Lymphedema Nutrition

I spoke at a Lymphedema Support Group last evening, and thought I would share what I learned. Not only did these women have lymphedema, but they were all breast cancer survivors, as well. Very inspirational🙂


Lymphedema occurs when a blockage develops in the lymph system, causing a backup of fluid, which leads to swelling as lymph leaks into the tissue. Swelling normally affects the extremities (one or both arms or legs). Primary lymphedema is a rare inherited lymphedema that commonly affects women. Secondary lymphedema usually occurs after a lymph node damage or removal. Lymph node removal to treat cancer is very common.

There is no “lymphedema diet” per say, but there are some things to keep in mind…

  • Protein: Lymph fluid contains large amounts of protein; so a common misconception is to reduce dietary protein intake and hopefully this will decrease lymph fluid and swelling… too bad it’s not that easy 🙁 Dietary protein intake and the amount of protein-rich lymph fluid in your extremities have no correlation. What we do know? Protein helps keep the body healthy, and repair skin that breaks down when tissue swells. It also keeps connective tissues in your body strong. Therefore, increasing your daily protein intake to 1.2 grams-2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight would be beneficial for lymphedema patients. (Check with your MD first when making diet changes. He or she will want to make sure your kidneys are functioning efficiently when increasing protein intake).
  • Sodium: High sodium intake causes the body to retain fluid. People with lymphedema already have edema (fluid retention) to their extremities, so consuming large amounts of sodium could make the swelling worse. That’s no good 🙁  Following a low sodium diet isn’t going to cure the fluid retention caused by the lymphedema, but at least you won’t have extra swelling due to high salt intake. Keep your daily sodium intake below 2,300 mg, or less than 1,500 mg per day if you have high blood pressure.
  • Fluid: Another misconception is to reduce fluid intake, in hopes of reducing the fluid retention. There is no correlation between the two, and adequate hydration is essential for basic cell function and especially important for the body to remove waste products after lymphedema treatments.

  • Vitamins & Minerals: Getting the recommended intake of all vitamins & minerals is essential for good health. Lymphedema patients may focus on Vitamin C for collagen formation, Vitamin A for increased cell development, and zinc for wound healing and correcting yellow nail syndrome associated with chronic lymphedema.
  • Balanced Diet: A balanced diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats will help promote overall health.

Thanks for reading 🙂


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