Since the introduction of the flush toilet more than 100 years ago, we've been going about our business in basically the same way: sit, go, flush. A few years ago, a Utah family decided to update that old- fashioned way. They invented the Squatty Potty, a stool that raises your knees above your hips to put you into a squat-like position when you poop.
Squatty Potty's inventors say squatting moves your colon into the ideal position to go without straining. This and similar posture-changing devices claim they can help you go more easily and avoid constipation. Evidence suggests they do work.
Your Digestive System at Work
First, a little primer on how the digestion process works. As food moves from your stomach to your small intestine, digestive juices break it down. Digested nutrients move through the wall of your small intestine into your bloodstream. Leftover waste mixes with water in your large intestine to form stool.
Stool stays in your rectum -- a collecting chamber at the end of your large intestine. A U-shaped muscle called the puborectalis wraps around your rectum. This muscle keeps the lower part of your bowel bent to hold the stool inside until you're ready to go. It works much like a kink in a garden hose that prevents water from getting out. The slight bend in your colon stops you from letting go and having an accident.
When it's time to have a bowel movement, your rectum contracts. The puborectalis muscle relaxes, and you push to release the stool from your body.
Sit vs. Squat
While Americans and other Westerners have always sat on the toilet, people in Asia and Africa squat when they go. In these cultures, people consider squatting to poop a more natural position than sitting.
The problem with sitting is that it keeps the kink in your lower bowel. That forces you to work harder to push out the poop. Squatting relaxes your puborectalis muscle more and straightens out your colon, giving the poop a straight route out. As a result, you can go more easily with less straining.
Does It Work?
X-rays taken during studies show that the rectum does straighten out more when you squat. Pressure in the belly is also lower in this position, which could be a sign you're not straining as much.
When people use posture-changing devices to squat, studies show, they go more quickly. They also strain less and empty their bowels more completely than when they sit on the toilet.
By making it easier to poop, squatting might ease constipation and prevent hemorrhoids, which are often a result of straining. People in Asian and African countries do have lower rates of these conditions. That could have something to do with their diet or with the squatting.
If you want to squat, you don't have to buy a stool. Just bend your knees and hips deeply. But a device can make it easier to get into position. Products like these may be especially helpful for older adults with joint issues who have a hard time squatting on their own.
For people who are often constipated, a squatting device could replace laxatives and other medicines.
There don't seem to be any risks to using these footstools. But if you have chronic constipation or any other GI symptoms, check with your doctor before trying it. You could have a medical condition that a squat alone won't fix.