Diet and exercise to treat lymphedema?


Question from Lymphomaniac: As a lymphedema patient, I do 'all the right things' to control the collection of lymph fluid in my affected arm: compression sleeve during the day, bandaging at night, self-massage, and monthly MLD. I'm wondering if there are things I can do to increase the effectiveness of my overall lymphatic system, such as dietary supplements, foods to avoid, special exercises? I started Tai Chi during breast cancer treatments.
Answers - Marisa Weiss, M.D. It sounds like you're already doing so much to help yourself be well.
Saskia Thiadens There is really no specific diet for the lymphatic system, but we do tell our patients to be on a low-sodium or no-sodium diet, if possible. We recommend an overall well-balanced diet—drink lots of water and tea, no soda pops. Also, weight is a major factor in lymphedema. Studies have shown that obesity or being very overweight means a higher risk of developing lymphedema.

There are many patients who are experimenting with herbal remedies such as bioflavinoids. There is Rutin. There are patients who are actually taking benzopyrones in the U.S. and around the world in combination with complete decongestive therapy and feel there is a benefit. This is a non-FDA-approved medication, but studies that were done in Australia in the 1980s by John and Judith Casley-Smith showed that it reduces the protein content in the lymphatic fluid.
Answer There have been studies that show there are certain side effects and toxicities with the drug, like liver toxicity.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. Some doctors also use diuretics or a 'water pill' to manage lymphedema. In my practice, I strongly discourage this as a regular form of treatment. I reserve this for very occasional use, like to manage a significant amount of lymphedema for a one-time occasion, such as your daughter's wedding when you're really anxious to get short-term results that may not be achieved by another form of treatment. How do you feel about the use of diuretics?
Answer Generally, I would not recommend the use of diuretics either, except if they were needed for some other medical condition. The problem is that they remove the water components of the fluid and leave the protein component in the tissue, and when the person stops taking the diuretics, the fluid accumulates quickly.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. The diuretic is a treatment that affects your whole body, and it can throw off the balance of chemicals in your body as well. I believe that ongoing use of diuretics should not be considered as a treatment for lymphedema. It is not an effective solution, and it may cause significant side effects. There are better ways to go.

On Wednesday, July 17, 2002, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Arm Lymphedema Prevention and Management. Sara Cohen, O.T.R./L., C.L.T.-L.A.N.A.Saska Thiadens, R.N. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions about preventing and managing arm lymphedema.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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