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The lymphatic system and liquid retention.

What is the lymphatic system?

The lymphatic system runs parallel to the blood circulatory system, but is not a closed loop nor does it have a pump as the blood circulatory system does. The lymphatic system contains a network of tissues and organs which help eliminate toxins and waste from the body. It’s primary goal is to carry lymph (a fluid composed of infection fighting white blood cells) through the entire body. The lymph travels through the lymph vessels which are larger in size compared to blood veins and capillaries.

The lymph is too large in size to be carried through the blood veins until it reaches the lymph collectors and then becomes mixed with the blood again in the subclavian vein. We also have  lymphatic nodes (better known as lymph nodes); the lymph has to travel through these lymph nodes as they are carried through the lymph vessels causing a purifying function as the lymph nodes will filter the toxins and cell residues within the lymph as they produce white blood cells that will destroy any foreign substance that appeared in their path.  As the lymph is carried through the lymph vessels, it always passes by one of these lymphatic nodes.

The lymphatic circulation is slower than the bloods circulatory system, and its volume is less (about two liters). It is not moved by the pumping of the heart, but instead is moved with the body’s  contractions and relaxations of the smooth muscles together with the lymphatic vessel valves (which prevent the backflow of the lymph), along with the help of the arterial pulsation (sudden ejection of blood into the aorta).  Lymph moves so slow that it can become obstructed and provoke intoxication, edemas or heaviness sensations. If severely obstructed, can cause  Elephantiasis (major swelling of the legs).


What is to know about liquid retention?

When there is an unbalance between the liquids we consume vs. eliminate, this can lead to situations such as dehydration. In the case of not consumming enough liquids, or  the elimination of liquids too quickly from metabolism, or excessive liquid accumulation of liquids and residues in determined areas, producing edemas.

Liquid retention, also known as edema, according to the Spanish Heart Foundation, is caused by an excessive accumulation of liquids in tissues.

This condition can be pathological or non-pathological. The difference resides in the fact that when it is considered a pathological condition, it can be caused by circulatory problems, congestive heart failure and digestive, renal or liver diseases, or due to alterations in the lymphatic system morphology, while if it is non- pathologic, the cause can be a simple vein dilation at times when there are higher temperatures, not eating properly, obesity/overweight or due to having adopted forced postures during the day­­­­ that make it difficult for blood and lymph to flow, causing the formation of edemas or swelling in areas such as upper and lower limbs, the frontal superior area of the neck (jowl), abdomen, knees or buttocks. Any part of the body is susceptible to be loaded with fluids and non-eliminated residues, which is why it is so very important to maintain a fluid intake and elimination.

No matter the type (pathological or non-pathological), the symptoms are similar; an inexplicable weight gain, swelling of the legs, knees and ankles, increase of the abdominal perimeter or decrease of urination. Even though it is considered a condition more frequent in advanced ages, there have been cases on which it was noticed during adolescence as well.  

When it is time to talk about remedies for non-pathological liquid retention, it is recommended, at the beginning, to reduce the consumption of sodium. One of the main sources of fluid retention is the salt we use to cook; therefore, it is necessary to reduce the consumption of salt as much as possible. Avoid being on your feet for long periods of time, particularly in closed and hot places, so the blood can circulate correctly. If a person has a tendency to retain liquids, it is recommended that, when seating, he/she does so with legs high up, in order to avoid accumulation of blood in the legs. Another suggestion is the ingestion of foods or beverages (diuretics) that help in the elimination of liquids and sodium in the organism through urine or feces.

Changes in diet.

There are other recommendations to improve our diet, that can also reduce the liquid retention. For example; always try to consume dairy products such as milk, yogurts or cheeses that do not contain salt (sodium). Also,  avoid cured and semi cured cheeses, because they have a high content of salt. Limit the consumption of preservatives, smoked products,  sausages, pates and any type of meat that has preservatives or a high salt content. The recommendations for fish are the same as they are for meats, always avoid those that are in preservatives, smoked or salty ( such as for example, cod). Fruits and vegetables; as much as cereals, can be eaten freely, avoid those that contain sugar or that have salt  (such as dry salty fruits or cookies and appetizers). And lastly, about drinks; there are  certain mineral waters with a high sodium content, therefore it is advisable that the type you choose has less than 50 milligrams per liter.

At last, it is recommended to eliminate from the diet, products such as  sauces (mustard, ketchup, pink sauce, soy sauce, mayonnaise, flours, sugar and bread among others.  

**It is important for us to make this special “attention note” for you to always avoid precooked food or fast food, as well as all other products with additives and high sodium/sugar content.