Thanks to strong social taboos, many of us pay little attention to our anal attributes despite the fact that they're vital to life. But the numbness and tension associated with rectal reticence could be one reason we're prone to hemorrhoids.
These tiny sores are varicose veins that have developed inside the anus or at its opening. When such a sore becomes external, it's often clotted, swollen, inflamed and very painful.
If you suspect you have one, see a doc. Sometimes what seems like a hemorrhoid is really an anal fissure or, in rare cases, a sign of a serious disease like cancer.
As with all health challenges, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Straining to take a shit puts pressure on the anal veins and risks damaging them. You've heard it before: avoid constipation. Eat lots of veggies and fruits (at least half your food intake), whole grains and healthy fats from flaxseed, nuts and coldwater fish. A daily walk will help move your bowels. Keeping your veins strong means including buckwheat, citrus fruits, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, grape juice and red wine in your diet.
You can also reduce pressure on your anus by squatting on your toilet (if you've got the balance) or putting your feet on a small stool while defecating. Focus on what you're doing - for some people, just quitting reading while they're in the can clears up hemorrhoids. If you've already got piles, eating well will keep them in check and prevent new ones from developing. Practising greater awareness and acceptance of your anus brings about relaxation and could be deeply healing. Beyond that, your treatment options in the holistic and allopathic spheres are vast.
what the experts say
"A major cause of hemorrhoids (in addition to diet) is chronic tension in the anal sphincter muscles, particularly the internal sphincter. It's a good health habit for everyone, whether they have hemorrhoids or not, to insert their finger into their anus every time they shower. Take a few deep breaths, and you'll feel the sphincters relaxing. Do this regularly and you can train the sphincters to stay relaxed more of the time. Don't insert if it hurts. In that case, gently place your finger on the anus or hemorrhoid to draw your attention and help you relax. I've worked with people with chronic hemorrhoids who have been able to heal them completely."
JACK MORIN, PhD, psychotherapist, author, Anal Pleasure And Health, San Francisco
"If people aren't going to the bathroom regularly enough, for instance in jobs where they're not able to go if they need to, that can cause a lot of pressure in the rectum. Hemorrhoids are also caused by a loss of tone in the blood vessel walls. Vitamin C is great for strengthening blood vessel walls.' DU LA, naturopath, Toronto
"Stick to a high-fibre diet so you don't become constipated; eat a quarter-cup of wheat bran every day in your morning cereal. People wait until they're bleeding or have a lot of pain before they see a physician. They find it a difficult area to talk about. You can reduce hemorrhoids so they're smaller and not as painful with creams or ointments and soaking after a bowel movement; if there's any remaining stool in the area, it's very irritating. If hemorrhoids persist, they may need to be surgically removed."
KATHRYN LOCKINGTON, MD, family physician, Kingston
"In homeopathy there are literally hundreds of remedies for hemorrhoids. That means there are hundreds of reasons one could have them. They may be connected to a constitutional state, a lifestyle issue or events like pregnancy or menopause. A constitutional prescription is one that takes into account the sum total of the person's pathology and sensitivities. If you find the right remedy, the hemorrhoid can retreat within an hour or two. I sometimes advise a product by Boiron, a suppository called Aesculus, to provide relief during constitutional treatment."
DANNY MURPHY, homeopath, Toronto
"Your liver produces bile, your own natural laxative. Dandelion root tincture, coffee or infusion supports the liver, stimulates bile flow and is mildly laxative. (To make an infusion) let a good handful steep in a litre of water for at least two hours. Drink a litre a day. Witch hazel is one of the best herbs to use topically. You can get it at the pharmacy. Apply it directly on a cotton cloth or ball to the area where the hemorrhoids are. It's cooling and helps tighten the tissue. You can make a strong infusion of dried yarrow or calendula before you go to work. Put a good heaping handful of the dried herbs in a litre of boiled water. Let them sit all day, then come home from work and take a sitz bath. Internally, circulatory tonics like horse chestnut seed (available in tablets) come to mind."
DANETTE STEELE, RH, clinical herbalist, Toronto and Halifax
"Hemorrhoids are at the end of the digestive system; that's part of the spleen function. Good chi should go up. In people with a deficiency of good chi, hemorrhoids happen. Keep a variety and balance of nutrition. Some people eat too much sweet food, some too much greasy food, some too many refined foods, some have narrow food choices. Don't smoke, don't drink too much. Get enough exercise. If the person is basically quite healthy, no medication is needed to clear them - it would just be an adjustment of food. If somebody has a more severe disorder of the digestive tract, then they would need acupuncture or herbs."
JENNY SHI, practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, Toronto