By Jaimie Dalessio, Everyday Health Staff Writer
Our ancestors did it. People in Asia, Africa, and some parts of Europe still do it. So how did we Westerners end up deviating from the best way to go No. 2?
Blame it on toilets as we know them. Thrones, they have been called. Turns out we should squat, not sit.
In a 2003 study, 28 healthy people volunteered to time themselves doing their business in three alternate positions: sitting on a standard toilet, sitting on a low toilet, and squatting. They not only recorded how long it took them, but also how much effort it took. Squatting, the study concluded, takes less time and effort.
“There is definitely some physiologic sense to squatting,” says gastroenterologist Anish Sheth, MD, co-author of the books What’s Your Poo Telling You? and What’s My Pee Telling Me? “Simply put, it straightens out the colon.”
When we’re standing, the colon (where waste is stored) gets pushed up against the puborecatlis muscle, which keeps fecal continence until it’s time to hit the bathroom. Sitting down only partially relaxes that muscle. Squatting fully relaxes it, essentially straightening out the colon. That, in turn, eases the elimination pooping process.
Experts have argued that digestive illnesses like colitis, constipation, and hemorrhoids stem from all the sitting and straining people do on the toilet. Studies have shown, for example, that the more time you spend in the bathroom, specifically reading, the more likely you are to develop hemorrhoids, or swollen blood vessels in and around the anus. Some doctors even recommend patients try squatting to deal with their colon issues.
Squatting toilets are used throughout the world today. In Asia, public restrooms might offer two stalls with Western porcelain flush toilets, and two stalls with squat toilets in which the user plants their feet over an opening in the floor and squats. “Turkish” toilets can be found elsewhere, including Japan, Russia, and France.
While Sheth doesn’t now advise his patients to try squatting, “I probably should,” he says. “I guess until now there wasn’t a safe way.”
Sheth was referring to SquattyPotty, a product released last fall that looks like a step stool. Users place their feet on it while sitting on the toilet, enabling a 35-degree angle squat.