Hemorrhoids are more common than you think!
Hemorrhoids are not really glamorous or something anyone wants to really discuss, but they are quite common.
Hemorrhoids appear as swollen and inflamed blood vessels around the colon that can become quite uncomfortable and itchy when sitting, standing, or using the bathroom. Although for most they are just an inconvenience, if they get infected surgery may be required.
Hemorrhoids are more likely to happen in people who have infrequent bowel movements or struggle with constipation. Straining can cause hemorrhoids, as can delaying using the bathroom if necessary. They are also common during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. There is an increased risk of hemorrhoids in people who are overweight, have sedentary jobs, or who lift heavy loads.
Controlling hemorrhoids with diet is usually about preventing them from happening at all. There are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting hemorrhoids and help them heal faster if you do have them.
Eat your fibre.
Fibre is a plant-based substance that makes up the physical structure of plants, but is not able to be fully digested by humans. There are two primary types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Fibre has variety of health benefits including helping with weight management and may even reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. But, for people with hemorrhoids, the most important role of fibre is that it helps regulate digestion.
There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, and each plays a different role in helping with hemorrhoids.
Insoluble fibre is found in foods like bran and the edible skin of fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fibre provides bulk to the stool, absorbing water as it moves through the intestine, and theoretically speeding up transit time through the digestive tract. But, a word of warning although insoluble fibre does increase the bulk of stool how people react to that bulk may vary.
A 2005 review of several studies on chronic constipation found that for some people, insoluble fibre may make the stool TOO bulky and difficult to pass, similar to a traffic jam. One way to solve this is to drink more water to make sure the fibre is able to pass through.
Soluble fibre is found in oats, beans, and brown rice. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and forms a gel once it enters the digestive tract. This gel can make the stool a bit softer and easy to pass, so you need it to prevent constipation.
Most plant foods have a little of both types of fibre. You should aim for 25-35 grams of fibre per day from food. If you need a supplement to help increase fibre, consider a psyllium husk supplement, which can add a few grams to your day.
Drink Plenty of Water
Water is necessary for fibre to be able to move smoothly through the digestive tract. Without adequate water, fibre can cause constipation making hemorrhoids worse. Aim for at least 8 large glasses a day, more if you are very active. Plain water is always best because it has no calories and meets your hydration needs.
Also, try to limit or avoid dehydrating liquids such as coffee and alcohol you have an active flare, which can make dehydration and inflammation worse.
Exercise helps the force of gravity work its magic on the digestive system, especially exercises where you have to move your whole body such as walking, jogging or swimming. Also, regular movement throughout the day reduces pressure on the colon. Aim to get up from your desk every hour and walk around to help reduce the risk of hemorrhoids.
Weight lifting can put pressure on the colon and lead to hemorrhoids, so avoid it if you have a problem with chronic hemorrhoids. Even if you aren’t formally lifting weights, just carrying a heavy load can strain the colon, so lift carefully.
A few more dietary details.
Getting adequate amounts of healthy fats in your diet, especially omega-3s found in fish, which are anti-inflammatory and can help stool move more smoothly through the digestive tract. Spicy foods can be irritating if you have an inflamed hemorrhoid, so limit those when they are flaring.
Lastly, high salt foods can cause your body to retain more water, putting pressure on the delicate blood vessels of the colon and rectum.
Prevention is always key with hemorrhoids, as is the case with many gut and bowel complaints. Making a few small changes to your diet by adding a bit more fibre and drinking more water can help prevent them from occurring in the first place, which is what all of us really want.