Lymphedema: Protein-Rich Lymph Fluid and the Roll of Dietary Protein

Since the fluid associated with lymphedema is protein-rich a question that often arises is, “Should I stop eating protein so there won’t be protein in this fluid?” The answer to this question is, No! Do not stop eating protein. It won’t solve your problem because proteins are essential nutrients.”

Dietary proteins are present in the foods we eat and are important to good health because:

·  Proteins are the building blocks of the body.

·  Proteins are the only nutrients that can repair worn-out tissue and build new ones.

·  Proteins are used by the body in manufacturing hormones.

·  Proteins have a role in building antibodies to fight infections.

·  Proteins aid the blood in transporting oxygen and nutrients.

·  Proteins are essential to the clotting of blood.

When There is a Shortage of Dietary Proteins

The goal for each individual should be to eat the appropriate amount of dietary protein to meet nutritional needs. This protein should come from a variety of sources, not only meat, and include only a minimum amount of fat.

When there are not enough dietary proteins available to meet the daily needs of the body, proteins are taken from the tissues and muscles to maintain the proper protein level of the blood. A severe shortage of dietary proteins will weaken connective tissues and causes them to swell. This is known as hunger edema and it can be seen in the swollen bellies of starving children.

Seriously restricting the intake of dietary protein in an effort to control the swelling of lymphedema does not help. It has just the opposite effect: It increases the amount of swelling that is present. It also weakens the muscles and other tissues.


Sonja M. Maul PT, CLT-LANA

National Board Certified Lymphedema Therapist


Lymphedema: Nutrition and Lymphedema

There is no special diet that will prevent or control lymphedema; however, good nutrition promotes good health and this helps the body manage with the stresses related to lymphedema.  The main recommendations are eat a low sodium diet and keep hydrated.

Eating a Balanced Diet

Eating a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables is recommended for maintaining good general health. It also aids the body in coping with the added stress caused by lymphedema.

High salt foods, which encourage the body to retain fluids, are not part of a recommended healthy diet.  High sodium foods cause the body to retain fluid in general, and will make the lymphedema swelling worse.

Staying Hydrated

The term hydrated describes the state of having adequate fluids in the body. Maintaining this state helps the body remove impurities from the blood and this is important to good health.

Drinking plenty of fluids, particularly water, is essential to maintaining this balance within the body. Cutting back on fluid intake in an effort to reduce the swelling of lymphedema doesn’t work! Instead of the desired effect, the protein-rich lymph of lymphedema attracts more fluid from the other parts of the body. This can cause increased swelling in the affected area.

Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day is recommended to maintain good health; however this need increases in hot weather, or in very dry conditions, when the body looses fluids more rapidly.

Being well hydrated, by drinking plenty of water, is particularly important after an MLD or pump treatment because it is necessary to flush out the impurities that were moved during treatment.

Caffeine, which is a mild diuretic, reduces the level of body fluids by encouraging the kidneys to excrete more urine. For this reason caffeine containing substances (coffee, tea, chocolate and many soft drinks) should be consumed only in moderation.

Alcohol also has a diuretic effect that stimulates the kidneys to excrete more water and thereby increasing dehydration.


Sonja M. Maul PT, CLT-LANA

National Board Certified Lymphedema Therapist

Quick fix for Neck Pain

Ok, here’s the latest quick self-fix i’ve discovered for sore and aching erector spinae muscles(not to rival self trigger point work with the Thera- cane…):  Take two tennis balls, tape them together but leave some of the crease between (duct tape works really well).
You now have a little wall massager.  Place it against a wall, move your back against the taped tennis balls so that the crease fits your spinous processes, and do wall squats, working and varying the pressure of the tennis balls to your desired intensity.  Feels really good if you can get some pressure inbetween the rhomboids, and if you’re good you can even work around the superior edges of the scap.
Then reposition lower and work into a lower squat (yep, watch your knees) and work some of the lower lumbar, multifidus muscle (this takes skill!).
Wha Lha! you have now discovered another effective self massage technique.  Don’t be suprised if your coworkers look at you funny as you piston up and down, making goofy, feel good faces. 

Paul Greear NCTMB
Nampa North

True Dedication…

Meridian Site Manager, Dave Anderson, sung “Desperado” after losing a bet that his patient would be able to walk into the clinic without using crutches. 

Here is his career debut…

Lymphedema: Healthy Skin

Maintaining healthy skin is essential for those with lymphedema because intact skin, with no scrapes or cuts, prevents bacteria from entering and causing infection.


The swelling of lymphedema stretches the skin and disrupts the skin’s basic protective mechanisms. Also, as lymphedema increases in severity the skin loses its elasticity, becomes thicker and scaly, and is increasingly at risk.


Protective Structures of the Skin
The secretions from oil and sweat glands in the skin flow through the pores and onto the surface of the skin to form a thin protective layer known as the acid mantle. The acid mantle is normally mildly acidic with a pH that ranges from about 4 to 5.5. (A pH of 7 is neutral. A pH higher than 7 is described as being alkaline. A pH lower than 7 is described as being acidic.)  The acid mantle inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi on the skin. With the loss of this protection, and the increasing fragility of the skin, those with lymphedema are at increased risk of infection due to bacteria invading through the skin.


Skin Care Steps

Examine the affected skin thoroughly each day. Look for changes in the tissues, any possible cracks, or signs of a developing infection.

Use only mild soap.

Wash gently, and thoroughly, with warm (not hot) water.

Dry gently by patting and taking particular care to dry within the skin folds. A hair dryer on a very low setting can be used to dry awkward areas or between folds. Never use the hair dryer on high heat!

Moisturize the skin thoroughly using a low pH moisturizing lotion. This helps to restore some of the normal protective acid mantel. Moisturizing also helps the skin retain the elasticity that helps to avoid cracks/breaks. I like Eucerin or Cetaphil, but there are many good products out there.

Protect against sunburn. Lymphedema affected skin is particularly sensitive to the sun and a compression garment does not protect it from the UV rays.

Do not perform exfoliation. It can damage lymphedema affected skin.


Sonja M. Maul PT, CLT-LANA

National Board Certified Lymphedema Therapist