Over the last few decades we have collected an amazing array of remedies for hemorrhoids, from blackstrap molasses and rutabaga to banana peel and green tea. More about these solutions in a moment. Bur first, what are hemorrhoids in the first place?
This is a really sore subject with a lot of our readers. And no wonder. Hemorrhoids are anal varicose veins. They come in two basic types: internal and external. Internal hemorrhoids are veins that have come loose from their moorings up in the anal canal. They may descend far enough to actually protrude through the anus, where their highly sensitive mucosal covering is subject to physical abuse from sitting, wiping, etc.
External hemorrhoids occur below the anorectal line, that point in the anal canal where the lining turns to mucous membrane. The veins become swollen and inflamed and the skin over them becomes extremely tender. Blood clots can form in these pillow-like outcroppings and when that happens the pain can be excruciating.
The severity and thus the symptoms of hemorrhoids varies considerably. Some people have minor problems but aren’t really bothered too much. Others suffer endlessly, until finally put out of their misery by surgery, or one of the non-surgical methods which can work if the condition isn’t too far advanced.
Hemorrhoids tend to get progressively worse, and the condition is greatly aggravated by constipation and straining while defecating, which puts tremendous pressure on the veins. Some people have a predisposition to weak anal veins, and pregnancy often produces hemorrhoids because of the pressure it puts on the veins.
Cold vs. Heat
We try never to turn a cold shoulder to our readers’ suffering, but in this case we gave a reader the cold probe in the hopes it would help.
Q. After a particularly strenuous workout, my hemorrhoids become quite swollen and painful. This situation also occurs when I have to sit for long periods of time. I have tried lots of over-the-counter products, but nothing works very well. Are there any home remedies or other techniques worth considering? I am not ready to consider surgery.
A. You might want to look into something called Anurex. It is an unusual treatment, but some folks have told us it works wonders.
Anurex is like an ice pack for your bottom. It is a small cylinder that contains a cold-retaining gel inside. It is stored in the freezer and can be inserted like a suppository for six to eight minutes. The cooling action theoretically relieves inflammation and pain.
If you don’t want to go to the trouble or expense of buying cold-in-a-tube, there is relief to be had by simply sitting on an icebag for a while. Break up the ice into small pieces, increasing the amount of surface area and making it easier for the ice to shape itself to the problem spot. Then, sit on it! A bag of frozen peas might work the same way.
Cooling works in two ways. First, it numbs the region for at least a little while. Second, it tends to reduce blood flow, which helps lessen the discomfort of the distended veins and give them a shot at returning to where they came from.
The opposite technique — a warm sitz bath — is also a frequent recommendation. We have long wondered where this term came from. As far as we can tell, this originates from the German word Sitzbad. Bad is German for bath and sitzen mean to sit. So, a sitz bath means sit in warm water up to about hip level.
This offers temporary relief, at best, and eventually most people go looking for stronger medicine.
Banana Peel, Rutin and Cabbage Leaves
Q. When I first developed hemorrhoids I could hardly believe this was happening to me. I called my doctor and she suggested surgery, but I didn’t want to go under the knife.
A favorite book about foods that heal suggested applying the inside of a banana peel to the affected area. It also recommended a pill, biorutin. I tried both approaches and within three days I had no sign of hemorrhoids. This may help someone else.
A. We were fascinated by your use of rutin, since this flavonoid is a constituent in many herbs, including chamomile, elderberry and hawthorn. Getting the banana peel to stay in position might be a challenge, but no more so than a cabbage leaf. We heard from another person:
“When I was in Italy, my mother-in-law used cabbage as a hemorrhoid relief. I guess cabbage has been used for years for relief from soreness, pain and swelling.”
Q. I was just at a routine prenatal visit and complained about a very painful external hemorrhoid. My nurse practitioner suggested scraping the inside of a banana peel and mixing it with a little petroleum jelly to make the mixture stick to the site. I tried it last night and got far more relief than the witch hazel pads I had been using.
A. Other readers sing the praises of banana peels for hemorrhoids. One man offered this formula:
“Cut the stem off a bunch of bananas (the part where all the bananas in the bunch are attached). Remove the outside skin so you have a cube of stem. Pulse the peeled banana stem cube in a mini food processor along with 1 tablespoon of witch hazel.
“Pour the mixture in a dish and dip a gauze strip into the mixture. Apply to the area of the hemorrhoids. Repeat 30 minutes later with a fresh dipped gauze strip. This is a powerful natural astringent and pain reliever. I do this twice a day if I have an outbreak. If hemorrhoids persist, see your doctor!”
If that sounds too complicated, here’s another reader’s suggestion: “Ready-made banana cream is much easier and more convenient to use than actual banana peels. Just Google ‘banana peel extract cream’ to find sellers.”
Q. I would like to give you my family cure for hemorrhoids. Take rutabaga, peel, boil and then drain it well to make a poultice in gauze. Put it on the hemorrhoids while it is still warm.
Do this at night and they will be gone by morning. If they are not, you can do a second application the next night.
I am from Scotland. When my mother came to the States to visit back in the 40s she told this cure to a lady from Ohio. My husband used it too, and his hemorrhoids never came back.
A. Rutabaga is a root vegetable related to turnip. It has long been cooked, mashed and used in poultices, but this is the first time we’ve heard of using such a poultice on hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels, much like varicose veins. If a blood clot forms in one, it can become very sore. Warm baths can help the clot resolve and ease the discomfort, so perhaps that is how the rutabaga poultice works.
Q. For many years I have made a wad of toilet paper, saturated it with witch hazel and washed myself after going to the bathroom. I have hemorrhoids and find that I suffer from itching and discomfort if I neglect this practice.
What is witch hazel? I think sometimes the label also says something like “hamamelis water.”
A. Witch hazel is a woody shrub that’s been used in folk medicine for years. The hamamelis water you are using is steam distilled from twigs and bark of this plant. In addition, commercial witch hazel found in pharmacies contains 14% pure ethyl alcohol. This combination is popular as an astringent, which makes it helpful in treating hemorrhoids and skin inflammation. Commercial witch hazel has both antibacterial and anti-oxidant activity which may explain why it is so helpful for cleanliness in that delicate area.
Q. Someone wrote to you about using zinc oxide as a deodorant. I tried it but it didn’t work for me.
At the same time my hemorrhoids were burning and itching, and even Preparation H didn’t seem to help. Since zinc oxide is used in diaper cream, I thought why not give it a try?
From the first time I used it I have not had any recurrence of the symptoms. At first I applied it every night but now I only use it once a week or less.
A. The person who wrote to us found that zinc oxide cream (commonly used for diaper rash or sunburn protection) was effective as an underarm deodorant. Your experience shows that it may not work for everyone to control body odor.
We could find only one reference to the use of zinc oxide for the itching and burning of hemorrhoids. A German salve (Mirfulan) that contains zinc oxide plus witch hazel, urea and vitamins A and D was reported helpful (ZFA Stuttgart, Oct. 20, 1979).
Q. Several years ago I had hemorrhoids so bad that I couldn’t even go to work. The only comfort I could find was sitting in a tub of warm water.
A friend who was into old folk remedies told me to get some BLACKSTRAP molasses. I was to swallow a couple of tablespoons every few hours.
Since I was desperate, I felt I had nothing to lose, even though it seemed like a silly remedy. To make a long story short, I went back to work the next day.
Regular molasses does not work for this problem, only blackstrap. Even blackstrap molasses will not work if the pain is caused by a fissure and not by hemorrhoids.
My elderly father took the test one step further: he took a couple of tablespoons of blackstrap molasses daily for several months. His varicose veins disappeared!
A. Blackstrap molasses is a byproduct of the sugar refining process. This thick dark liquid sweetener is rich in minerals such as manganese, copper, iron, calcium and potassium.
Although there are reports on the Web of blackstrap molasses helping hemorrhoids and varicose veins, we could find no scientific studies to support these claims. Two teaspoons of blackstrap molasses have 32 calories, just like sugar, so people with diabetes should avoid using it.
We have heard from a number of people who agree with you that blackstrap molasses saved the day. Others, however, have been disappointed. Here is one more story.
“Okay, I couldn’t stop the bleeding and I tried zinc oxide, witch hazel, OTC’s, you name it. Those things helped with the itching, but I had the bleeding for a good week and a half.
“Finally, I bought blackstrap molasses. I took a couple teaspoons (it tastes ok to me, tho most people mix it with water.) The bleeding stopped later that day and has not returned in these last 5 days! I took about 2 teaspoons to a tablespoon a day, twice a day, just to be sure. I haven’t taken it today, and the bleeding hasn’t come back. I swear by it now, but have no idea why it works-but it DOES!”
Persistent bleeding requires medical oversight. It is essential to rule out other causes for bleeding, just to be on the safe side.
Herbal teas containing horse chestnut have been used in folk medicine to treat both hemorrhoids and diarrhea for centuries. This reader discovered the remedy on her own:
Carolyn shared this fascinating story:
“I have been suffering for six months with hemorrhoids. I was buying a tube of Preparation H at least once a week and getting very little in relief.
“I searched for an herbal remedy to relieve hemorrhoids and discovered a suggestion of Horse Chestnut. I already had a box of Venastat (horse chestnut) on hand (I was meaning to try it for spider veins).
“The results have been fantastic, more than I could have possibly hoped for! I do have to take it every day, however, or the symptoms return. It’s certainly worth a try for anyone who is suffering.”
Learn more about horse chestnut at this link. There is actual research (Advances in Therapy, Jan-Feb., 2006) to support horse chestnut extract against venous insufficiency and varicose veins. Since hemorrhoids are a lot like varicose veins, this approach might make sense.
What About Preparation H?
Once upon a time Preparation H virtually owned the marketplace when it came to hemorrhoid remedies. That might have been in part due to heavy doses of advertising. We also suspect it had something to do with the formula. In the good old days, Prep H contained two natural ingredients: live yeast cell derivative (LYCD) and shark liver oil. We feel bad about the sharks that were sacrificed for this product, but we suspect this combination of ingredients actually did ease discomfort and speed healing.
Sadly, the FDA forced the manufacturer of Preparation H to revise its formula. After reviewing the scientific evidence the agency determined that there were not enough data to support the benefits of LYCD.
We disagree. We have discovered research that suggests live yeast cell derivative accelerates wound healing. Readers have insisted that the original Prep H formula relieved their hemorrhoids better than anything. They also maintained that it eased dry, cracked skin, soothed itching from surgical scars and even worked against wrinkles and bags under the eyes.
There are lots of Preparation H formulas in the U.S. these days. Preparation H Hemorrhoidal Ointment contains:
Active Ingredients: Mineral Oil (Paraffinum Liquidum) (Protectant), Petrolatum (71.9%) (Protectant), Phenylephrine HCl (0.25%) (Vasoconstrictor), Shark Liver Oil 3.0% (Protectant)
Inactive Ingredients: Beeswax (Apis Mellifera), Benzoic Acid, BHA, Corn Oil, Glycerin, Lanolin, Lanolin Alcohol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris) Oil, Tocopherol (Natural Vitamin E), Water.
We are not thrilled with the idea of putting a vasoconstrictor (phenylephrine) on sensitive tissue. Our concern is that it might raise blood pressure for some people (see this link). We wish the FDA had not meddled with a perfectly fine product.
What is your solution to Hemorrhoids?
We love hearing from visitors to this website about their favorite home remedies? The People’s Pharmacy is a community where people share their experiences. Others have told us that blackstrap molasses works for hemorrhoids, while many say it is worthless. What is your story? Tell us your successes and disappointments in the comment section below.
Revised, February 11, 2016