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What Foods Should I Avoid With Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is caused due to the excess overload on the lymphatic system to drain the fluid from interstitial tissue. This is primarily due to the reduced capacity of the lymphatic system or increase in the interstitial fluid due to metabolic changes. Apart from the treatment of lymphedema such as DLT, surgery or adjuvant therapy, appropriate diet also helps in relieving the symptoms of lymphedema.

What Foods Should I Avoid With Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is related to the increase in the collection of fluid in the interstitial area which leads to swelling. The condition is due to the reduction in capacity of lymphatic system and increased functional overload. Thus, the diet for the lymphedema is chosen in such as way so as to reduce the lymphatic overload. The diet should be rich in protein and the person should be sufficiently hydrated. Also, following are the foods that should either be completely avoided or should be consumed in limited quantity:

Sodium: The salt is well known for retaining the fluid in the body. More the fluid is retained; more would be the swelling and more pressure on the lymphatic system to remove the fluid. Thus, salt should be avoided in lymphedema.

Avoid Excess Calories: The obese people are likely to experience more severe symptoms as compared to non-obese people in the similar stage of lymphedema. The obesity or the underlying fat in the tissue reduces the capacity of the lymphatic system and does not allow functioning effectively. Thus, in order to reduce the weight, the person should be on low calorie diet.

Oils: Oils such as grape seed oil or safflower oil increase the lymphatic load. Thus, these should also be avoided.

Certain Fats: Unhealthy fats such as hydrogenated oils, trans-fats and chemically modified fats should not be used.

Soy Foods: Soy-based food and gluten free products are either avoided or should be used in very small quantity.

Sweeteners: The food products containing sweeteners such as sweet drinks, candies, sugary substances which increase the weight are avoided.

Fried Foods: Any fried products, such as chips, which incorporates the use of fats should be avoided.

Alcohol: Beer and wine should not be used as they may increase the lymphatic load.

Causes of Lymphedema

There are various causes of the lymphedema. The lymphedema is divided in to two types on the basis of causes. Following are the two types:

Primary lymphedema: This is the type of lymphedema which is present at the time of birth. This occurs due to the faulty development of lymphatic system. The mutation occurs in the gene which regulates the development of lymph vessels, lymph nodes and lymphatic ducts. The mutation reduces the capacity of the lymphatic system to drain the fluid. On the basis of age in which the symptoms of primary lymphedema occur, it has been divided in to congenital lymphedema in which the symptoms occur within two years of birth; the praecox lymphedema wherein the symptoms occur at the age between 3-25 years, and the lymphedema tarda where the symptom occurs after 35.

Secondary lymphedema: Secondary lymphedema is caused due to disease or therapy of any disease or due to surgery. It occurs when there is a problem in the draining capacity of lymphatic system and generally develops during chemotherapy. The lymph vessels or lymph nodes get destroyed during chemotherapy, or radio therapy or surgical removal of the cancerous tissue. Further, the condition may also develop due to infection or inflammation. Cardiovascular disease and injury or trauma, are the other causes for secondary lymphedema.


Every approach used to relieve the symptoms of lymphedema is targeted to reduce the load on the lymphatic system. This may be by removing the fluid through external techniques such as the massaging or compression or surgery such as liposuction. Food also plays a major role in lymphedema. The appropriate diet should exclude all the substance that retains the fluid in the body, causing an overload. The foods that should be avoided includes salt, high calorie diet, unhealthy oils, sugary substances and drinks such as beer and wine.


  1. Mayo Clinic – Lymphedema: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lymphedema/symptoms-causes/syc-20374682
  2. National Cancer Institute – Lymphedema (PDQ) – Patient Version: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/lymphedema/lymphedema-pdq
  3. National Cancer Institute – Lymphedema (PDQ) – Health Professional Version: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/lymphedema/lymphedema-hp-pdq

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 28, 2023

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