Natural Healing

Ask a nutritionist: Is there anything natural to help edema?

By Nonie DeLong, ROHP, CNP

Dear Nutritionist,

My question is about my mother. She suffers from really bad edema in her lower legs. She takes a prescription diuretic for it, but she has been suffering from a loss of hearing, which is a side effect of the drug. She has also developed some signs of kidney problems, but the doctor says it may or may not be related to the pills. I would like to know if there are options we can explore that might be safer? Are there any natural things for edema?

With thanks,

Dear Gene,

Before I go into the holistic treatments for edema, I need to be very clear about any and all holistic therapies, aside from dietary interventions. It is never safe to undertake holistic therapies while also taking pharmaceutical treatment for a condition without professional guidance. Many people presume that because something is holistic it’s safe. That isn’t necessarily true. Typically, holistic therapies do not cause the adverse side effects that pharmaceuticals do, but if it’s something that has an effect on the body – that can be a good or bad thing. If it it’s actually therapeutic it can potentially cause harm. For example, adding a holistic therapy to a pharmaceutical one can double the effect or even counteract or complicate it. It could be a dangerous combination! The same is true in the reverse scenario.

With any condition that requires pharmaceutical management you should always consult a licensed physician for guidance. And for holistic guidance on any complex or pharmaceutically treated condition, consult a qualified and registered holistic professional for guidance. The person you consult should be licensed in the area of expertise you are seeking, with proof of registration in good standing (with insurance) – and they should also be able to produce their final GPA for any and all degrees. I know I don’t want a specialist who passed at the bottom of their class!

Do remember, no medication changes can be managed by a nutritionist. We may well have our opinion of different medications, but it’s outside of our scope to advise a client regarding them. We can share information on medications and on alternative or adjuvant holistic therapies, but that decision belongs to the client alone. We must direct clients back to the prescribing physician to oversee any changes they (the clients) decide to make. In each case, clients must consult the person who manages the therapy they are addressing. I know this is a big headache and hard for clients to navigate, which is why I prefer integrative care where both types of practitioner work together, collaboratively. Unfortunately, this isn’t frequently done yet here in Canada, although I think it’s a noble vision for those of us in healthcare to move toward!
Now, on to the question of natural solutions for edema.

To treat something holistically, we need to understand its cause. Edema can be brought on by heart problems, kidney problems, liver problems, venous problems, lymphatic congestion, and pregnancy. It can also happen from medications and allergies or intolerances.

Heart Problems:
Problems of the heart are always handled by a specialist. A nutritionist or herbalist may work closely with the care team to suggest things like dandelion tea as an edema that is potassium sparing and hawthorn berry capsules or tincture, to strengthen the muscles of the heart.

Lymphatic Congestion:
Think of the lymphatic system as the garbage disposal system for the body and swelling as a back up. Unlike the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system has no pump and must be moved by other means. Treatments that help move congested lymph include:

  • Skin brushing the body daily with a natural bristle brush to stimulate lymph flow, as in this video.
  • Heated castor oil packs on the abdomen, groin, and armpit lymph nodes are also beneficial to help a congested lymphatic system.
  • Deep, diaphragmatic breathing, as explained here
  • Yoga, walking, swimming, dance, or any type of movement or exercise where multiple muscles are engaged, which acts like a pump for the lymphatic system
  • Massage, especially lymphatic drainage massage

Circulatory Problems:
Deep breathing, skin brushing, exercise and massage will also help the circulatory system of the body. As will taking plenty of nourishing liquids like bone broth, natural miso soup, and pure, spring water.

Kidney Problems:
When the kidneys are under strain, they may be unable to keep the proper water balance in the body. This swelling often occurs in the legs and around the eyes. Natural ways to boost kidney function include:

  • Stay hydrated to help flush toxins out
  • Eat easy to digest, complete protein, as low protein can cause edema, and protein is important to fight edema and maintain muscle tissue, which also helps edema
  • Cleavers tea, stinging nettle tea, calendula tea, dandelion tea, goldenrod tea, and fresh parsley tea are very good for nourishing and toning the kidneys and for removing edema. A blend of these would be helpful if none are contraindicated by medications or conditions.
  • Kidney stones can cause difficulty that contributes to edema. Chanca piedra is a herb that has been used extensively to dissolve kidney stones to allow them to be passed.

Liver Problems:
With liver problems fluid can accumulate in the abdominal cavity and legs. This is sometimes manually drained, but eating a low sodium diet is often recommended. Holistic liver disease care includes:

  • Removing all sugar and carbohydrates from the diet, to remove the burden of insulin
  • Replacing fats in the diet with coconut oil or MCTs – to ease the work the liver must do
  • Silymarin in therapeutic doses (from milk thistle)
  • Alpha R Lipoic Acid in therapeutic doses, with supporting nutrients
  • Fresh liver from healthy, optimally fed animals or desiccated liver tablets
  • Whey protein isolate daily (boost endogenous glutathione production)

Pregnancy Edema:
This is very common in the last trimester. It can help to limit caffeine and sugar and increase fluids like spring water and dandelion tea, which aids digestion and contains numerous phytonutrients. Compression stockings and keeping the feet up also helps. And who doesn’t love a gentle pregnancy massage?

Acute Treatments:
When edema is severe, it can also help to have natural topical analgesics for the pain of stiff, swollen joints, and compression stockings or wraps. Epsom salts baths are beneficial, and enemas can also help. I have seen life extended in heart failure with regular use of spring water enemas. For more info on enemas used therapeutically, Max Gerson is still the master.
I hope this is helpful. As always, if readers have health questions they can send me an email at nonienutritionista@gmail.com. I welcome feedback and queries. And if you need more 1:1 support don’t hesitate to reach out!

Nonie Nutritionista

Nonie DeLong is a registered orthomolecular health practitioner, licensed nutritionist in both Canada and the U.S., and student of the Ontario College of Homeopathy.  

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