Like the rest of the body, the rectum has a network of blood vessels. These are called rectal veins , though in the past, they were referred to as hemorrhoidal veins. These crucial blood vessels play a role in continence - the ability to control when you empty your bowels (1).
When we refer to ‘hemorrhoids’ nowadays, we’re actually talking about a problem of the hemorrhoidal veins in which they become inflamed and over-dilated – a kind of anal varicose veins.
Once they are swollen and inflamed, hemorrhoids may itch, burn and even bleed, and above all, become painful. Even if flare-ups generally only last a few days, hemorrhoids can thus cause considerable discomfort.
Those most at risk of hemorrhoids are pregnant women (due to excessive pressure by the uterus which prevents venous return) (2), new mothers who have had vaginal deliveries, and those who suffer from constipation (3).
In fact constipation is the leading cause of hemorrhoids (4): difficulty in passing stools leads to excessive straining, which in turn results in too much pressure in the hemorrhoidal veins which then become swollen. Blockages which may be caused by constipation exacerbate the problem by impeding venous return. It’s a vicious circle.
That’s why the first step in treating hemorrhoids is to prevent constipation, primarily by adopting the right diet (see our article on dietary fibre).
It’s probably the best-known natural remedy for hemorrhoids (5), the one used by our grandmothers – and theirs before them: the sitz bath. There are different schools of thought on this option:
Whichever you choose, the sitz bath should be used at least once a day for 10-15 minutes. Bicarbonate of soda can also be added to the water to help disinfect inflamed veins.
With decongestant and anti-inflammatory effects (6),essential oil of patchouli can be gently massaged for a minute or two into the area affected by hemorrhoids. A few drops (4-6) is enough, once or twice a day.
Take care though: essential oil of patchouli has a similar effect to estrogens which means it should not be used by pregnant women, children and those suffering from hormone-dependent cancers.
Horse chestnut is known to be one of the most powerful natural venotonics (7). In other words, it promotes venous return: it enables the flow of blood back from lower to upper parts of the body, thus helping to ‘disgorge’ hemorrhoids. It is its high content of aescin, a mixture of saponins, which is responsible for this effect.
In this case, it works from the inside out so choose the oral option, with a supplement rich in horse chestnut extract. There are actually synergistic formulations (such as Hemo Comfort, which in addition to horse chestnut, also contains diosmin, a flavone extracted from the fruit of Citrus aurantium, hesperidin, an exceptional citrus flavonoid, and troxerutin, extracted from the flowers of Sophora japonica).
An attractive shrub popular for its winter blossom, witch hazel is also widely used in phytotherapy for treating a number of circulation-related problems. Its bark and leaves contain tannins and flavonoids which are thought to protect blood vessels (8).
You can either:
Containing less acetic acid but more minerals, essential acids and enzymes than other vinegars, cider vinegar is thought to protect against inflammation. As such, it can be applied to hemorrhoids, two or three times a day. It can also be added to the water in a sitz bath (9).
Note: if you find that applying cider vinegar to your hemorrhoids produces an adverse reaction (the acidity may cause a burning sensation), stop and use an alternative natural method.
Green clay is recognized for cleansing, disinfecting and helping to heal skin tissue. With remineralising properties, it may also be a powerful anti-bacterial. With all these benefits, it makes another excellent traditional hemorrhoid home remedy, in the form of a a green clay poultice (10).
Simply mix powdered green clay with water to obtain a toothpaste-like consistency, and apply this to your hemorrhoids, covering them with a compress for a good 30 minutes. Repeat two to three times a day until you obtain relief.