The toilet footstool may have gained popularity from a clever viral video campaign, but new research confirms it really can improve the way you (bowel) move.
You may be going to the bathroom wrong.
While that may seem like a silly statement to make, about 1 in 6 Americans experience chronic constipation.
With awkward doctors’ visits and possible medical interventions with unwanted side effects, many people are trying different ways to make using the toilet an afterthought in their everyday lives.
Relief may come in the form of simply adjusting your toilet to better fit the shape of your colon.
New research backs up the potential benefits of outfitting the base of your commode with a small footstool.
The idea of this small intervention is that it lifts a person’s legs. It gives them more of a “squatting” posture, the one humans use to make when going No. 2 outdoors before we invented modern plumbing.
The toilet footstool — probably best known because of its catchy name and commercials involving unicorns pooping, the Squatty Potty — was the subject of a recent study out of The Ohio State University that looked at its intended impact on a person’s defecation.
“These toilet stools became popular through things like viral videos and social media, but there was really no medical evidence to show whether or not they are effective,” the study’s co-author Dr. Peter Stanich, assistant professor of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine, said in a statement.
So, Stanich and his team set to see if the claims were actually true.
They recruited 52 healthy volunteers and studied them for four weeks. Before the study even began, 44 percent of participants reported increased straining. Nearly a third said they had trouble completely emptying their bowels.
After using a Squatty Potty for a month, 71 percent of The Ohio State study’s participants reported experiencing faster bowel movements, and 90 percent reported less straining. Two-thirds said they would continue to use a toilet stool.
While “straining while defecating” is a subjective measurement for each person, it’s universally three words most people would like to keep out of their daily routine.
“This study shows that these simple devices may help symptoms like constipation, bloating, and incomplete emptiness and can help people have more comfortable and effective bowel movements,” Stanich said.
Or, as the makers of the Squatty Potty tweeted after the research was released: “Science.”
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. The authors reported no conflicts of interest, such as funding from Squatty Potty.
Dr. Hardeep Singh, a gastroenterologist with St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., who wasn’t involved in the study, said its findings are valid and footstools appear to be a good option for some people with constipation.
“The physiology behind the footstool working is simple,” Singh told Healthline. “Normally there is an angle between the anal canal and the rectum. This helps ensure we are continent. When we want to have a bowel movement, a muscle around the rectum relaxes, which straightens the angle between the anus and the rectum, allowing us to defecate. The squatting device is a simple measure which can encourage that happening more efficiently.”
Besides a footstool, Singh recommends a diet with 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, drinking six to eight glasses of water a day, and exercising regularly to help with the regularity of your bowel movements.
The stools are a relatively inexpensive, one-time purchase that could have lasting effects. The brand-name Squatty Potty retails for about $25, while other designer versions are available for about $80.
Some medical and nutritional experts who use toilet stools themselves say it’s a cheap, noninvasive, non-medicinal prevention method and remedy for common defecating-related problems.
The proof, they say, is in the potty.
Sarah Spann, a clinical nutritionist specializing in gut health who uses a toilet stool, says that while The Ohio State study’s sample size was small, the methods used were appropriate to assess the efficacy of the device.
“I think that a toilet footstool is a great alternative to medicine for people who are having trouble defecating or experiencing any straining,” she told Healthline.
Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, says modern toilets aren’t designed to allow someone to easily empty their entire bowels because sitting creates a bend in the rectum.
“Raising your feet up on a stool so that your hips are flexed beyond 90 degrees helps to straighten out the rectum,” Backe told Healthline. “This allows the stool to pass through much more easily.”
Dr. Jack Springer, a fellow with the American Board of Emergency Medicine, says he has a stool on every one of his toilets because they’re the “most effective, safe, non-medicinal tools that exist for many common medical ailments.”
Because the Western diet is especially low on fiber from fruits, vegetables, and grains, constipation is more likely. All that unnecessary straining can take a toll on your, ahem, hole, which can lead to hemorrhoids and diverticulosis, an incurable condition where bulges develop inside your intestinal tract.
“The reason why the ‘squatty potties’ work is based on basic anatomy and physiology of the human body,” Springer told Healthline. “We didn’t evolve sitting on toilets. Squatting is the natural means of defecating and still the most common way world over.”
Spann says she often recommends toilet footstools to her clients for both the prevention and treatment of constipation, straining, bloating, hemorrhoids, and fissures.
“The toilet footstool changes body position to be more in line with what is natural for humans for defecation,” she said. “I don’t consider it to be unsafe, however, perhaps those with limited mobility would need to use caution.”
For maximum safety, act like you’re living with someone who regularly leaves the toilet seat up: Look before you leap.