If you have a distended and painful varicose vein on your leg, you can expect sympathy and offers of support from your friends. If the exact same problem is in your bottom, everyone thinks it’s funny. Except you. Haemorrhoids, also known as piles, are veins and other tissue inside the anus that have become distended and weakened.
- Bright red blood on the toilet tissue, stool or within the toilet bowl.
- Itching of the anus.
- Pain in and around the anus.
- Aching and throbbing in and around the anus.
- Pain during bowel movements.
- Tender lumps around the anus.
- Soiling or ‘skid marks’ on underpants.
What causes it?
- Long-term constipation is the cause of many a haemorrhoid. Years of straining to pass hard stools will distend the tissue in question. Haemorrhoids are virtually unknown and constipation is non-existent in countries where people eat a low-meat, high-fibre diet.
- Being overweight or pregnant can cause piles as the flow of blood from veins from the lower body is restricted.
- Babies can cause rectal strife if their birth takes hours of straining.
- Lifting loads that are too heavy or using an incorrect lifting technique can cause haemorrhoids. ‘Roids of both kinds are not unknown to body builders.
- Whether they are present in the anus as haemorrhoids, or on the legs as varicose veins, a tendency towards weak veins is hereditary.
- Long periods of time standing or sitting (especially on hard chairs) will increase the risk of haemorrhoids. If you must sit for work, ensure your chair is well padded. For both sitting and standing, take short breaks regularly.
- When you were young, did your grandmother warn you not to sit on cold concrete? And did you anyway? Oh, the reckless things we do as children.
- Sitting on the loo reading the newspaper is also not recommended.
What to do
- Keeping the stool soft and easy to pass is the best way to prevent haemorrhoids. Increase wholegrains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, dried fruits and legumes.
- Also increase the foods containing the group of bioflavonoids that help strengthen up the blood vessels such as red grapes (especially the skin and pips), green tea and all berries.
- Reduce red meat, sugar and refined-flour products.
- Buckwheat contains the bioflavonoid rutin, which strengthens veins.
- Drink plenty fluids, at least 2 litres a day.
- Eat a few prunes or prune juice daily.
- Herbs that can strengthen the connective tissue of veins include horse chestnut, gotu kola (a great repairer of tissue), grape seed, ginkgo biloba and butcher’s broom. Take these in tincture or tablet form. Particularly if you also have varicose veins, these herbs will serve you well in the future.
- The following nutrients can all improve the health and strength of the walls of veins: quercetin, vitamin C, rutin, resveratrol, pine bark and grape-seed extract. Find a supplement that contains a group of these.
- Try the topical application of herbs such as witch hazel, calendula, gotu kola and horse chestnut. Either make a strong tea, dilute into a tincture or find them in a cream. Apply after each shower and bowel movement.
- The gentle fibre slippery elm comes into its own in the treatment of piles. It helps to heal the inflamed tissue around the anus. Take 3 tablets or 1 teaspoonful of the powder twice a day. If you are pile prone, slippery elm should also become part of your life.
- Fibre supplements including psyllium husks, chia seeds and linseeds will help to bulk and soften the stool. Take a heaped dessertspoon each day in water, in your breakfast cereal or in a smoothie. Take with a large glass of water.
- Cooling aloe-vera gel can give soothing and healing relief. If you grow an aloe plant, peel off the outer skin and cut the pulp into small oblong suppositories. Wrap them in plastic wrap and pop them in the freezer. Unwrap and insert before bed each night for a week. Tea-tree suppositories are available at health-food stores and work in a similar way.
- An old-fashioned but still very effective treatment is an application of castor oil and honey around and just inside the anus. Heat a teaspoon of each, mix well, and apply while still warm. Apply at night, wearing a protective pad to bed to prevent marking the bed sheets.
- One of the tissue salts, calcium fluoride (calc. fluor.), can also strengthen vein walls and is a good long-term remedy.
- A vitamin C supplement with bioflavonoids will also help build up the strength of the veins.
- Replace that cheap, rough toilet paper for soft toilet tissue, and even better, moisten slightly with water. Pre-moistened toilet paper is also available.
- If your job requires long periods of sitting or standing, at the end of each day lie with your legs up the wall, bottom raised on a cushion. This will make the blood return to the upper body.
- Exercise is important to keep the blood moving, however, avoid pushing heavy weights at the gym.
- Straining on the toilet doesn’t help the situation. The western style of toilet is not designed the way nature intended us to defecate – squatting has been the favoured position for millennia. It activates the abdominal muscles and causes the rectum and anus to widen out, making a more efficient funnel shape. Try putting a few old phonebooks or blocks on either side of the loo so that your knees are slightly raised. Or look for the commercially marketed plastic shapes, which fit around the toilet.
- Kegel exercises (see page 00) can help bring awareness to and strengthen the muscles in the pelvic area. Practise these very simple movements daily to treat existing haemorrhoids and prevent the formation of future ones.
- If you see blood on your toilet paper, stool or in the toilet bowl, chances are high that it is from a haemorrhoid. However, there is a possibility that the blood can be due to another cause. Take your nether regions to the doctor, who has seen it all before, to confirm whether it is a simple haemorrhoid or if further investigation is required.
At a glance
- Keeping the stool soft and easy to pass is the very best way to prevent haemorrhoids.
- Increase wholegrains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, dried fruits and legumes and reduce red meat, sugar and refined flour products.
- Red grapes (especially the skin and pips), green tea, and all berries contain nutrients that strengthen vein walls.
- Drink plenty of fluids, at least 2 litres a day.
- Herbs that help strengthen the walls of the veins also help treat and prevent haemorrhoids such as horse chestnut, gotu kola, grape seed, ginkgo biloba and butcher’s broom.
- Applying healing and calming herbs as a cream or suppository to the site such as aloe vera, gotu cola, calendula and/or tea tree will all help to soothe and heal.
- Slippery elm is excellent for relieving the pain of haemorrhoids.
- If you are prone to constipation, take a single daily supplement or a combination of psyllium husks, chia seeds and linseeds.
- Use soft toilet tissue to avoid irritating the area.
- Exercise regularly to improve circulation.
- If you need to lift heavy objects, learn how to lift properly, as straining is not only an excellent way to hurt your back, but can also create a fine set of haemorrhoids.
- If you see blood on toilet paper, in a stool or in the toilet bowl, take your nether regions to the doctor.