Actually a type of varicose vein, hemorrhoids develop when veins in the lower rectum or anus become inflamed and swollen from trauma or too much internal pressure. We most often hear about them in relation to constipation and pregnancy, but they also result from anal intercourse, high blood pressure, venous blockages, or simply as an unpleasant side effect of aging. In many cases, hemorrhoids go away after a few days—in the same way scrapes and bruises heal and disappear. But some unlucky folks suffer frequent bouts and enduring pain.
To prevent hemorrhoids, start by analyzing your diet and lifestyle, says Joey Medicine Horse, ND, of Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy in Boulder, Colorado. Stress and a diet high in caffeine, sugar, and meat can contribute to hemorrhoids by raising your blood pressure and irritating the lining of the anus. The solution? A diet high in fiber and fruit to help soften stools. Oddly enough, you may also want to consider a new toilet. Some experts associate the higher incidence of hemorrhoids in Western, developed nations with the widespread use of seated toilets as opposed to the more anatomically natural squat toilets primarily used in Eastern, developing countries.
To heal a hemorrhoid, forget Preparation H—a steroid that may cause rashes and rapid heart rate—and try these simple, natural remedies instead.
This soothing, astringent herb helps reduce swelling and tightens up the hemorrhoid so it can heal, explains Medicine Horse. Mix one part witch hazel to one part water and apply it to the affected area up to six times a day.
Taken orally, this herb tones and strengthens vein walls, making it great for hemorrhoids as well as varicose veins in the legs. “Topically, this herb works by shrinking the hemorrhoid,” explains John Neustadt, ND, medical director of Montana Integrative Medicine in Bozeman, Montana. You can have a cream made at a natural pharmacy, but oral supplements are easier to find and work just as well. Take 150 mg of the root extract twice daily.
Aloe vera juice
This plant isn’t just for burns and scrapes; taken internally, Medicine Horse says aloe vera can soothe your digestive tract, which reduces the inflammation in the anal and rectal areas that leads to hemorrhoids. Drinking half a cup of aloe vera juice—find it at your local health food store—daily also softens stools.
A natural anti-inflammatory, calendula can also help cool and soothe the burning associated with hemorrhoids. Mix the extract in an olive-oil base and apply topically, or use a healing salve like Tilvee’s Calendula and Comfrey Remedy Balm.
Dang gui and cimicifuga formula
According to Chinese medicine, damp heat stagnation and prolapse in the pelvic area are responsible for hemorrhoids, explains David Scrimgeour, LAc and Chinese medical herbalist in Boulder, Colorado. Take four tablets of dang gui and cimicifuga—get the formula from a Chinese medicine practitioner—three times daily. “Acupuncture will also provide relief,” he says.