If you’re a spicy food lover and a hemorrhoid patient at the same time, you might be asking yourself whether it’s safe to eat what you love. The short answer is: yes, there seems to be no direct relationship between spicy food and hemorrhoids. For a deeper dive on this topic, keep reading on!
What exactly are hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are nothing more than veins, nerves, arteries, and connective tissue, all bundled up and covered with a lining called mucosa. When, for many possible reasons, the hemorrhoids enlarge, much like varicose veins in the legs, the lining, or mucosa, stretches and becomes irritated, leading to symptoms:
- Rectal bleeding
- Prolapse, whereby hemorrhoid falls out or protrudes from the rectum
Can spicy food make hemorrhoids hurt?
No, there is no evidence that spicy foods hurt hemorrhoids. However, residual pepper or hot spices in the stool may aggravate the already sensitive anal lining if you have existing hemorrhoids.
In addition, if your daily diet does not contain enough daily fiber, it may cause a hard bowel movement, which may irritate your hemorrhoids. Most adults need between 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day to promote a “fluffy” or soft stool. In other words, a high-fiber diet helps with hemorrhoids.
Certain medications, such as cholesterol-lowering medications called statins, can also irritate hemorrhoids. While not strictly a food, statins may be taken with fiber to promote soft stools. Certain foods can constipate you. Chocolate, large amounts of dairy products, large quantities of red meat, bananas, and caffeine can be constipating. They can also cause diarrhea and these can all act in combination with other bodily factors.
In addition to food and drugs, there are also other factors that can irritate hemorrhoids. For example, straining during defecation and strenuous exercises such as sit-ups, squats, and heavy-weight lifting can potentially irritate hemorrhoids. These exercises increase pressure inside the body, which can cause hemorrhoids to swell, leading to more pain and irritation.
Finally, activities such as horseback riding, cycling, and rowing can also worsen your hemorrhoid symptoms. These activities irritate hemorrhoids due to forceful muscle contractions, which again cause increased pressure inside the body. Horseback riding and cycling also directly affect the anus by causing friction and reducing local blood flow, which worsens the condition.
Which foods aggravate hemorrhoids?
Usually, foods that promote constipation aggravate hemorrhoids. These include:
- Dairy products: Milk, ice cream, and cheese contain lactose. Lactose is broken down into chemicals that slow bowel movements. Lactose can also directly irritate hemorrhoids.
- Meat: Meat products have low fiber and high fat. This makes them difficult to digest and can lead to constipation.
- Processed foods: Processed foods (such as processed meats) that are high in fat and sugar slow gut movement, leading to constipation.
- Fast foods: Burgers, fries, and sodas contain very high quantities of fat and sugar, which can lead to constipation.
- Iron tablets: Iron tablets cause constipation by an unclear mechanism. Therefore, if you have hemorrhoids and need to start iron tablets, make sure to discuss this with your doctor.
What foods reduce hemorrhoid inflammation?
Foods that are high in fiber help reduce hemorrhoid inflammation and may even prevent them from developing in the first place. Fiber normally maintains enough water for stool to remain soft, which prevents straining during bowel movements and reduces hemorrhoid flare-ups. Examples include:
- Vegetables: Lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas are some of the best sources of fiber. A cup of these vegetables can provide up to half the daily required amount of fiber.
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, pears, and citrus fruits are not only rich in fiber but also several nutrients. For example, pears contain fructose, which is a natural laxative that keeps the bowels healthy.
- Corn: In addition to fiber, corn also contains antioxidants, which can help reduce hemorrhoid pain.
- Broccoli: Broccoli has fiber and chemicals that improve the immunity of the gut.
- Berries: Berries have high fiber and water content, both of which keep stool soft.
- Whole grain: Unprocessed whole grain products contain insoluble fiber, which increases stool bulk and improves gut motility. They are also rich in probiotics, which are chemicals that encourage the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Both of these factors prevent chronic constipation and may play a role in reducing hemorrhoid inflammation. Probiotics can even prevent recurrence when taken as a part of post-hemorrhoid treatment diet.
What drinks make hemorrhoids worse?
Drinks that contain caffeine can make hemorrhoidal symptoms worse. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it leads to excess urination. This leads to dehydration, making stool harder and more difficult to pass. Thus, people with excessive caffeine intake are more likely to strain during bowel movements, irritating hemorrhoids and making symptoms worse. Drinks that contain high amounts of caffeine and make hemorrhoids worse are:
- Energy drinks
- Chocolate-flavored beverages
Alcohol can also worsen hemorrhoids because it leads to dehydration. However, it does not contain caffeine.
Do certain foods inflame hemorrhoids?
Yes, foods that cause constipation can inflame hemorrhoids. That’s because as hard stool passes forcefully through the anal canal, it rubs against the hemorrhoidal lining, inflaming it.
Inflamed hemorrhoids are painful, itchy, and may even bleed. When compared to the usual aggravation of hemorrhoids (which might simply mean an increase in hemorrhoid size without pain and itching), inflamed hemorrhoids always have symptoms. They may even prompt a visit to the doctor.
Examples of foods that can inflame hemorrhoids include dairy products, meat, processed foods, fast food, and iron tablets as discussed above. It’s important to note, however, that these foods are not known to directly affect hemorrhoids.
Does coffee irritate hemorrhoids?
Coffee can irritate hemorrhoids because it leads to dehydration and constipation. But does this mean that you should immediately stop drinking coffee?
Well, for most people, limiting caffeine intake to 350-400 milligrams per day will keep constipation at bay. This amounts to two cups of coffee per day, which should not irritate hemorrhoids.
If you currently consume more coffee than this, you should reduce your intake gradually. Stopping immediately is not recommended as it may cause withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability and headaches.
You should slowly drink coffee with other drinks, such as decaffeinated coffee or green tea. Decaffeinated coffee contains a much lower quantity of caffeine compared to regular coffee. Green tea, however, may be the best alternative beverage as it contains an even lower quantity of caffeine compared to decaffeinated coffee. Green tea also helps reduce swelling and pain.
Finally, adopting lifestyle changes like drinking lots of water to stay hydrated, reducing sugar intake, cutting down dairy intake to reduce constipation, and mild to moderate exercise can also help avoid hemorrhoid irritation.
Now you know what spicy food means for your hemorrhoids!
Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels around the anus. They can be irritated by eating foods that cause constipation, performing strenuous exercise, participating in activities like horse riding and cycling, and some medicines like statins.
When it comes to eating spicy foods, there is no evidence that they irritate hemorrhoids. However, foods like dairy milk, meat, processed items, fast food, and iron tablets can all worsen hemorrhoids due to constipation. But none of these directly cause inflamed hemorrhoids.
So if you suffer from hemorrhoids, avoid all these foods and include vegetables, fruits, corn, broccoli, berries, and whole grains in your diet. It’s also a good idea to cut coffee to control hemorrhoids and take up green tea instead.