Water retention is an accumulation of excess fluid in the body tissues and is one of little-known factors that contributes to weight gain. What many people don’t know is that fluid retention is a common symptom of low thyroid function. In hypothyroid patients fluids have a tendency to accumulate in the feet, ankles, hands, wrist, fingers, face and abdomen and it can be severe. The typical manifestations and signs are puffy eyes and face, swollen hands and legs as well as weight gain due to the accumulation of water.
In the morning many of those who have low thyroid function notice swollen upper eye lids and hands resulting in rings temporarily not fitting fingers anymore. During the day more water slowly distributes to the lower extremities due to the gravity effect and shoes may not fit in the late afternoon.
Two types of water retention in hypothyroidism:
1. Myxedema is when the fluids and waste products build up over time and don’t clear out of the body due to hypothyroidism. They accumulate in the tissues and don’t respond to diuretics. Only adequate treatment of low thyroid function can resolve this issue.
2. Low thyroid can reduce kidney function when blood filtration and fluid balance become impaired. An example of this effect is puffiness of the face, especially around the eyes, in the hands and ankles. This type of edema is reversible after low thyroid is treated and can also respond to diuretics.
Water retention is not only a cosmetic problem, it can result in many symptoms and trigger other health conditions. Fluid build-up in different parts of the body can put pressure on the nerves and cause inflammation. Any restriction of the blood flow can additionally contribute to headaches, dizziness, balance problems, tinnitus, shortness of breath and visual disturbances.
Low thyroid is associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. It can happen when nerves in the wrist or forearm become compressed due to water retention and swelling.This can cause a patient to experience pain, burning, aches, numbness and tingling. Adequate thyroid treatment can resolve this issue and help to avoid surgery or taking unnecessary drugs.
Water retention can lead to other health issues due to the stretching of the tissues, pinching of surface nerves and can result in restless leg syndrome at night. In people who don’t show the obvious swelling, the skin can be stretched from within due to more accumulated water. This effect puts excessive pressure on the millions of nerve endings and can lead to restless leg syndrome alone or along with foot and leg cramps at night.
Correction of low thyroid function in the first place will help to reduce water retention and regulate water balance in the body. In addition, the following remedies can help with restless leg syndrome and cramps:
- Taking 800 mg of vitamin E or magnesium at bed time can help with cramps and also aid better sleep.
- Quinine sulfate that can be obtained with a prescription or OTC natural formula with quinine can alleviate the cramps.
- Stretching exercise during the day and some stretching before going to bed can improve symptoms of restless leg syndrome.
- If severe enough certain prescription medications are available for the restless leg syndrome, however fatigue and mental fogginess can be experienced as a common side effect of the drugs.
Common causes of water retention
Fluid retention is found in heart, liver or kidney failure independently of thyroid status. This type of edema often responds to diuretics.
Thyroid problems seldom come alone and other hormonal imbalances follow as soon as thyroid hormone deficiency occurs. Changes in the pancreas, kidneys and adrenals can also result in fluid imbalance.
If you are on the right dose of the thyroid medication but sill experience fluid accumulation the following associated conditions can cause water retention in your body:
Food allergies mostly to dairy, wheat, gluten or yeast can be one of the often overlooked causes of water retention. Eating foods that you cannot tolerate places an extra stress on the immune system and results in release of some chemicals that contribute to the water retention.
Poor blood circulation can be another cause of water retention. One of the signs of poor circulation is when you notice a fluid retention after standing or sitting in the same position for a prolonged period of time. For example, people with poor circulation get swollen feet and ankles during a long flight on an airplane. Exercise, stretching, brushing dry skin before taking a shower and supporting healthy blood vessels by adding vitamin C or bioflavonoid rutin can help to improve blood circulation and reduce water retention.
Adrenal fatigue occurs when the amount of stress over-exceeds our body’s capacity to deal with it, compensate and recover. It can be mild or severe and is usually caused by one or a combination of physical, emotional, environmental stressors and chronic or severe infection.
Hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroid disease often coexist with adrenal fatigue. Low adrenal function directly affects thyroid function leading to reduced output of thyroid hormones and slowing down all bodily functions to preserve energy.
Aldosterone is a hormone that is produced by adrenals and regulates blood pressure, electrolyte balance and affects kidney function. In the adrenal fatigue hormones cortisol and aldosterone become low. This result in low blood pressure and less sodium but more water is being retained. Somebody who experiences cravings for chips, nuts and any other salty foods is most likely to have low aldosterone levels.
At the same time low aldosterone also raises potassium levels that increase thirst and urination. This person is extremely dehydrated on the cellular level despite drinking a lot of water. Swollen hands and feet and less often reddish color of the swollen face due to water retention are common signs of low aldosterone levels.
Treatment of adrenal fatigue as well as adding more sea salt to the food and beverages to support aldosterone production can help to alleviate water retention. Using diuretics to reduce fluid accumulation that was caused by aldosterone deficiency can only make electrolyte imbalance and dehydration issues worse. Coffee and alcohol can have the same effect.
Estrogen dominance is one of common hormonal imbalances in young women in their 30s and during peri- and menopause and occurs due to unbalanced progesterone and estrogen. Both hormones are equally important and all of the following combinations can result in estrogen dominance:
- Low progesterone and normal estrogen
- Normal progesterone and high estrogen
- Low progesterone and high estrogen
Stress, nutritional deficiencies and low thyroid can reduce progesterone production while chemicals in our environment, foods, cosmetics and plastics that act as xeno-estrogens can contribute to excess of estrogen. Chemicals can be leached from plastic water bottles that were left in the car in the sun or by using a microwave to heat up the food in plastic containers. Hypothyroidism and estrogen dominance drive each other and very often occur at the same time.
Besides water retention, most common signs of estrogen dominance are premenstrual syndrome, painful periods, short menstrual cycles, sugar cravings, bloating, mood swings, low libido, swollen breasts, migraines, endometriosis and fibroids.
If water retention is related to estrogen dominance it is most likely to occur in the middle or at the end of the cycle. Fluid accumulation can also be a part of premenstrual syndrome that happens just before the periods.
Hormonal imbalances such as estrogen dominance, low progesterone, hypothyroidism and adrenal fatigue are the most common causes of water retention and may occur in women as early as in their 30s. The best way to improve many symptoms including water retention and prevent hormone related diseases is to restore hormonal balance.
Hypothyroidism is only one of many contributing factors to the weight gain. It can be accountable for a maximum 10% of the body weight gain that mainly occurs due to salt and water retention. If you gain more weight it indicates that something else in your body in addition to your thyroid doesn’t work as it should.
Many hypothyroid patients try to lose weight and cannot do it no matter what. The main reason for it is that
You don’t lose weight to get healthy, but instead you get healthy to lose weight.
Gaining weight is a sign of slow metabolism and that your thyroid gland does NOT perform at the optimal level. The first and most important step to reduce water retention and lose weight is to correct thyroid imbalance with a proper hypothyroidism treatment.
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Your Thyroid Problems Solved by Dr. S.Cabot, MD, Dr. M.Jasinska, MD, SCB International; 2011
The Women’s Guide to Thyroid Health: Comprehensive Solutions for All Your Your Thyroid Symptoms by K.R.Simpson, MS, Dr. T.Hertoghe, MD, New Harbinger Publications; 2009
Overcoming Adrenal Fatigue: How to Restore Hormonal Balance and Feel Renewed, Energized, and Stress Free (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook) by K.R. Simpson, MS, New Harbinger Publications; 2011