Why Do We Retain Water: What The Research Shows


Drinking water is key to maintaining fluid balance. During times of dehydration, our body adapts by releasing an antidiuretic hormone. 

 This makes your body intentionally retain whatever fluid you do have to maintain homeostasis or have a state of proper fluid balance. Water enters and leaves the body at a regular rate. 

A 2013 study published by the  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that even being in a mildly dehydrated state can impact your fluid balance enough to cause retention.

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Skipping on drinking water can cause water retention and temporary weight gain.


A 2018 study by the World Journal of Nephrology analysed fluid balance and found alcohol was shown to contribute to loss of fluids and cause feelings of bloating and swelling. 

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A major contributor to this is that alcohol has a dehydrating effect on the body, which causes you to hold onto whatever fluid you can get your hands on. When the body is dehydrated, skin and vital organs try to hold onto as much water as possible, leading to puffiness in the face and elsewhere.

A 2013 systematic review conducted by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) on alcohol and obesity found that:

Where there is a positive association between alcohol and body weight, it is more likely to be found in men than in women.

When considering beer, where there is a positive association, it is more likely for abdominal obesity (abdominal fat around the stomach) than for general obesity for men and women.


In a 2017 study by the Journal of Clinical Investigation study, groups of healthy men ate diets controlled for three salt intake levels. As the men increased their salt intake, they drank more water and held onto more fluid throughout their bodies.

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Frequently eating out or buying processed foods could also lead to water retention since these meals consist of high salt, making them tasty.

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Eating a lot of salt causes your body to conserve water.

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A 2017 study found that high salt intakes increase thirst. Your body uses the extra fluid consumed to dilute the excess sodium that its unable to excrete quickly enough. 

However, your urine volume does not change, meaning this extra fluid stays in your body. Thus, a sudden increase in sodium intake may cause you to gain some weight in the form of fluid.

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For women, hormones are one of the common reasons behind water retention. Hormonal changes throughout menstrual cycles to those during pregnancy can increase the risk of the body holding on to water. 

In addition, the hormone fluctuations that occur during menopause are often associated with weight gain and a slowing down of the digestive system, which all contribute to abdominal bloating.

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A 2013 study published in Sports Medicine investigated athletes at different points in the menstrual cycle and while on hormonal contraceptives.

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The results showed that an increase in progesterone and estradiol levels ring the luteal phase is linked to fluid retention. Women may naturally be more likely to retain water during the phase of their cycle when their ovaries release an egg, right before the onset of their period. 


Carbohydrates, or carbs, also cause the body to store extra water. When we eat carbs, the energy we do not use right away is stored as glycogen molecules. Each gram (g) of glycogen comes with 3 g of water.

However, avoiding or cutting down too much on carbs isnt recommended since its our bodys primary energy source.

According to the Institute of Medicines Food and Nutrition Board, adults need at least 130 g of carbohydrates to function each day. And according to the Mayo Clinic, 45-65 % of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates, which equals about 225-325 grams of carbs if you eat 2,000 calories a day.

Here are 10 ways to reduce bloating

  1. Drink enough water:
  • Aim to drink at least 8 glasses (64 ounces or 1.9 litres) of water per day.
  • Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day to remind yourself to stay hydrated.
  • Flavour your water with lemon or cucumber slices to make it more palatable.
  1. Increase your fibre intake gradually:
  • Aim to consume 25-30 grams of fibre per day.
  • Gradually increase your fibre intake over several weeks to prevent bloating and discomfort.
  • Choose fibre-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
  1. Limit your intake of high-fat foods:
  • Aim to limit your intake of saturated and trans fats to less than 10% of your daily calorie intake.
  • Choose lean proteins such as chicken, fish, and plant-based sources like beans and legumes.
  • Opt for healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, and olive oil.
  1. Reduce your intake of salt and sodium-rich foods:
  • Aim to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (or 1,500 milligrams if you have high blood pressure).
  • Choose low-sodium options when available, such as canned goods labelled as “no salt added”.
  • Flavour your food with herbs, spices, and citrus juices instead of salt.
  1. Eat slowly and chew your food well:
  • Aim to take 20-30 minutes to eat a meal.
  • Chew your food until it’s broken down into small pieces before swallowing.
  • Put down your fork between bites to slow down your eating pace.
  1. Try probiotics:
  • Incorporate probiotic-rich foods such as yoghurt, kefir, and sauerkraut into your diet.
  • Consider taking a probiotic supplement, but be sure to choose a high-quality product with specific strains that have been shown to improve gut health.
  • Be consistent with your probiotic intake to see the best results.
  1. Avoid chewing gum:
  • Chewing gum can cause you to swallow air, which can contribute to bloating.
  • Choose sugar-free gum, as sugar alcohols found in regular gum can also cause bloating.
  • Instead of gum, try sucking on a mint or a piece of hard candy to freshen your breath.
  1. Exercise regularly:
  • Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, most days of the week.
  • Incorporate strength training exercises to build muscle and improve metabolism.
  • Take breaks throughout the day to move your body and stretch.
  1. Manage stress:
  • Practice stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.
  • Prioritise self-care activities such as taking a bath or reading a book.
  • Talk to a mental health professional if you’re struggling to manage stress on your own.
  1. Identify and avoid trigger foods:
  • Keep a food diary to track what you eat and when you experience bloating.
  • Identify specific foods that trigger your symptoms and avoid them in the future.
  • Consider working with a registered dietitian to develop a personalised nutrition plan that meets your individual needs.

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