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Joachim Zuther, Lymphedema Specialist. Read more
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Nutritional Aspects in Lymphedema


Patients affected by lymphedema should try their best to achieve and maintain a reasonable weight in order to reduce the risk factors associated with obesity (see blog entry December 3, 2010).

What is the Lymphedema Diet?
The truth is that there is no special diet for lymphedema. Patients affected by lymphedema, just like everybody else, should trust their own judgment when it comes to the selection of a proper diet. If there are no other medical conditions present, such as diabetes or heart disease, a healthy and balanced diet should be the goal.

An accepted approach in lymphedema management is to follow a low-salt and low-fat diet, which also positively contributes to weight management. A balanced healthy diet including whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables and avoiding fatty foods, or those with high cholesterol will greatly reduce risk factors associated with lymphedema.

Many patients are under the impression that lymphedema may be positively affected by limiting the protein intake. This is not the case – although lymphedema is defined as an accumulation of water and protein in the tissues, it is essential to understand that lymphedema cannot be reduced by the limitation of protein ingestion. It is also important not to limit fluid intake in an attempt to reduce the swelling. Good hydration (water) is essential for basic cell function and especially important before and after lymphedema treatment to assist the body in eliminating waste products.

The Role of Cholesterol in the Management of Lymphedema
Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is produced by the liver and found in food with a high content of saturated fat, such as meat, eggs and dairy products. Cholesterol has gotten somewhat of a bad name. However, the amount of fat eaten is not really linked with disease; it is the kind of fat which is consumed. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) consists of saturated and trans fats. LDL, also known as “bad” cholesterol may stick to the inside wall of arteries and increase the risk of coronary diseases. The “good” fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) lower the risk of disease. Eating too many saturated fats can raise the level of “bad” cholesterol and contribute to obesity.

What about Vitamins and other Supplements?
There are no vitamins, food supplements or herbs that have been proven to be effective in the reduction of lymphedema. In the United States, dietary supplements are regulated as food, not drugs. Pre-market approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are not required unless specific disease prevention or treatment claims are made. Because there is no requirement to review dietary supplements for manufacturing consistency, and no specific standards for dosage or purity exist, there may be considerable variation within the products marketed as dietary supplements.

However, lymphedema patients are often in need of additional vitamins and supplements, especially if they battle recurrent episodes of infections. To determine which supplements and vitamins are beneficial, individuals with lymphedema should consult with their physicians and/or nutritional specialist.

Additional Resources:

Video – Diet and Lymphedema:
Lymphedema People

The National Cancer Institute
American Cancer Society
Medical News Today


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27 comments to Nutritional Aspects in Lymphedema

  • Sue Fraser

    hi Joachim
    I am a Lymphoedema therapist in Australia. i agree with your blog on nutrition however i would like to point out that most oils have long-chain fatty acids which have to be dealt with by the lymphatic system thus putting more pressure where you don’t want it. coconut oil and palm oil have short chain fatty acids and so do not go through the lymphatic system. i personally don’t advocate palm oil because of the ways in which they are being grown and wiping out rain forest in the process. however organic coconut oil is very healthy, and sustainable.
    regards Sue Fraser
    RMT and Vodder MLD therapist

    • Joachim Zuther

      Thank you Sue for your valuable comment

    • ali kent

      hi Joachim, which area of Australia are you please? I have Lymphedema from Cancer and will hopefully be travelling to Perth and Sydney Feb 2013. It would be great if you were in an area where I could have treatment during my stay

    • Sheldon Oliver, BHSc (N&D), APD/RD, Grad. Cert. Diab. Ed.


      Sorry Sue but I’m afraid the information you have posted here is not very accurate. While it IS true that medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) do not require transport in the lymphatic system and coconut oil is used as a source of MCTs, the use of whole coconut oil cannot be recommended.

      Firstly, the definition of a MCT is a fatty acid with a chain length of between six and twelve carbon atoms. As such, if the chain length of the fatty acid is around twelve carbon atoms or longer, it can’t really be called a MCT.

      Now, if we look at the chain lengths of the various fatty acids found in coconut oil, it can be seen that only about 16% of the fatty acids have chain lengths shorter than twelve carbon atoms while around 84% have twelve carbon atoms or more in their chains. Lauric acid is the twelve-carbon fatty acid and is right on the outer edge of qualifying as a MCT and contributes about 48% of the total fat in coconut oil. The balance of 36% all contain more than twelve carbon atoms in their chain and thus cannot be classified as MCTs at all.

      In summary, you are right that MCT fats do not utilise the lymphatic system and while MCTs are extracted from coconut oil, recommending whole coconut oil for people with lymphoedema because it won’t use the lymphatic system is perhaps unwise.


  • Generally good information however all cancer patients and perhaps all patients with lymphedema should consult their Oncologist, XRT Onc, surgeon and or PCP etc. before making any dietary changes. There are hundeds of reasons but the most obvious is that fresh fruits and vetetables except those you can peel are contraindicated for Ca pts undergoing treatment

  • Helena Janlov Remnerud

    Low-carb diet and MLD: My experience is that when my patients are on a Low-carb diet the MLD treatment works better(can be seen on the reaction on the skin when applying MLD). My theory is that food with fast carbs trigger the pancreas to produce more insulin. Insulin is the key to storing carbs into the cells. Anyway …. my patients lymphedemas are less apt to gain volume and their self-MLD is more efficient when they are on some diet similar to the South Beach Diet.

    • Hey,guys! I would very much appreciate a comment through my email.
      My mom recently developed, what we think is lymphedema in her right arm. I being her son am very worried about it, it swelled up to a fairly good size in a just a few weeks.
      I’ve been doing research, and there doesn’t look like there is any cure for it so far. My question is that she is going to the doctor in a little over a week to get it checked out, I’ve been bugging her to go for a week and a half now. If someone could please tell me what she can do to control the swelling until she goes to the doctor. Any information would mean the world to me!

      God bless, you!

      • Joachim Zuther

        Dear Derek:
        It is certainly necessary that your mother consults with a doctor to determine if the swelling is indeed lymphedema. While you are correct in your statement that there is currently no cure for lymphedema, this condition can be managed very effectively with a therapy called Manual Lymph Drainage and Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT). Here is a link to more information on precautions for upper extremity lymphedema:

  • Claudia Steele-Major PT,CLT

    I prefer to refer patients to a dietician or nutritional consultant as the complexity of needs in most lymphedema patients exceeds our professional scope to make an adequate recommendation specific to the individual’s needs. Thank you for the info on regulation of supplements and vitamins in the U.S.. That is very valuable information to be shared. Sincerely, Claudia

  • […] treat heart diseases, or to reduce the loss of protein into the urine in disorders of the liver. A low-salt diet, the use of external compression (support stockings) in case of venous insufficiencies and […]

  • E. Mosely

    I have secondary Lymphedema, not triggered by cancer. I was diagnosed at age 13; I am now 34. Though mild, my Lymphedema is most prominent in the lower left leg. I have found that when my diet consists of little to no processed foods and lots of fruits, veggies and whole grains, the swelling is low. It’s present, but not as bad when I eat foods high in fat and that are processed. I did a vegan diet for two weeks, and my foot appeared normal.

  • I’m fairly new to your site and just want to say thank you for providing such helpful information. Before my breast cancer diagnosis I had never even heard of lymphedema. Even after my diagnosis and surgeries, LE risk wasn’t really discussed by my medical team. I’m trying to raise awareness, too, on my blog. Thanks again.

  • […] Happy Monday, This article, similar to diet and Lymphedema is shorter and touches on Nutrition. Enjoy Grace […]

  • I have found that clients who present with lymphoedema or lipoedema, who consume a high protein diet, reduce volume much better when a reduction in protein is undertaken. Protein attracts water at a cellular level.

  • Jane Couvillion LOTR CHT CLT

    I have left upper quadrant lymphedema due to breast cancer. I went on the Ideal Protien diet to lose weight to be generally healthier. I have lost 20#, and I’m still overweight, but the reduction in my lymphedema is remarkable! When I eat low fat foods and minimal refined/processed carbs my left hand looks very similar to the right hand. Heat, or getting overheated, is still my worst enemy as I battle with lymphedema every day.

  • Debbie

    I was wondering if there are any upcoming educational conferences in Florida or the SE this year, 2013 for Lymphedema. I am an RN, so I could go thru the basic training for CEU’s and certification, however, having lymphedema myself, I am interested in the educational and research aspect. Also, in the Detroit area, or even Tennessee or Virginia. Any info appreciated.

  • Susan Carpenter

    I live in RI and have lymphedema in both my legs. I have to wear custom garments and I’m having trouble finding someone to fill my prescription for garments. I have been told no one in RI will take my order. It has something to do with RIBSBC who will only pay $’s above cost to fill the prescription. I don’t know where to go to get my order placed. I wear Juzo custom stockings.

    • Joachim Zuther

      I would suggest you contact JUZO directly; they do have a directory of dealers in every State and I am absolutely certain that they will be able to assist you

  • Courtney Chase

    Hi, my mom was diagnosed with lymphedema about 7 yrs ago. She is overweight and has it in both legs. She is in the hospital right now struggling with it again. I’m looking for as much info and diet plans that she could be on as possible. If anyone has any diet plans that they would like to share please email them to me. Thank you so much

  • Sally

    Hi Courtney
    You say that your Mom has lymphedema in both legs. Sometimes women have a condition called lipedema which can be misdiagnosed as lymphedema. I suggest that you search for information on lipoedema just to check that that is not her problem.

    • Elissa

      Hi, Im sorry your mom is so uncomfortable, I would suggest to try to get into a pool and walk in it or a cool bath. NEVER hot water at anytime, or sunbathing, that will make them swell more and try to elevate as much as possible. Compression sleeves will keep fluid down

  • Maggie

    As someone who has lived with systemic lymphedema for moRe than 5 years, I’ve found several very helpful foods, including fresH corn on the cob (the corn silk stimulates the kidneys), sautéed spinach, garlic, and hash browns. Complex carbs, like Potatoes that have been cooked more than once, make the body work harder to break down the sugars. For whatever reason, it reduces edema, which relieves the lymphedema.

  • Patty

    I have lymphadema of the torso after 27 lymph nodes and my legs retain fluid also any thing I can do

    • Joachim Zuther

      You do need treatment and a compression vest/bra. I would recommend you consult with a trained lymphedema therapist. In order top locate a therapist in your area, please click on the “Find a Therapist” link on top of this page.

  • Melissa

    I have lymphedema in both lower legs, I have been heavy my whole life, however, I had a dr put me on a low carb low sugar low salt diet, my legs have never been better, yes I still use compression, yes my left leg is still worse than the right one but they are very much improved, I am at my lowest weight in 21 years. In July I will have the main vein in my right leg fixed, and the varicose veins in both legs removed by laser, it is a little scary but all procedures need to be done and hopefully it will help as well.