UC HEALTH LINE: Diet Key to Preventing Painful Hemorrhoids
Colorectal health experts at UC say avoiding hemorrhoids could be as simple as eating a healthy diet.
“Most people develop hemorrhoids because of poor dietary habits—specifically, too much fat and not enough fiber,” explains David O’Brien, MD, a colorectal surgeon and UC assistant professor of surgery. “This leads to poor bowel habits and excessive straining.”
Hemorrhoids are normal blood vessels within the anus or lower rectum that have become enlarged due to excess pressure. When these blood vessels stretch and become thin, they can bleed. Left untreated, hemorrhoids can protrude out of the anus to cause irritation, bleeding and other complications.
Excessive anal vessel pressure can be caused by a variety of factors, including pregnancy, strenuous physical exertion, extra body weight and strain from sitting—whether it’s on the toilet or in a desk chair.
All people have hemorrhoids to a certain degree, says Dr. O’Brien, which—in addition to the anal sphincter muscles—help control gas and stool during straining. It’s when they become engorged and bulge, internally or externally, that they cause discomfort and complications.
“Both straining to have a bowel movement, or having too many bowel movements can cause hemorrhoid-induced damage,” he adds.
Dr. O’Brien recommends that all adults aged 18 or older—particularly those who have constipation—consume at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber every day.
“That equates to at least five or six helpings of fruits and vegetables,” he explains. “Most good bran cereals also have about 10 grams of fiber per serving, which is a great reason to make breakfast a priority.”
Dr. O’Brien also suggests that everyone take a daily fiber supplement. One teaspoon of most fiber products provides an additional three to four grams of fiber.
“We can’t always work 25 to 30 grams of fiber into our diet in a day,” adds Dr. O’Brien. “But it’s easy to take a tablespoon of the supplement in eight ounces of water or juice in the morning.”
Water intake also affects colorectal health, he says, so avoiding alcohol or caffeine may reduce hemorrhoid risk.
According to the American Society for Colon and Rectal Surgeons, half of all Americans will develop hemorrhoids in their lifetimes and millions suffer in silence with bowel bleeding, anal itching, pain and sensitive lumps before seeking treatment.
Low-grade hemorrhoids can be treated with dietary changes and fiber supplements. Advanced-grade hemorrhoids, however, may require an outpatient procedure. Dr. O’Brien and his colleagues offer patients a new method for treating hemorrhoids—the procedure for prolapse (slipping out of place) and hemorrhoids (PPH).
“This procedure is done above the pain line where the nerve endings are,” explains Dr. O’Brien. “As a result, patients experience less pain and a faster recovery.”
During the procedure, the physician lifts and repositions the anal tissue to reduce blood flow to the hemorrhoid. Once its blood supply is cut off, the hemorrhoid shrinks.
“People need to remember that anal bleeding is never normal,” notes Dr. O’Brien, “so you should always consult a physician if you experience bleeding to make sure the condition doesn’t indicate colorectal cancer, polyps or another serious condition.”