The unknown cause of Edema & Treatment for Swollen Feet

Edema in my feet and legs

I promised you a mini-series of articles about edema and edema treatments and it is full time that I made good on that promise. If you missed the first installment in the series be sure to read “Is Turmeric A cure for Edema?”. Hope that it is helpful. Before we jump into to another edema treatment we might want to look at some causes of edema. Do you know what’s causing your edema? I was pretty surprised to find out what causes mine.

What is Edema Anyway?
Edema is basically swelling in the body caused by water retention. You can have swelling all over the body, internally and externally and most people get it in the extremities. This is when we get swollen ankles, swollen feet and legs.

Edema in my feet and legs
Swollen ankles, soles of feet and lower leg from edema

This is a condition that can happen to anyone although when I was younger I only saw it happening to alcoholics and the elderly. Well, I’m no longer an alcoholic and my family won’t be shipping me off to a home anytime soon, but I still wound up with it. But why? What is the cause of edema?

What Causes Edema?
When I asked people around me and even doctors they all just told me not to eat any salt. SALT? REALLY? All this is happening to me because of salt? I think not. My husband tried to get me to stop eating salt on my food and then realized I don’t really eat salt. If I ate any less salt it would throw my body out of whack. I mean I know I get salt in processed foods but what about when I was on a health kick and not eating anything but the good stuff? Why was it happening then? Well I traced it down and found out the culprit behind my enormous elephant like swollen ankles and swollen feet (bottoms). It is simply GRAIN. I realized it when I decided to try out a low carb lifestyle. I was exercising and trying to eat right so it could have been either of these things that did it but…then I let exercise fall by the wayside. I was munching away on veggies in butter (with salt), grass-fed organic meat (seasoned with salt), kefir, water, berries and smoothies and the swelling was no where in sight. Then one fateful night I went to Red Lobster. I love love love that freaking bread and I couldn’t resist eating it. I didn’t even try to resist it. I probably woofed down 2-3 biscuits and various other carbs that may have come with my meal.

The next day my legs were tight, my feet felt like I was balancing a bowl of jello on top of them and the soles of my feet were so full of water that it hurt to walk on them. I knew that it wasn’t the seafood that was an issue for me and I knew that I cheated and ate the grains (bad cavegirl) the day before. It happened just that fast. I put 2 & 2 together and it made 4. It was the bread!

Severe pitting edema of the lower extremities.
Severe pitting edema of the lower extremities.
After toying around with the theory for a little bit I took my suspicions to google and found that I’m not the only person who feels and looks bigger, fuller (wetter?) or more full of water after eating a sandwich, cake, cookies, cereal, pasta etc. It is actually pretty common. It appears that over the last 50 or so years the U.S. has been genetically modifying many grains by adding extra gluten in unnatural amounts. Gluten is a substance in grains like wheat, rye etc that gives bread it soft texture. People who take issue with gluten are said to either have celiac disease or to be gluten intolerant. (Also there are many people who DO NOT believe that humans are meant to eat grains at all in the first place. They practice the Caveman diet or Paleo diet). Of course I don’t know which I am because the doctor at the clinic blew it off when I told her. She mentioned cutting salt and not standing at work (I was sitting for 8 hours at the time). When I told her that grain caused my issues she just said “Well don’t eat it”. Thanks doc for the sound, well researched advice.
A couple of my theories: (What else can I give you? Its not like I can pay for a study.)
1. Modifying all the wheat supply without knowing the effects of the Frankenwheat on humans was a no-no.
2. People are also ingesting heavy doses of pesticides in commercially grown grains that have small amounts of studies about them but none with good results.
3. The USDA decided to take us away from our hunter/gatherer breakfasts and sell us on grains being healthy to eat, just to line their own pockets. They then made a food pyramid that told us we should be eating more grain than ANYTHING ELSE (didn’t it say 11+ servings of grain per day?).

My Recommended Edema Treatment
(This is what I recommend you do- as a nobody without a medical degree that did nothing other than perform an experiment on myself)- If you have issues with internal or external edema cut out all grain: wheat, barley, rice, corn, bread, cereal, quinoa, oatmeal, pasta etc. Try it out long enough to see if that is an issue for you. If everything is still the same then I guess this is not the issue that you have OR After you establish that it is, then you can slowly try out some of the less bad grains (single ingredient) to see if you can tolerate them. Some people can get away with oats, rice, quinoa etc. I got major swelling from eating quinoa that doesn’t have gluten so there is something else about grain that causes issues as well. I can’t pinpoint it but I don’t really need to right now because I’ve already shared the info that I wanted to share with you. I hope this is helpful to someone because it has helped me so much.
I am not a doctor and this information have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA. This information is anecdotal and not intended to take the place of medical care from an AMA certified doctor. Please seek the help of a physician in the event of a medical problem or emergency.

13 thoughts on “The unknown cause of Edema & Treatment for Swollen Feet

  1. I have edema. I knew I had it in the feet and fingers but didn’t consider the rest of my body. My mom has often told me that I look swollen like I’m retaining a lot of fluid. I am to continue a grain free diet and I’ll try the turmeric too. I ate a strict low carb diet last week and definitely noticed that my ankles were not as swollen and my wedding band fit again so I will continue learning to give up the grains and hopefully it will help the edema go away. – Thank you.

    1. Yeah some carbs are the devil. Here’s something that is different though. After I got treated for my ulcer, grains didn’t cause that water buildup on top of my feet anymore. I guess it may have been related. Not for sure though. Hope you’re doing better with the turmeric.

  2. I have exactly the same problem! Grain ===> swollen feet.

    But not necessarily gluten! I’ve proven it to myself over & over… if I eat gluten-free bread, the same darn thing happens. Rice and corn are OK, but oats are not. Unsure about quinoa. Possibly other stuff.

    It stinks, but so far my only solution is to avoid anything made with something that I’d loosely call a grass.

    I’ve dropped two shoe sizes since dropping grain, and my arthritic shoulder is completely – I mean, COMPLETELY – free of pain for the first stretch of time in 15 years. There’s more going on here than just some extra water in the ankles.

    1. I haven’t had quinoa since my bad reaction but I might give it a try since my edema on my feet seems to have slowed down dramatically. I am so happy to hear that you got good results from cutting the grain. That inflammation is no joke and leads to all kinds of painful disease. Good luck Tom!

    2. Hi Tom & Aisa,

      I am hoping either of you can help me. I know this is a fairly old post, but I wanted to reach out and see if you could give me any advice.

      I am pretty healthy, but have been experiencing feet, ankle and lower leg edema since February of this year. I eat gluten-free and have been watching for any hidden msg, free-glutamates, etc in foods, but I can’t seem to figure out what is causing the edema.

      I am a thin, long distance runner and I eat really well. (I don’t eat out in restaurants or buy any processed food because I have some serious food allergies to onion & garlic so I’ve learned to prepare my own food). My edema improves with exercise, but gets worse on my days off from exercise. I prop them up on pillows at night when I sleep, and it seems to help a little.

      I do eat a lot of oats, but I am going to try cutting them out. I am also going to give up my gluten-free bread and see if that helps. Have you noticed anything else that may be causing edema for you that you have eliminated? I also eat a lot of nonfat and 2% milk, eggs and nonfat plain yogurt. I enjoy coffee too. Are you able to eat these foods?

      I really hope either of you will try to help me with specific information that you have learned about what causes edema for you. You are the only ones that I can find similar to me that has managed to figure this thing out. The weird thing is my diet hasn’t really changed this year, but maybe something has changed with me and I can no longer tolerate the same foods.

      Best regards,


  3. Hi,

    I am GF, since 2009. I have edema and I never thought the GF grains would be causing it, They did every test on me on 2012. I’ve had another flare up in June 2014 to the present ( I ate at a new place twice and bamn!!)…and its in my knees, feet, wrists, fingers and hands, ankles too, so painful to even function each day. I’ve been drinking cucumber water, filtered water, decaf green tea and just started the turmeric that you advised, the exact brand and dosage. I’ve been taking it 7 days now and I can’t feel a big difference yet.

    Should I take 2 pills 2 times a day? Or just leave it at 2 pills a day. I’ve been scouring the internet to find the safe dose to take to see the edema decrease. Thank you!!!!!!!

    1. Well I couldn’t really say. Maybe just give it a try to see if it works better for you. If no difference occurs then go back or stop (if its not producing any results.) I’ve read on some sites that regular turmeric is better than the isolated properties of curcumin. My pitting edema went away and oddly enough I have non pitting edema right now. Its been sneaking up for 2-3 weeks. It is in my legs and ankles. They are tight. It isn’t painful for me (thank goodness) but I think something is wrong. Also I have been having issues with my scalp and skin on my feet. I’m pretty sure I have psoriasis. It is an inflammatory condition. I’m wondering if it is related. Just a thought. Hope it works out for you. Unfortunately I’ve been eating bread and pasta lately so I have to wait a little while to see if it changes. I’m also wondering if drinking may be related to it.

  4. There are over 20 foods that act like the wheat does, for those sensitive to
    gluten. Part of the protein in other foods are identical to part of the gluten protein
    in wheat. If you don’t know about this, and your body doesn’t like gluten, then
    you are bound to fail, even though you stop eating wheat gluten.

    Here’s the current known list of foods that act like wheat (gluten):

    This is not my website, I simply found it and incorporated it into my eating
    lifestyle. Hopefully it will help some of you that have the terrible gluten

    I suggest you stop eating every food on the list for 30 days and see what
    happens. Then you can reintroduce one food at a time into your diet
    and see if you tolerate it or not.

  5. Thanks for this. I experience the exact same thing. My ankles swell to ungodly sizes, my face looks like a balloon, my fingers look like snausages. My legs get so tight that I can push my fingers into them and left inch deep pits. When I stop eating grains it takes about two weeks for my body to shed the water entirely, but it is about a 25 pound drop. 25 pounds of fluid!!! So crazy and frustrating.

    I have found that there is an enzyme that helps me digest a small amount of grain if for instance I am at a restaurant and either suspect there is gluten or want to eat a small amount of bread. But the aid it gives me is only for very occasional use. The effect drops significantly if I do this every day.

    Either way, I am learning to accept my new eating routines, and the plus side is the longer I go wihout breads and pastas, the craving disappears and my craving for sugar in general diminishes. But looking down and nit seeing elephant ankles is the best reward of all for sure!

  6. I have edema, and have gone on a low carb diet for over two months, with no improvement. Recently, my husband and I went on a trip, and we ate at an all you can eat seafood buffet. The only things I ate were crab legs, salad and a small piece of prime rib. (I know I am not allergic to any of these, because I prepare them at home, with no reaction.) A few hours after eating, my feet and ankles were horribly swollen. I try to avoid MSG, and I know buffets use this, but from what I have read on the internet, people are not sure that MSG has anything to do with it. Does anyone have any other ideas? This really puts a damper on a nice little get away!

  7. This is interesting as I’ve experienced the same results from grain. Even rice causes this. I”m going to go completely off again as I did last summer and hope that the swelling disappears. All of you are encouraging me to stop grain again. There are so many wonderful paleo cookbooks out there, and no, I’m not selling any of them. I think that trying some of the grain free bread recipes might help me get through my cravings. I follow a couple of authors on twitter. “Against All Grain” is one of them. Also, Elana’s Pantry posts recipes on twitter, so I think she has a book out also. Thanks Eugene for the website link above. Going to check that out now. Maybe we can all support each other and stay in touch.

  8. Thank you for sharing! I definitely get this type of reaction from breads, pasta, rice and oats. And thanks for explaining that gluten is the part of the bread recipe that makes the bread so soft. No wonder I could never find the true soft-bread texture with gluten-free breads. There is a book I heard about years ago that I plan to get now that is called “Grain Damage” (written by a raw foodist). I did 80-90% raw food diet for nearly two years quite a while ago and lost almost all my excess weight and after the first few months really did not miss old favorites like chocolate, bread and pasta. I don’t know if I can ever get there again, but I have to honestly say that physically how I felt that was the best two years of my life (although it seemed to cause no end of sociological problems since people really want us to eat like THEY do)!

Leave a Reply