To Squat, or To Sit: That Is the QuestionPosted: December 12, 2013
Let me apologize in advance, this post is about poop. Or rather, pooping.
My college suitemates and I always get together every Halloween. This year, my friend Kathy hosted us at her apartment outside New York City, and I happened upon a very interesting contraption in her bathroom. I believe the correct term is squatty potty? A platform specifically designed for toilet users to perch upon it and, well, squat instead of sit. The device belonged to one of her roommates, and I have to say I found it both fascinating and hilarious.
Squatting has gained more of a following in recent years, as scientists become more interested in how our bodies cope with the sedentary lifestyle of industrialization. Of course, there are also millions of people around the world who squat out of necessity because they don’t have Western toilets. Doctors have been suggesting we squat instead of sit since the 1960s. Their rational? It’s just better or more natural for our physiology. Sitting, they say, puts the passage from the rectum to the anal canal at the wrong angle. A 2010 study published in the journal Lower Urinary Tract Systems suggests that squatting produced a 126° angle, compared a 100° angle when sitting. When one squats, the rectoanal angle is straighter, so pooping requires less effort.
Though some have been touting the benefits of squatting for a while, there’s not a lot of rigorous scientific study on the subject. In a 2003 study, a researcher asked 28 people to time themselves while pooping in three different positions: sitting on a standard toilet, sitting on a shorter toilet, and squatting. Everybody pooped six times in each position, and rated how hard they thought it was. Squatting proved faster and easier. But, another study in 52 patients found no reduction in strain, based on whether or not squatting reduced weakening of muscles at the bottom of the pelvis. Everybody seems to test squatting in a different way, so it’s hard to compare conclusions.
Does less strain on human physiology actually have a noticeable impact on someone’s health? Some say yes. When having some difficulty doing one’s business sometimes, people sometimes take a deep breath and try to exhale without releasing air through the nose or mouth – consciously or unconsciously. This is called the Valsalva Manoeuver (named for 17th century Italian anatomist Antonio Valsalva). It sounds like a figure skating move, but it’s actually a style of breathing that’s used in medical tests and scuba diving, as well. It does put a little more pressure on the heart though. A study from 1990 argued that because squatting is linked to less strain, it might prevent those at high risk for a heart attack from having one on the can.
There’s also the argument that it reduces the risk of hemorrhoids. Doctors have certainly recommended it as a treatment. Some have also posited that it even prevents colorectal cancer. There’s very minimal (if any) data to support any claims of long- or short-term health benefits. Though the scientific verdict on the subject is still out, that obviously hasn’t stopped many from joining the squatting revolution.
Personally, I lack the balance and grace required to squat on a toilet platform, so I can’t say I’ve tested it out. But, my friend Agnes did, and in her words, “it was as pleasant as that kind of experience could be.” If you are so inclined this holiday season, a Google search of squatting toilet returns eight pages of options. They even sell them on ETSY.
* Note: Names have been changed for privacy…or because poop discussions apparently make my friends blush.