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Primary & Secondary Lymphoedema Online & in the Community

Healthy Living

Welcome to L-W-O's Healthy Living page.  The aim of this page is about the lifestyle changes for those of us who live with Lymphoedema to help us improve our condition. There is a big push in the UK towards Self Care and this page will reflect this.  During 2018 I have been working with lots of individuals and small organisations that are working on self-care, social self-care and social isolation this is very much in keeping with how we look after our lymphoedema.  



The effects of food and drink

Nobody likes being told that they can't or shouldn't do something.  Living with the lifelong condition of lymphoedema, even though, this condition is manageable, means that, we need to look after ourselves. 

Certain foods, such as spicy and salty food, or alcohol (especially wine) can cause an increase in swelling.  Alcohol turns to sugar, sugar becomes bacteria.

Keep a record if you are feeling unwell and note which foods or drinks you think makes your lymphoedema worse so that you can avoid them. Each of us know our bodies better than anyone else, so when we get out of sync then, we need to look for the cause. We might have over indulged, burnt the candle at both ends or simply eaten or drunk an item which doesn't suit our lymphoedema.  This happens to all of us. 

There is no special diet to prevent or control lymphoedema.  It is important to eat healthily which will improve our general health and wellbeing whilst coping with our lymphoedema.  No dietary protein restriction is recommended for lymphoedema even though lymph is a protein-rich fluid.

Controlling weight will also help but especially for those who have this condition in their legs.  Lots of us eat too much but we can't always be on a roller coaster of dieting.  So four simple tips which I try to live by:

My tips

A portion of food fits into the palm of your hand

  • eat off a tea plate or small bowl
  • try a Mediterranean diet, in my case this made a real difference
  • six days a week eat healthy and then have what I call my "rubbish day", on this day I can eat what I want 

This type of diet is not a quick fix.  It takes a lot of patience and perseverance, but the weight does stay off.  Think of it, as being a lifestyle change rather than a diet.

Try to Eat

five portions of fruit and vegetables a day

  • more chicken and fish, especially oily fish
  • more high-fibre foods (whole grain cereals, seeded or granary bread)
  • less red and processed meat
  • less saturated fat (pastries, samosas, cheese)
  • less salt    

In many European countries it is recommended you eat seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day. 

The Rad diet

In one of the forums of the Lymphoedema Support Network (LSN) health unlocked  a person with primary lymphoedema had found that their lymphoedema was affecting their intestines and LSN suggested they followed the RAD diet written by Karen L. Herbst, Ph.D., MD.

The RAD diet (rare adipose disorder), principles are to lower consumption of the following:

  • dairy products
  • animal proteins & fats
  • simple sugars
  • carbohydrates (low glycemic)
  • salt
  • wheat
  • processed flour products
  • avoid foods that contain lots of chemicals, artificial preservatives, flavours, fake sweeteners like ace K, aspartame, colours and stabilizers which includes most prepared, packaged and fast foods

Enrich diet with:

  • organic Fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • healthy proteins


Reasoning behind the RAD diet

  • lowers fat consumption as fats are absorbed directly into lymphatic's
  • low glycemic index foods lowers insulin levels - insulin makes fat grow
  • eat lots of fresh vegetables that have enzymes that are absorbed into the lymphatic's, which "roto-rooter" out stagnant protein
  • lower salt intake so that you retain less water/fluid 

So you have two options above that will give you the opportunity to make informed choices and they are both similar.  The RAD diet is better at explaining how certain foods affect your lymphatic system.

Before undertaking any diet please consult your own health care professional. 

Foods that cause inflammation

  • Alcohol
  • Artificial Food Additives
  • Common Cooking Oils
  • Dairy Products (Milk)
  • Red & Processed Meat
  • Refined Grains
  • ​Spicy Foods
  • Sugars

Anti-inflammatory Foods

  • Broccoli
  • Blueberries
  • Dark Leafy Vegetables
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Ginger
  • Green Tea
  • Kelp
  • Papaya
  • Salmon
  • Sweet Potato

Fluid Intake

You will see regularly throughout this website about the need to drink water.  However, there are many people who can't, simply, because they do not like the taste.  Why not add a slice of lemon, lime, cucumber or mint to give it that extra twist.

The UK government suggest you drink every day, 6 to 8 cups or glasses of;

  • Water
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Lower fat milks
  • Low sugar or sugar free

Please remember, low sugar and sugar free drinks can damage your teeth.

Coffee and high caffeine drinks can exacerbate your Lymphoedema by increasing the swelling.  With coffee, try switching  to decaf.


Add a twist

Do you get fed up of drinking water on its own?  Why not add a twist?


One of the first signs of dehydration is feeling thirsty.  There are signs to look for when you might become dehydrated.

  • dark urine or not passing enough urine when you go to the loo
  • headaches
  • lack of energy
  • feeling lightheaded

Those of us that have lymphoedema should drink lots of water, you might be tempted to think the opposite.  Drinking more water is important because lymph fluid has high protein content.  To remove the protein from your tissues, it needs water.  Drinking water means that "protein-traffic" moves better around the lymph system.

Benefits of drinking water are:

  • De-Stress - if you are stressed all your problems seem worse.  Drinking water provides more energy, eases tension.
  • Lose Weight - healthier than sugary drinks, helps your body work more efficiently. Helps digestion and muscle function.
  • Keeps you looking young - acts as a natural moisturizer, prevents skin drying out this is important because all of us who have lymphoedema have to look after our skin.
  • Boosts mood and Brain Power - even somebody who is mildly dehydrated can experience anger, confusion and depression.
  • Regulates body temperature
  • Cushions your joints.

Sometimes when we think we are hungry it is not always the case. 

  • have a drink of water
  • wait 15 minutes
  • if you are still hungry then eat


Health professionals have different ideas on what constitutes drinking too much. 

Someone I know, was asked how much they drink?  The answer 3 or 4 pints once a week.   A consultant said he thought that was reasonable, but someone else in the same group stated because it was all in one go, that was binge drinking.  Conflicting?  

To reduce the risk of harming your health if you drink most weeks:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week

Drinks and units

A 750ml bottle of red, white or rosé wine (ABV 13.5%) contains 10 units.

See the guide below to find out how many units are in your favourite tipple.

*Gin, rum, vodka, whisky, tequila, sambuca. Large (35ml) single measures of spirits are 1.4 units.


The reason that all this is important to lymphoedema, is that, alcohol does increase swelling.

I have given you the guidelines and trust you with your own management.

Please make sure you drink plenty of water.

One last word, when drinking at home we rarely drink the advised measurements so be aware.


I am not going to go in depth as to why you shouldn't have too much salt because it is simple. The more salt you consume, the more fluid you will retain.

A high sodium diet will cause water retention in your body. This can worsen your lymphoedema.

Salt is in;

  • bacon, ham and other cured meats
  • canned foods
  • fast food
  • ketchup and other sauces
  • salad dressings
  • soy sauce



We all know of the health risks associated with smoking. However, your circulation is affected by smoking and you do need to look after your skin as it will have been damaged by your lymphoedema.

If you live in the UK;

  • Talk to your GP
  • Join your local stop smoking service

For further advice;


In this day and age where incomes are limited and organic food is often more expensive, my tip would be to have a small scrubbing brush in the kitchen.

This way if you buy non-organic foods for example carrots you can wash and scrub them to remove any lurking pesticides.

E Coli

There has been a rise in the cases of E Coli.  It has been suggested that this might have come from unwashed fruit and vegetables.

You have enough to deal with so please wash all fruit and vegetables before you use them.

Did you know?

Extra VirginCoconut oil and Extra Virgin Olive is;

  • Anti-bacterial
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antiseptic

Healing herbs

Al Fresco

Not always easy in the UK but when you can eat outside.

Get that much needed vitamin D from the sun.  Just make sure you don't get sunburnt.

If there are insects around light a citronella candle to keep them away.

Invite friends around, make it a social occasion.

Autumn blues or SAD


Some of us don't look forward to the Autumn, Winter weather, turning the clocks back the night's drawing in and the shorter days.  It is believed that around two million people suffer with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) an aptly name form of depression which can leave you unable to function.  This usually appears from September through to March.  There is no cure for SAD, add Lymphoedema into the mix and life can become very isolating.  Here are a few tips to get through the winter months.

  • Get outdoors.  There's more light outside. Try a walk morning and lunchtime.
  • ​Wrap up warm.
  • Keep active.  Regular exercise helps with depression and the immune system.
  • Eat a balanced diet.  This can help to curb carb cravings.
  • ​Drink lots of water.
  • Brighten up the home.  Let in as much light as possible.
  • ​Keep in touch with family or friends.
  • A beverage with a friend at your favourite café or pub can be therapeutic.
  • Get support.  Sharing your experiences helps to manage symptoms.
  • ​Don't be afraid to say, "I need help".
  • ​Do some voluntary or community work or take up a hobby.
  • Make a to do list
  • ​Be positive. Try to accept the things you can't change.
  • ​Write your thoughts down, this can be cathartic.

​​There is a very good website to help with exercise, take a look.  Put your postcode in and see if there is a walking group near you.

Art for Health

I am sure that many us will insist we haven't got a creative bone in our bodies. This is simply not true.

Low Mood

I would be very surprised if living with lymphoedema didn't cause you to have low moods or down days. ​There are days when your body aches and you are uncomfortable.  The days when your compression garment makes you feel unattractive.  Or the days when a simple task turns into a mammoth one.

So what is a low mood?

  • anger
  • feeling anxious
  • frustration
  • low self-esteem
  • panic
  • sadness
  • tiredness
  • worry

If these feelings don't go away after a couple of weeks, then please see your GP as the longer this goes on then, this could lead to serious depression.

How can you help yourself?

  • be active
  • be positive
  • take control
  • make time for yourself
  • help others by volunteering or doing community work
  • take up a hobby
  • set yourself a challenge
  • join a support group or club
  • make a to do list
  • write things down, writing can be cathartic

One of the hardest thought processes you can have is to accept the things you cannot change.  You cannot change the fact you have lymphoedema.  However, you can get treatment and you can help yourself to manage your own treatment. 

Lots more tips and advice on the NHS website;


One of the hardest things to cope with when you are diagnosed with a long term condition that has no cure is depression. 

Having had cancer to then be told you have lymphoedema a condition that has developed because of your cancer treatment really knocks you off balance. 

However, your lymphoedema is manageable, speak to your GP and if there is one in your area, join a support group.

Page first published July 2014

Page last updated 29/10/2018