Here’s my story of how I dramatically reduced my lower leg lymphedema with natural methods.
But first, a little background.
My previous experience with medical advice
In my late 20s, I started having severe gallbladder attacks out of nowhere. When I went to see doctors, they were surprised since I didn’t have any of the classic risk factors for gallstones or gallbladder disease. No one could tell me why I had this problem, so I could address the underlying cause. Instead they all told me there was nothing I could do and I had no choice but to just “cut it out”. Everything I read echoed that same message. Surely something caused my gallbladder to have problems…couldn’t there be a way to solve the underlying problem?
Wanting to avoid surgery, I tried everything I could think of to resolve this situation. This was before the internet, so it wasn’t easy. Turns out, after extensive trial and error, a combination of acupuncture, supplements and a low-fat vegan diet did the trick. I ended up keeping my gallbladder and still have it today, almost 30 years later. I was able to successfully defy all the MDs who told me “I had no choice” and there was “nothing I could do”. Now, decades later, people routinely control this condition with a low fat diet and chinese medicine, but it wasn’t widely known then.
So I take the generally accepted Western medical wisdom that there’s “nothing you can do” with a grain of salt. Western medicine is amazing and can do wonderful things, and we need it at times, but there’s always new things to be discovered. Especially with natural remedies, there’s no funding for research. So answers may be out there and just not discovered…yet.
My path with lymphedema
I had a similar experience with lymphedema. I’d had it for about 15 years without knowing what it was, I just knew I had one leg that swelled and became bigger than the other. But for the most part it stayed mild and I just lived with it, as it didn’t seem to progress. It was irritating to feel liquid and swelling, but the doctors I did see didn’t know what it was and said not to worry.
But in my 40s, after a long distance economy flight, it got far worse. I sought help again for the increasing swelling. It was then that I found out the name for this condition and quickly received all the scary news (“incurable”, “progressive)”. After reading everything I could on the subject, I freaked out. There was nothing out there hopeful that I could find…just a lifetime of compression socks, a lot of “don’ts” and those very scary pictures.
Suddenly I also had this long daily “to do” list to stop it from advancing: elevate, put on compression stockings, exercise, elevate after, dry brushing, walk for an hour, swim if I can, self-massage, elevate again at night. This was like another full time job! I went for the three day lymphatic massage series, which reduced it back to normal, but all it took was 2 hours in the car a few days later and it was back to where it started. This was getting even more depressing. Even yoga, which is one of my favorite stress managers, was no longer possible for more than a few minutes at a time as it triggered swelling.
I couldn’t accept that was going to be my fate, so I dedicated myself full time to research everything I could find. I was in the process of starting a new business so I was able to put that on hold and do this intensively for about six weeks. I literally got up in the morning and started researching and continued all day, for several weeks. I went to the library on many occasions. I tracked down medical journal articles. As the lymphedema continued to advance, I became more determined. It was just too depressing to consider that it wouldn’t work.
I tried everything. I knew that if I didn’t and the lymphedema worsened, I could never forgive myself for not making the effort. (Yes I realize this is not necessarily healthy either, but this is how I am. ) And in fact as it appeared to be a tough opponent, I downgraded my goal: now, I just wanted to get it back to where it was before (so noticeably decrease it). That way, I reasoned, it would be so mild that I wouldn’t notice (like it was at the beginning), and I could just be extra vigilant about activity and health.
So, on went the experiment, with more money and time invested: I went to two different acupuncturists for consultations and treatments, since acupuncture was one of the things that had helped me in the past. No results. I researched and tried numerous supplements and herbal remedies that were supposed to help cleanse or strengthen the lymphatic system. No results. I tried various diet tweaks including elimination diets, added green smoothies, bought a juicer, you name it. I tried every supplement that I could find with any link to lymphedema or venous health, since there are several in use in Europe. No results. Even more depressing.
More time went on. I tried the hula hoop. Rebounder. Laser treatments. A funky machine that is supposed to increase leg circulation. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. While some of these may very well have been helping, nothing was noticeable.
Upgrading my diet
But I kept improving my diet. I made sure to eat as many green veggies as I could, in any form. I made it a must to eat green veggies at every meal, even if it was just a small amount (some broccoli sprouts or some baby spinach leaves, for example). Especially broccoli, since there is some evidence it can speed repair and prevent damage to DNA. In warmer weather, I would drink green smoothies at breakfast. In cooler weather, I would make a green soup that I would eat every morning.
I read that hot liquids and beets help detoxify the lymphatic system. I would drink a shot of beet juice every morning and drink hot tea or water all day.
Also in my reading I learned how the lymphatic system can be polluted with things that are absorbed through our skin. Since my lymphatic system was already compromised, I decided I would remove any and all toxins. I ordered natural soaps, lotions etc. and stopped using things on my skin that had preservatives. Usually I just used shea or olive oil soap and then used jojoba oil for moisturizer. My skin looked great, that was a nice surprise.
While the diet stuff and the detox was not helping the lymphedema, I was feeling and looking great. Maybe it paved the way for my results? I can’t be sure, but these are all great habits to support your body in getting healthier.
Traditional chinese medicine to the rescue
Eventually I stumbled on to some information far in the back pages of google about chinese medicine and lymphedema. I found a gentleman who had treated this before. As can often happen with chinese medicine, the communication was not that good. It was very expensive, and I was very skeptical, but I knew I could not forgive myself if I did not try everything.
So I started taking the expensive herbs every day in the morning, and went for (inexpensive) tui na massage every week or two.
The tui na made sense, as it is very deep massage designed to break up scar tissue. The theory is that if your lymphatic system is already compromised, you need to get what you have left of it working at 100%. Apparently scar tissue in the body can create blockages. And this very aggressive massage clears them out.
Nothing really happened for the first few months. I continued to be skeptical but hopeful, as I felt my options were running out.
At month four, however…something amazing happened. The swelling dropped noticeably. Then it continued to drop for several weeks. At that point I didn’t have to wear compression socks any longer, it made no difference. Nothing swelled after exercising so I didn’t have to elevate immediately. Miraculously, every morning I awoke to see two normal looking legs! It was amazing. While I would get some swelling during the day, it seemed different (on the sides of my calves only, instead of the back) and it resolved itself each night when I slept. No compression socks, no self-massage, no elevation. I could still feel some swelling, especially after sitting at a desk too long, but I felt that I had my previous life back.
I continued to go for this treatment which by now had gotten quite expensive. The results had leveled out. I ended up going for a year and a half, but maybe six months treatment was all that I needed? Either way, it was diminishing returns at this point. I also was curious how long the results would stick.
The good news: I stayed without problems for about a year and a half after that (so I had relief for about 2 1/2 years). Just recently, my legs started swelling a bit again. So I’m going to start the chinese herbs and have already found a nearby tui na provider. I’m hoping that if I do this longer this time, and from this much better starting point, I can achieve a longer result. Regardless, I’d rather do these herbs any day for a few months every few years to buy relief. (It’s probably a wash anyway when you consider the cost of the compression and the MLD therapy). But I’m hoping that a longer course might yield more lasting results.
But this has been life-changing for me. It is truly priceless to have freedom from this dire condition.
I know I’m not alone in fighting lymphedema and many of you have probably experimented on your own as well. That’s why I started this website. My goal is to have a central place we can share information and most importantly keep us all hopeful.
I also understand I am dealing with mild lymphedema (even though I’ve had it quite a long time). You may be dealing with something far more advanced. But what if you can get a big reduction? I’m hoping it is all relative and everyone can get some results.
I look forward to hearing about more people’s experience so we can share and learn from each other. I’m hoping to continue building out this website and adding a directory of chinese medicine practitioners who have experience treating this condition, so this treatment will be easier to find.
For more details on what I tried that I believe contributed to this result, please see my resources page.