If you’re a woman awaiting her period and spending a lot of time in the summer sun right now, then don’t be alarmed if you’ve suddenly developed “kankles" and gained mysterious weight overnight.
Water retention – called 'oedema' by medical professionals – occurs when fluid is not properly removed from body tissue. It can be a reaction to hot weather, intense exercise, or changes in hormones during a woman’s menstrual cycle.
It is possible to gain up to 5 pounds as a result of water retention. Gaining 1-2 kilograms when you’re sweltering and want to be feeling flash in your best summer clothes, or awaiting your period, might seem like some sort of cruel joke from Mother Nature, but you don’t have to put up with it.
What causes fluid retention?
The human body can consist of up to 70% water, and this fluid naturally leaks into body tissues from the blood. This is usually drained by the lymphatic system, but sometimes this drainage slows down, causing fluid retention.
Fluid retention can occur all over the body, or it can be localised to a specific area – the feet, ankles and hands are common target zones.
Hot weather is a common cause of fluid retention. The heat causes blood vessels to expand, to encourage heat loss, and body fluid moves into the hands and legs as a simple result of gravity. This explains why the rings on your fingers become harder to remove on a hot, beach holiday, yet worryingly loose as soon as you jump in the pool.
Hormones also play a major role – women can experience water retention in the two weeks leading up to their period, whilst oral contraceptives that contain oestrogen can also cause retention as can pregnancy. In the case of hormone related water retention, it's usually the stomach that is most effected.
In addition, hard workouts – weight training or cardio – can cause micro tears in muscle fibres. These tears, which tend to be accompanied by muscle aches, or DOMS, are quickly repaired by the body.
The result is stronger muscles, but in the meantime excess fluid builds up to prevent further injury. This is why body builders often take pictures after workouts – muscles appear more ‘pumped’ – but for the individual training to lose weight, the retention can be quite disheartening.
Certain medications, standing for very long periods of time, and injuries that cause swelling such as sprains or burns are among many other causes. Illnesses such as Kidney disease can also present with water retention, so do see a doctor if you experience other symptoms or retention is severe.
Sever fluid retention can also be diagnosed by pressing your thumb into an affected area - this can leave an indentation for a couple of seconds.
What can you do about it?
The good news is that most fluid retention is short lived. However, there are some things you can do in the mean time to help reduce the effects:
- It might seem odd, but the first piece of advice is to drink more. Keeping hydrated will help to flush the body of excess fluid, meaning you’ll expel more than you actually take on.
- Eating foods that contain plenty of water is also a good idea- this includes most fruits, cucumber, watercress and carrots.
- Raised levels of sodium encourage your body to retain water, so cutting out the crisps and ready meals could make a big difference. Potassium, which you’ll find in bananas, potatoes and spinach, can counteract the effect of excess salt, as it encourages greater excretion of sodium.
- Getting out and being active can also help raise sweat levels – however remember that if you’re retaining water following intense exercise as a result of DOMS then you’re best off giving your body a little rest and recovery!
- Some people do take diuretics to combat water retention. However, there are more natural methods - for example, Cranberry Juice and Fennel tea both have diuretic properties.
- Water retention in the lower legs can be combated by sitting with your legs elevated regularly, or wearing compression socks.
Water retention will nearly always calm down within a couple of days - so try not to worry about it too much, keep eating and drinking healthily, and you'll be on the way to your ideal cycling weight in no time!