Swelling in the legs during pregnancy is common and not necessarily a cause for concern. Changes in hormone levels, body postures and dietary habits all contribute to fluid retention or edema in the legs. Barley water is a relatively healthy beverage that is reputed to display mild diuretic properties, which involve increasing the rate of urination, leading to loss of excess fluid. Diuretics are helpful for reducing swelling in the legs, although barley water has not been well studied for such purposes. Consult your doctor about edema during your pregnancy and ask about natural ways of dealing with it.
Edema is the retention of too much water in your tissues. Due to the effects of gravity, the water often pools in the legs and can be especially noticeable in the feet and around the ankles. Edema is most common during pregnancy and in the elderly, although it can be experienced during any age, according to the book “Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine.” Edema is not an inflammatory reaction and usually doesn’t involve pain; instead, it typically represents an imbalance in hormones, too much salt consumption or not enough dietary protein. In less common instances, swelling in the legs represents a lymph or blood vessel problem, heart disease or kidney failure.
During pregnancy, changes in hormones and blood chemistry often lead to a temporary shift of fluid from lymph and blood vessels into the tissues due to the process of osmosis. In addition, the pressure of the growing uterus on the pelvic veins and vena cava can slow the return of blood from your legs, which leads to pooling. Edema and swelling in the legs can occur during any stage of pregnancy, but it’s most common after the fourth month. Factors that worsen the swelling include a high-salt diet, standing or sitting for long periods of time and not drinking enough water.
Barley water is a popular British beverage made by distilling barley and combining it with citrus fruit and sweeteners. More specifically, it’s made by boiling washed pearl barley, straining it, then pouring the hot water over the rind or pulp of citrus fruit, often lemons or oranges. Fruit juice and sugar is then added according to taste. Barley water is a good source of natural fiber, magnesium and lignans, according to the book “Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy.”
Insoluble fiber is beneficial for digestion and may help reduce cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and gallstone formation, according to the “Textbook of Nutritional Medicine.” Magnesium is needed for bone health and enzyme function. Lignans are strong antioxidants and reduce the negative effects of free-radicals. As a folk remedy, barley water is used to combat cystitis and as a mild diuretic, although no scientific studies have validated its effectiveness. Magnesium is known to promote bowel movements, but no compound in barley water is a widely recognized diuretic. However, barley water is mostly water, which can help dilute excess salt in your bloodstream and minimize edema. Talk with your doctor before supplementing with barley water and ask about other natural methods of reducing edema.
- Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine; A. Fauci, et al.
- Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine; Simon Mills and Kerry Bone
- Textbook of Nutritional Medicine; Melvyn Werbach and Jeffery Moss
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.