Can weight gain affect lymphoedema?
One or two things can happen when gaining weight: an increase in muscle mass or an increase in the percentage of body fat. This can occur with a bigger food intake without expanding the level of activity. Calories and proteins are both necessary to build muscle mass but we don't want them to increase the percentage of body fat, which is exactly what they do in this instance.
Fat comes from the food that we eat and digest. During that process, it is transported via the lymphatic system to the blood circulatory system and is distributed throughout the body. Therefore, it makes sense that fat can accumulate in the tissue when the lymphatic system is compromised. People carrying more weight are more at risk of developing lymphoedema or at risk of lymphoedema worsening. You know that you have passed stage 1 of lymphoedema when the swelling does not decrease overnight anymore. It is important to remember that more fatty deposits in the later-stage of lymphoedema can decrease the chances for a good outcome from a conservative treatment such as manual lymphatic massage or compression garment.
Several studies concur with that statement. For example, as early as 1957, it was noted that the greater the weight of the patient, the more likely the individual was to develop lymphoedema following breast cancer treatment. McLaughlin et al., cited in this study, found that patients who developed lymphoedema had a higher baseline and current body mass index (BMI) compared with those who did not (Greene & Mehrara, 2014).
Now, the question is: what is a normal BMI for you? - A normal Body Max Index would sit at 25 for general population. It is a comfortable and healthy standard. To calculate your BMI, you simply divide your body weight by your heights². For example, if you weight is 72kgs and you are 1.70m of heights, you multiply 1.7x1.7, which gives you 2.89. You then divide your body weight 72 by 2.89, which equals to 24.91. That is pretty close to 25.
Based on clinical studies, the changes in the lymphatic system resulting from weight gain are a least partially reversible with weight loss. Remember that a diet, which incorporates all the food groups is healthier than a restrictive diet. A portion control diet incorporating all food groups may be more effective, as well as the introduction of lifestyle changes that you will maintain for the rest of your life, such as walking, Tai-Chi, aqua aerobics...
Every new day is a new chance to make changes in your life. Should you have any concerns, I can help with your treatment and with options to best deal with lymphoedema, to live a healthier and happy life. Let’s start the process because your journey is just as important as the outcome.
Gousopoulos, E., Karaman, S., Proulx, S., Leu, K., Buschle, D., & Detmar, M. (2017, 2017). High-Fat Diet in the Absence of Obesity Does Not Aggravate Surgically Induced Lymphoedema in Mic. European Surgical Research , 180-192. doi:https://doi.org/10.1159/000461579
Greene, A., & Mehrara, B. (2014, July). Lymphedema and Obesity: Is There a Link? Plastic Reconstruction Surgery, 154e–160e. doi:10.1097/PRS.0000000000000268
Hazwany, , S. A., Ying Lim, H., Bien-Keem, T., & Angeli, V. (2020, March 27). The Unresolved Pathophysiology of Lymphedema. Front. Physil. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2020.00137
Qld Health. (2019, May). Retrieved October 4, 2021, from Cancer related lymphoedema and diet: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0028/932095/oncol-lymph.pdf