By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
Nobody likes to talk about hemorrhoids. Frankly, I would be a little worried if you DID like to talk about hemorrhoids. And what is worse than talking about them, is having them. And many people do. The thing about hemorrhoids is that many people suffer in silence when there are many things that can help, and that is what I want to talk about.
Ok, lets get the gory bits out of the way. What is a hemorrhoid? A hemorrhoid is literally a varicose vein located in the anus and/or rectum. There are two types, internal and external depending on their location. It is thought that about 50% of people will have hemorrhoids by the age of fifty, some say it is 50% by the age of thirty. Because those don’t sound like very good odds, the rest of this article should be very useful. :) But first, lets talk about other things that can happen in that general vicinity according to Chinese medicine so that you know the difference and can proceed with appropriate treatments. Hemorrhoids are also called piles.
Anal prolapse (also called rectal prolapse) is defined as a condition in which the rectum, which is the lower end of the colon, just above the anus, becomes stretched out and protrudes outside of the anus. The prolapse is often due to weakening of the sphincter muscle and can result in leakage of stool and/or mucus. The condition appears to be more common in women but does occur in both sexes. In Chinese medicine, anal prolapse is often caused by a deficiency of spleen qi, causing it to “sink”. The prolapse of other organs, such as the bladder, uterus and vagina are also often due to sinking of spleen qi.
Anal fissures are cracks or tears in the anus or anal canal. They can be acute of chronic. In Western medicine they are seen to be largely caused by trauma, but in Chinese medicine they are mostly a result of deficiency (deficiency of blood causing dryness in the intestines) and fire and damp heat.
An anal fistula is a small tunnel that develops between the end of the bowel (the anal canal) and the anus. In Western medicine, surgery is often needed, but in Chinese medicine they can be treated successfully with Chinese herbs and acupuncture. The causes in Western medicine are that fistula’s are often the result of an abscess (a collection of puss) that has not been treated properly and has burst. Fistulas are also common in people with conditions that affect the intestines like Crohn’s disease, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and diverticulitis. 30% of HIV patients develop anal fistula’s, probably as a result of the body’s immune system attacking the body. Fistula seems to be more common in women than men, although both are affected.
In Chinese medicine, anal fistula’s are a result of heat, either from an excess or deficiency, or from deficiency cold.
These are literally ulcers located near or on the anus. In Chinese medicine, they are due to deficiency of the lungs, spleen and kidney or to toxic heat.
For years whenever I have a patient who has varicose veins, or is suffering with hemorrhoids (and for every person who has told me they are suffering with hemorrhoids, I suspect there are ten that don’t) I recommend they take horse chestnut. Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is an herb that comes from the horse chestnut tree and is used to help build up the walls and elasticity of the veins. It also increases circulation and is an anti inflammatory. The flowers and seeds of the horse chestnut tree have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicines, and is still a common treatment for disorders of the vessels, circulation problems and arthritis for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Horse Chestnut for Hemorrhoids
Horse chestnut contains several chemical compounds called saponins, the most potent of which is called aescin. Aescin has a very strong anti-inflammatory effect and is why horse chestnut is used to treat varicose veins (which is what hemorrhoids are), arthritis and rheumatic conditions and is used to reduce inflammation after trauma or surgery. Horse chestnut is used to treat hemorrhoids because it strengthens the walls of the veins, increases their elasticity, reduces inflammation and prevents the breakdown of smaller capillaries.
Horse chestnut can be taken orally or applied topically. The recommended dose for oral use of horse chestnut when treating hemorrhoids is 300mg twice a day. Horse chestnut contains esculin which is toxic when eaten raw, so be careful to look on the bottle of your horse chestnut to see that esculin has been removed. This is a standard practice to make sure it is safe.
Orally: take at least 40mg of horse chestnut three times a day (the recommended dose for treating hemorrhoids is 300mg twice a day).
Topically: Many hemorrhoid cremes and ointments contain horse chestnut extract. Although this will help, you want to make sure that there is no bleeding as the horse chestnut may increase the bleeding temporarily.
Hemorrhoids And The Spleen
So, what do hemorrhoids have to do with the spleen? Well, by now you should know that almost everything has to do with the spleen!! The spleen, in Chinese medicine, is responsible for the body’s holding function. This means the ability to hold organs in place is determined by the spleen’s energy. Things like prolapses, prolapse of uterus, bladder, vagina, hernias and yes, hemorrhoids (this is literally a prolapse of the anus) are governed by the spleen. I often see these problems with patients who have chronically deficient spleen’s. There is a lot we can do to strengthen the spleen, and you can read about that here – Loving Your Spleen in Chinese Medicine. :)
The leaves of a horse chestnut tree – so pretty!
Other Helpful Things
Many people think that if you have hemorrhoids that you just have to live with them, or that surgery may be the only option. Not so! There are other things that you can do to help heal your hemorrhoids.
- Eat a clean diet with lots of fruits and vegetables (but go easy on the fibre, as this can make hemorrhoids worse)
- Stay away from foods that cause inflammation like processed foods and sugar
- Exercise to keep things moving through your digestive tract – this will make sure that nothing sits in your intestines too long which will aggravate your hemorrhoids
- Drink plenty of water – this will help with constipation which is a major cause of hemorrhoids
- Don’t rush when you poop! Take your time and relax. Don’t strain, give yourself the time to poop and don’t rush.
- Using probiotics with help keep everything in the digestive tract healthy and happy.
- Taking supplements like horse chestnut will help strengthen the walls of your veins and combat inflammation.
- Be mindful! This is the first step to healing any problem. :)
The flowers of a horse chestnut tree – beautiful!
Hemorrhoids are a very common problem, but you don’t have to suffer. Diet, exercise and supplements can really help to improve hemorrhoids and give you a better quality of life. With these simple steps instead of dreading a bowel movement, you can have everything move freely with no discomfort, and we all deserve that. :)