How to optimse diet for breast cancer related lymphoedema

By Deborah Hurt, Lymphatic Therapist


How to optimise diet in breast cancer-related lymphoedema


A range of medically related internet sites provide patients with numerous options for the management of lymphoedema, much of which is not peer reviewed or evidence based.

The result is patients making wrong choices.


No evidence / No harm

  • Low salt diet
  • Oil pulling (tbsp oil in mouth for 20 minutes daily)


No Evidence / Potential harm

  • Low carbohydrate
  • Low protein
  • Alkaline diet (restrictive)
  • Deionised water


Safe and effective choices are:

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases the risk of lymphoedema and also increases the risk of more advanced breast cancer as tumours are harder to detect in bigger breasts.
  • Avoid diuretics (coffee, tea, coke, alcohol)
  • Exercise as this improves lymphoedema (interface between skin and muscle), enhances vitality, assists weight loss and improves mental wellbeing.
  • Reduce fat intake as long chain fatty acids are absorbed into the lymphatics. These are found in most foods containing fat. Medium and short chain fats are absorbed into the blood. Eat lean meat, avoid deli meats, choose low fat dairy products.
  • Sugar – choose foods with a low glycaemic index as they prolong the feeling of satiation.
  • Protein – adequate intake is essential for wound healing. Slow wound healing after surgery or radiation could worsen lymphoedema. Adequate intake is 1.0g of protein per 1kg of weight per day (e.g. 70g for 70kg person). Protein from animal sources is the most complete and some animal protein in the diet is highly desired.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements are often used. There is no evidence of their benefits. If deficiencies are detected prior to surgery supplements could be offered to improve wound healing

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