What causes water retention

Water retention is a major cellulite factor: what causes it and how to prevent and reduce it

Water retention (also referred to as fluid retention, puffiness, swelling, oedema etc.) affects a large number of women and, to a lesser extent, men. Water retention occurs when the veins and lymph vessels can not remove water from the tissues efficiently.

Water retention can manifest occasionally (e.g. in the summer heat and/or if standing for long periods of time) or it may be chronic, and symptoms can range from mild (e.g. cellulite; puffiness typically manifesting on the calves, thighs, hips, arms and face) to severe (medical water retention / lymphedema).

Water retention can have many causes, both genetic and lifestyle-based. Check our comprehensive guide on the causes of fluid retention below and what you can do to prevent and reduce it.

Water retention causes: genetics and lifestyle

Causes of fluid retention

If you are on your feet or sit down all day, you most probably experience leg stiffness and pain, as well as fluid retention. This is due either:

  • to tension build up on your calf, thigh and hip muscles

  • poor functioning of the leg veins

  • inadequate leg lymph drainage.

Your lower leg, thigh and hip muscle fibres can go into a spasm either due to inactivity (e.g. sitting down all day) or due to continuous, static contraction (e.g. standing up all day). The other two causes of heavy, tired, swollen legs, i.e. lymphatic and vein dysfunction, are caused by several factors, the most important of which are described below.


15 physiological reasons to develop water retention

There are several factors that cause water retention, the most important of which being:

  1. Vein wall / lymphatic vessel wall weakness and fragility: veins walls are partially damaged, and herniate or leak blood into the tissues

  2. Poor muscle tone of the vein walls: veins walls cannot effectively pump blood upwards

  3. Valve failure on veins and lymph vessels: vein valves herniate leading to blood or lymph pooling or even flowing downwards

  4. Low interstitial fluid turnover due to dehydration: tissues hold on to their water due to water scarcity, therefore water doesn't even leave the tissues

  5. High blood viscosity / coagulation: makes blood flow through small veins and capillaries difficult

  6. Constipation: obstructs blood and lymph flow in the abdominal area leading blood and lymph pooling on the legs

  7. Pregnancy: works in the same way as constipation; in addition increases fluid retention of fluid due to excess estrogen production

  8. Chronic low-grade inflammation: all inflammation by definition increases water retention

  9. Impact injury: damage to veins and lymph vessels

  10. Congestive heart failure: the heart cannot process blood fast enough and water is literally dumped in the tissues to reduce heart load (contraindication to lymphatic drainage massage, the heart itself must be treated first)

  11. Kidney dysfunction: the kidneys retain sodium and water which then accumulates in the tissues

  12. Post-operative lymph gland removal / other injury to the lymphatics, veins and lymph glands: removed glands call for special techniques to remove excess water from tissues (manual lymph drainage, specialised bandaging)

  13. Excessive estrogen in the system: causes water retention

  14. Excessive cortisol in the system: causes water retention

  15. Albumin (blood protein) shortage: water cannot be carried away from the tissues to the blood due to the lack of this transporting protein

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Lifestyle and genetics are responsible for most of the above physical changes that lead to fluid retention

There are several reasons for the deterioration of function and integrity of the lymph vessels and veins.

Heredity (our genes) is one factor we think we cannot affect, but this could not be further from the truth. "Bad" genes usually need bad lifestyle to be expressed, and vice versa, "good" genes need a good lifestyle to be fully expressed. This practically means that you even if you have excellent genes, a poor lifestyle based on stress, inactivity and junk food, will still lead to fluid retention. Or, on the other hand, even you have poor genes, an excellent lifestyle will probably lead to very little or no water retention.

So lifestyle is what turns on or off your good or bad genes. Furthermore, it is the only thing you can change, so instead of blaming your genes try to optimise lifestyle in order not to suffer from water retention.

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15 lifestyle factors that typically lead to water retention, by switching off "good" genes and turning on "bad" genes

  1. Lack of blood vessel nourishing nutrients: protein, antioxidants, polyphenols/flavonoids and highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs)

  2. Toxins, anti-nutrients and inflammation-producing foods that damage the blood and lymph vessels or impair their natural function: saturated fat, oxidised fatty acids, hydrogenated fats, sugar, excessive alcohol and highly processed foods

  3. Prolonged standing up, sitting down or crossing of the knees

  4. Food intolerances or allergies that lead to low grade chronic inflammation

  5. Leaky gut syndrome that allows undigested food particles, bacterial toxins and other substances to enter the circulation and irritate/inflame the lymph and blood vessels

  6. The contraceptive pill or other hormonal contraception, such as patches, injections etc. that increase blood viscosity and therefore capillary blood flow

  7. Lack of sleep, that causes vein wall muscular tension and impairs vessel tissue repair

  8. Inactivity / lack of exercise, essential for lymphatic and vein function; constipation that causes vein and lymph vessel obstruction

  9. Pregnancy (works in the same way as constipation, but in addition leads to extra fluid retention due to the action of oestrogen)

  10. Smoking that causes vasoconstriction and blood vessel damage

  11. Excessive caffeine in the long run leads to low tissue water turnover and therefore toxin and waste product accumulation and poor lymph drainage

  12. Not drinking enough water has exactly the same effect as excessive caffeine has on your tissues, i.e. poor fluid drainage leading to water retention

  13. Certain medicines, especially cortisone (corticosteroids), lead to water retention due to their action on the kidney, blood vessels and other tissues of the body

  14. Chronic stress has the same effect as cortisone drugs, just milder, as it leads to excessive and chronic cortisol release

  15. Excessive weight puts an enormous pressure on your vessels, as well as contributing to low grade inflammation.

As you can see, with today's unhealthy lifestyle, there are plenty of reasons to develop fluid retention, and therefore it's no wonder that most women suffer from it to a greater or lesser degree. The good news is that, since fluid retention is caused by an unnatural lifestyle, it can also be reduced by following a natural lifestyle and working with natural treatments.

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What is the connection between water retention and cellulite?

Water retention and cellulite are inherently linked. Most of the factors that cause fluid retention may also cause loss of skin firmness, low-grade inflammation, connective tissue fibrosis and superficial fat accumulation, literally affecting all aspects of cellulite, so usually fluid retention is inherently linked to the problem of cellulite for most women.

Treatments that deal only with water retention (such as lymphatic massage) may not be able to reduce cellulite though, because cellulite is more than water retention. However, a good cellulite treatment should always effectively address fluid retention as well as all the other aspects of cellulite.

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How to reduce water retention and cellulite

Read our extensive guide on how to beat water retention: 39 actionable tips!

This entire website is dedicated to cellulite reduction, water retention and skin tightening, so our article on how to get rid of cellulite is the most extensive and most accurate anywhere on the web:

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