A lot of patients who have hemorrhoids suffer from constipation. In fact, constipation and straining while having a bowel movement is what often causes the hemorrhoids (also known as piles) to form or get worse with time. Thankfully, most patients who have constipation can get hemorrhoid relief with a relatively simple fix – increasing their daily intake of dietary fiber.
What is Fiber?
First of all, let’s examine what fiber really is. By definition, fiber (also known as roughage or bulk) is the outer layers of plant foods that the body is unable to break down or absorb. Human intestines, unlike in animals that eat only plants, lack the enzymes and the structure to digest plant food in its entirety. Therefore, the undigested food passes through relatively intact and is what gives the stool its bulk and softness.
Fiber comes naturally in two forms: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber, because it dissolves in water, forms a gel-like material once ingested and helps form a softer bowel movement, which decreases the straining and pressure when we are on the commode. Common sources of soluble fiber include oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, and psyllium.
Insoluble fiber, as the name suggests, does not dissolve in water and gives the stool its bulk, enabling it to move through the intestine. Common sources of insoluble fiber include whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes. When choosing grains for your diet, always look for the word “whole.”
How Much Fiber Should I Eat to Relieve My Hemorrhoid Symptoms?
Generally, adult women need 20 to 25 grams daily, and adult men need 30 to 40 grams every day. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a dietary fiber intake of 14 grams per 1,000 calories consumed. For example, for a 2,000-calorie diet, the fiber recommendation is 28 grams per day.
According to experts, the average American takes in only 10 to 15 grams of fiber daily. I also advise my patients to gradually increase the fiber content in their diet, as sometimes increasing fiber very rapidly could cause bloating and gas. Also, increasing liquid (such as water, fruit juices, and clear soups) intake is essential, as it can help the fiber in your diet work better and will make bowel movements softer and, thus, decrease straining. Ask your doctor about how much you should drink each day based on your health and activity level and where you live.
Adequate amounts of natural fiber in your diet will add a lot of additional benefits, such as maintaining and promoting bowel health, lowering cholesterol levels, controlling blood sugar levels, helping to achieve healthy body weight, and, ultimately, help in living a longer and healthier life.
You may also want to try a supplement if you can’t get enough fiber from foods. Be sure to consult with your hemorrhoid surgeon before taking any supplements.
For more information about fiber-rich foods, visit the National Institute of Health website.
What Should I Avoid Eating if I have Hemorrhoids?
If your hemorrhoids are caused by chronic constipation, try not to eat too many foods with little or no fiber, such as:
- fast food
- ice cream
- prepared foods, such as some frozen and snack foods, and
- processed foods, such as hot dogs and some microwavable dinners
How Can I Prevent Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids can be prevented by doing the following::
- Eating foods that are high in fiber
- Staying well-hydrated by drinking water or other nonalcoholic liquids every day as advised by your doctor
- Avoid straining during your bowel movements
- Avoid remaining on the commode for long periods of time
- Avoid frequent heavy lifting
- Avoid sitting for long periods of time
- Exercising regularly to keep you from getting constipated
When Should I Consider Seeing a Medical Professional?
If your hemorrhoid symptoms include severe pain and rectal bleeding, especially if you have abdominal pain or discomfort, diarrhea, or fever, you should seek a hemorrhoid surgeon right away. Contact Dr. Tanmay Lal for a consultation to see if the minimally invasive HAL-RAR procedure is right for you.
Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Hemorrhoids, US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease.
2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion