an accumulation of water and protein in the tissues, it is essential to understand that lymphedema cannot be reduced by the limitation of protein ingestion, which can even be potentially dangerous. It is also important not to limit fluid intake in an attempt to reduce the swelling. Good hydration (water) is essential for basic cell function and especially important before and after lymphedema treatment to assist the body in eliminating waste products.

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