Why Do We Get Hemorrhoids?

Why Do We Get Hemorrhoids?

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy

 

Hemorrhoids are very common. At least we think so. It is difficult to get a handle on the prevalence of hemorrhoids since they can come and go. Many Hemorrhoids bathroomhemorrhoid sufferers will find relief from over the counter and home remedies, but some will be so miserable they will seek help from a health care practitioner. Hemorrhoids tend to be a sensitive subject. People just don’t like to talk about them.

Hemorrhoids Defined

Hemorrhoids can form above and below the rectal sphincter. If you can imagine, hemorrhoids are like varicose veins in the rectum. The veins weaken and swell. If the swollen veins are located above the rectal sphincter, they may cause few problems, but you might see bright red blood in the stools if they happen to bleed. Hemorrhoids above the rectal sphincter may begin to cause pain if the tissue prolapses which means the hemorrhoid falls below the rectal sphincter.

Hemorrhoids can also form outside of the anus below the rectal sphincter. These hemorrhoids tend to cause the most problems with pain and itching. They can also bleed. It is possible the pooling of the blood in the swollen veins may cause a blood clot or thrombus to form. The common name for hemorrhoids, “piles” (from Latin pillae meaning balls), comes from the observation of the small balls these clots form in the swollen veins.

Theories Abound

Why hemorrhoids form is still a mystery. Hemorrhoid formation may be associated with standing or sitting for long periods of time, obesity, and straining while defecating with constipation or diarrhea. Hemorrhoids also often occur during pregnancy. The exact genesis is not clear whether it is the added pressure to the pelvic region by the baby, the changes in hormones which occur during pregnancy, the straining which occurs at delivery, or perhaps a combination of all of these.

Some say that being human and walking on two feet is a risk factor for hemorrhoids; however, this is not a health issue that only occurs in humans. Dogs, cats, horses, cattle, and sheep have all been identified to suffer from hemorrhoids on occasion. Moreover, a rat model for hemorrhoids was easily created by exposing the rat’s anal tissues to an irritating oil.

Along with the cause of hemorrhoids, a number of trends have yet to be explained:

  • There may be a hereditary component in some families
  • Women with hemorrhoids during their first pregnancy often have them again in subsequent pregnancies, but the hemorrhoids then disappear once the baby arrives
  • Hemorrhoids don’t seem to occur in the young or in the elderly

Hemorrhoids and Hormones

How hormones play a role in the formation of hemorrhoids is complicated. For example, constipation is a hallmark symptom of low thyroid function. Connective tissue weakness is also a sign of low thyroid. Is the constipation the direct cause of hemorrhoid formation or is there some innate laxity in the tissue associated with hypothyroidism that causes hemorrhoids to form? Or perhaps a combination of both?

As early as 1942, a theory existed that proposed the high levels of progesterone and estrogens that occur during pregnancy may contribute to the formation of varicosities in the legs and also to hemorrhoids:

  • Increased progesterone was thought to be responsible for decreased tonicity in the vascular walls of the veins
  • Increased estrogens were thought to increase blood volume putting greater stress on venous blood circulation and leading to increased stagnation and pooling of the blood

However, as Dr. de Barros and his colleagues point out in their paper, “Pregnancy and lower limb varicose veins: prevalence and risk factors,” this does not account for the fact that varicosities can occur in one leg and not the other under the same hormonal control.

Confounding Observations

Interestingly, not all studies show the same results with regard to hemorrhoid risk factors. A September 2015 study published in PLOS ONE revealed a lower risk of hemorrhoids with a high fiber diet as have other studies. However, the reduced risk of hemorrhoids was not associated with less constipation, and the number of pregnancies a woman experienced did not affect the risk of hemorrhoids one way or the other. Surprisingly, being sedentary even correlated with a decreased risk of hemorrhoids.

Treatment of Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids may come and go without a clearly identified cause or remedy. However, when hemorrhoids and the associated pain become serious, most seek help from a professional. Surgical procedures such as cauterization (burning the hemorrhoids) and ligation (banding or clipping the hemorrhoids) are part of the practitioner’s medical bag to bring relief. As welcome as the relief may be, these procedures do not prevent hemorrhoids from returning and do not address the underlying cause.

Numerous home remedies may also bring some relief:

  • Apple cider vinegar and witch hazel are astringent and may help relieve the swelling
  • Hydrocortisone and even progesterone creams applied to the area may relieve inflammation
  • Whether or not constipation is a cause of hemorrhoid formation, more fiber, more hydration, and any techniques to create softer stools are likely to reduce irritation to the tender tissues
  • Soaking in warm bath water or a sitz bath may ease the pain, and Epsom salts can be added for additional magnesium
  • Cold packs may be used to help reduce inflammation and shrink the hemorrhoids

Joanne May, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, says, “It’s simple.” She feels hemorrhoids are caused by a spleen qi deficiency. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is the spleen which governs the muscles and organs, and a deficiency of qi may cause an overall muscle weakness including the muscles lining the veins. Hemorrhoids are thought to be a sagging or prolapse of these muscles. Dr. May recommends using herbs to strengthen or tonify the muscles.

In conclusion

It’s astonishing something as common as hemorrhoids still poses such a mystery to our medical community. Researchers are working diligently to find the answers to our questions about hemorrhoids. Hopefully, these answers will come soon. Hemorrhoid prevention will bring great relief to many.

  • Azeemuddin M, et al. An Improved Experimental Model of Hemorrhoids in Rats: Evaluation of Antihemorrhoidal Activity of an Herbal Formulation. ISRN Pharmacol. Volume 2014 Mar 11;2014:530931. doi: 10.1155/2014/530931. eCollection 2014.
  • De Barros N, et al. Pregnancy and lower limb varicose veins: prevalence and risk factors. J. vasc. bras. [online]. 2010;9(2): 29-35.
  • Peery AF, et al. Risk Factors for Hemorrhoids on Screening Colonoscopy. PLoS One. 2015 Sep 25;10(9):e0139100. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0139100. eCollection 2015. httpsssssss://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4583402/pdf/pone.0139100.pdf.
  • May, J. Personal conversation: December 23, 2015.\
  • Petersen C. Hypothyroidism: Is 98.6° Really Normal? Women’s International Pharmacy. httpsssssss://www.womensinternational.com/connections/thyroid-hypothyroidism/.
Why Do We Get Hemorrhoids?2018-04-05T11:28:03+00:00

Vitamin K2 – A Missing Link in the Western Diet?

Vitamin K2 – A Missing Link in the Western Diet?

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy

In 1925 an enterprising dentist, Dr. Weston Price, and his wife began traveling the world and documenting their observations of healthy, remote populations. They observed significant changes in tooth arrangement and mouth and facial structure when people of various cultures strayed from their traditional diet and adopted the Western diet. Traditional diets varied greatly, but all consisted of animal protein and fat in the form of fish, fowl, land animals, eggs, milk and milk products, reptiles, and/or insects. The Western diet introduced processed foods, sugar, and grains. Narrowed mouths, crowded teeth, thin faces, and smaller arches appeared in children whose parents adopted the Western diet. Dr. Price suspected that something specific was missing from the Western diet. He called this mysterious factor Activator X. He demonstrated that Activator X was prevalent in the meat and milk products of animals that grazed on green grasses. He even showed that these facial and dental abnormalities could be reversed in the next generation if Activator X was replaced in the diet. Finally, in 2006, Dr. Price’s Activator X was identified to be vitamin K2.

Confusion With the K’s
There are a number of types of vitamin K, but only two natural forms: vitamin K1 and vitamin K2. Vitamin K1 is present in leafy, green vegetables and is most identified with blood clotting. The drug, Coumadin, works to prevent blood from clotting by inhibiting the action of vitamin K1. The effects of excessive Coumadin may be reversed by administering vitamin K1.

Vitamin K2 exists in a number of distinct active forms. The two most commonly seen are designated as MK-4 and MK-7. MK-4 is present in the organs, milk, eggs and cheese of grass-fed animals. MK-7 is most abundant in a bacterial ferment of soy beans called natto. It is also present in lesser amounts in other fermented foods. Vitamin K2 does not appear to share Vitamin K1’s association with blood clotting.

A Calcium Paradox
Nutritional biochemistry is complicated. In order to learn how various vitamins and minerals work in the body, we often look at the function of one single nutrient at a time. However, when we do this, we fail to understand how nutrients work together. For example, we know that bones need calcium, but supplementing with calcium alone is unlikely to strengthen one’s bones. We need to consider how a number of nutrients work together to contribute to bone health. Each of the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K, works together synergistically. Vitamin D facilitates calcium absorption into the blood stream. Vitamin K2 converts vitamin D into its active form and also activates the hormone osteocalcin to direct the calcium to the bone. A deficiency of any one of these vitamins may cause malfunctions in the body. Specifically, a deficiency of vitamin K2 may cause calcium to be stored in other tissues rather than being directed to the bone. If calcium settles in the arteries, it can lead to atherosclerosis. Calcium may also cause problems by settling in the joints and in soft tissues like the breasts.

The French Paradox Solved?
Many find it surprising that the French eat a lot of cholesterol and saturated fat and have low rates of death from coronary heart disease (CHD). Some think it’s an ingredient in red wine that keeps them healthy. Perhaps these saturated fats laden with vitamin K2 are the protective factor.

Vitamin K2 in All Parts of the Body

  • Heart Disease: One of the most powerful tools against calcification of the blood vessels is a vitamin K2 activated protein.
  • Osteoporosis: Vitamin K2 activated osteocalcin directs calcium to the bones.
  • Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome: Vitamin K2 improves insulin sensitivity thus potentially stalling progression to metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
  • Wrinkles and Tissue Laxity: May be due to a vitamin K2 deficiency causing misplaced calcium in the skin and tissues.
  • Varicose Veins: May be due to a vitamin K2 deficiency causing calcium to deposit in the veins.
  • Arthritis: Joint damage may reflect a vitamin K2 deficiency.
  • Dental Health: Vitamin K2 may be useful in treating and preventing dental cavities.
  • Pregnancy: Adequate vitamin K2 promotes the healthy development of fetal teeth and facial structure. Also, labor may be easier when vitamin K2 levels are adequate.
  • Cancer: Vitamin K2 promotes cell differentiation and may protect against metastasis.
  • Nervous System: Vitamin K2 plays a role in nervous system protection, myelin development, and signal transduction.

Vitamin K2 and Hormones
Vitamin K2 has an important relationship with estrogen and bone health. Estrogen and bone density both decline during menopause and postmenopausal women are often markedly deficient in vitamin K2. Bone health may be improved in postmenopausal women by restoring adequate vitamin K2 levels as vitamin K2 acts in the bone loss pathway in a number of areas specific to the loss caused by low estrogen levels. Vitamin K2 also plays a role in estrogen metabolism itself. Additionally, testosterone levels and sperm production may be improved by osteocalcin, the hormone activated by vitamin K2.

Conclusion
It is remarkable that it took decades from Dr. Weston Price’s careful observations and characterization of Activator X to finally identify vitamin K2 and a number of its myriad functions. We are still not sure of the appropriate supplement dose to use or the amount of vitamin K2 rich foods to eat. Tests are being devised to help evaluate our vitamin K2 status. In the near future, we will be able to measure vitamin K2 levels as readily as we test for vitamin D now. Research has only scratched the surface of the potential of this fascinating vitamin!

Vitamin K2 – A Missing Link in the Western Diet?2018-04-05T11:10:21+00:00

Book Review – Paleo Dog by Jean Hofve and Celeste Yarnall

Book Review – Paleo Dog: Give Your Best Friend a Long Life, Healthy Weight, and Freedom from Illness by Nurturing His Inner Wolf by Jean Hofve, DVM, and Celeste Yarnall, PhD

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy

 

Paleo Dog is a primer for the care and wellness of your dog. However, by following the principles outlined by Jean Hofve, DVM, and Celeste Yarnall, PhD, you might do yourself and your human household a lot of good as well.

Dogs are “opportunistic omnivores,” meaning that they will eat almost anything, but dogs actually evolved eating prey animals. So, what does a modern-day Paleo Dog eat? The Paleo Dog diet excludes all cereals and grains, and processed or synthetic foods. Paleo Dogs eat primarily bones, organ meats, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, and fish oils. This is basically the same diet that has become increasingly popular for humans, with names like the “Stone Age” diet or “Caveman Diet.”

According to the authors, approximately 78 million dogs live in US households, with 85% of those dogs eating a typical commercial dog food diet (which closely resembles the composition of a human “fast food” diet). About half of the dogs eating commercial dog food diets are overweight, and about 75% of them have some sort of dental disease by the age of three. The death rate due to cancer is over 40% for dogs under ten years old. Death in dogs typically occurs between 10-13 years of age, and most often from cancer.

Many dogs show early signs of health disturbances that owners and veterinarians might accept as normal. For example, excess weight leads to joint disease, heart disease, respiratory problems, diabetes, liver disease, skin and coat problems, decreased immune function, cancer, and a reduced life expectancy. (Sound familiar?) If your dog has “doggy” breath, this is most likely a sign of dental disease. If the dog’s coat is lifeless, greasy, flaky and not very appealing to stroke, this could be another sign of trouble. In addition, smells coming from every pore and a build-up of a waxy substance in the ears could indicate allergies. Your dog’s eyes might also exhibit a build-up of mucous in the corners, or persistent tear production. Dogs with allergies might also have bouts of wheezing or sneezing, or constant scratching of the ears, or scooting to scratch his butt. Doggy flatulence, along with foul smelling and large volumes of stool, may also be present. None of these symptoms are “normal” with a Paleo Dog diet.

The authors suggest that the Paleo Dog diet will address these and many other health-related symptoms or behaviors. Following the guidance in this book should help improve a dog’s digestion and periodontal health, as well as produce healthier skin and a shinier coat. In addition, allergies can be tamed and muscle strength, performance, and stamina can be improved.

The authors include lots of instruction to help transition your pet from a typical grain-based diet to one containing lots of raw meats and foods. While perusing the recipe section for Paleo foods to feed your dog, you might find that the recipes sound appealing for people as well (the Paleo Wraps sounded particularly tasty to me).

Paleo Dog addresses many other health-related topics beyond diet. For example, the authors describe how we expose our canine companions to a whole host of interventions that their wild cousins never encounter, such as vaccinations, spaying and neutering, deworming, and chemicals to control fleas. In addition, our pets face greater exposure to the chemicals we put in our yards and homes. Is it any wonder that they endure less than perfect health?

The book also offers a wonderful tableau of alternative treatments to explore for your dog, or even for yourself. The authors include information on treating your companion with herbs, acupuncture, emotional freedom technique, flower essences, and massage therapy. People who have not sought out these types of treatments before may be pleasantly surprised at the many options available.

Paleo Dog offers many practical tips for ensuring a long, healthy life span for both you and your canine pet. The authors include so many brief (but good) explanations for the dazzling array of choices that you may find yourself going back to it, over and over again, for years to come.

Additional Resources:
  • Hofve J, Yarnall C. Paleo Dog: Give Your Best Friend a Long Life, Healthy Weight, and Freedom from Illness by Nurturing His Inner Wolf. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books; 2014.
Book Review – Paleo Dog by Jean Hofve and Celeste Yarnall2018-04-10T14:36:51+00:00

Interview with Elena McHerron

Interview with Elena McHerron

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy

Elena McHerron just celebrated her 80th birthday. She claims that the best thing about getting old is that she has learned so much. Because she is more than willing to share what she’s learned, she describes herself as a motivator – and many of her followers agree.

Today, Elena is active and feeling good, but that wasn’t always the case. When she was most ill, she remembers a voice in her head saying “You will be a part of the transition of medicine,” which has fueled her interest in and passion for solving health problems.

Since the early 90s, this remarkable woman has opened her home to the Candida Multi-Allergy Support Group, which helps people deal with health issues that have stymied the medical profession. Members of the support group bring food to share that must be wheat-, milk- and sugar-free.  But the most important function of the support group is simply to have somebody that believes you. So often, people suffering from health problems that are difficult to diagnose don’t have sympathetic confidants within their own family and circle of friends. They think this person might just be a complainer, or worse, it’s all in their heads. The support group validates their concerns and helps get them on a path to better health.

So, how did Elena get into health activism and become a motivator to others? It built up over many years of personal health problems, including severe PMS. The advice she was given then was to avoid salt! After the birth of her eldest daughter, she suffered with mastitis. She was hospitalized and went through many courses of antibiotics, which was likely the beginning of her yeast-related health problems. Then, after the birth of her youngest, she was hospitalized with post-partum depression. Since she was still having the same symptoms two years later, she was re-diagnosed as bipolar. She had shock treatments and lots of lithium, to no avail. Through the years, Elena collected a lot of personal experience with health-related symptoms, misdiagnoses, and less than helpful treatments.

Elena before . . . and after.

Back in 1952, Elena received a bachelor’s degree in home economics, and she began a career as a home food demonstration agent for the New York State Extension Service. While she agrees that there have been tremendous advances in food science since then (for example, there were no known health issues related to wheat and sugar back then), she is astounded at how much her interest in nutrition, coupled with the hands-on skills she learned about finding things out for herself, served her well in her search for answers to health questions over the years, and still serve her well today. Some of Elena’s personal health discoveries include the following:

  • Elena credits Dr. Steven Bock at the Rhinebeck Health Center in Rhinebeck, NY for a major turning point in her quest for wellness. Elena was in her 50s when Dr. Bock prescribed estrogen and progesterone for her (provided by Women’s International Pharmacy). She remembers asking herself, “Why didn’t somebody do this sooner?” To this day, she remains a strong advocate for bioidentical progesterone cream and plans to never stop using it herself.
  • About that time, Elena also discovered that she was allergic to wheat, and she now adheres to the principles set forth by Dr. Peter D’Adamo in Eat Right 4 Your Type. Another important discovery came after meeting Nancy Appleton, author of Lick the Sugar Habit, which helped Elena understand the real dangers of sugar.
  • As Elena continued to explore the relationships between nutrition and her health, she was exposed to Dr. William Crook’s The Yeast Connection and his other books. She wrote to Dr. Crook and began years of correspondence with him. In fact, Dr. Crook was so impressed with her observations that he invited her to join the advisory board for his International Health Foundation. Elena believes she influenced Dr. Crook to write about the importance of thyroid and adrenal hormones in his later books.
  • Elena also found Dr. Steven Langer’s discussion of the hypothyroid connection in Solved: The Riddle of Illness to be helpful in her search for answers to health questions she encountered. She credits Dr. Langer with the suggestion to first explore the possibility of low thyroid function when experiencing any type of depression.

Today, Elena is careful about nutrition, uses bioidentical hormone therapies, and takes probiotics (Dr. Crook advised her to “take as much as you can afford!”). People from all over the world seek Elena out for advice on their unexplained health issues. And, because she walks her talk, it gives her plenty of credibility. Elena says, “I listen to them and I motivate them” to explore possible solutions to their health problems. She motivates them to persevere, as she did, by sharing her wealth of knowledge and collective personal experiences. She believes that “when people overcome their problems, they become experts in solving that problem.”

Elena also writes an occasional newsletter, called Grass-Root Expressions, which is an eclectic combination of information she has gleaned from her research and contacts over the years. Elena has an extensive reference library and now also uses the internet to help people find reliable resources. Who knew, Elena muses, that when she started her degree in home economics when she was 20, it would help her be so useful to so many people today?

Interview with Elena McHerron2018-04-09T13:52:05+00:00