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If you’ve heard of the Squatty Potty, then you’ve probably seen the ads. In the ad, a prince explains the science behind bowel movements and why the Squatty Potty stool can make them better. At the same time, a unicorn demonstrates beside him by pooping rainbow-colored soft serve.
The visuals are certainly memorable, but is the Squatty Potty stool the gift to your bowels that it claims to be? The short answer is: possibly, or at least for some people.
Read on to learn more about bowel movements and who the Squatty Potty is likely to help.
Constipation is when you have difficulty having a bowel movement, and it’s pretty common. The American College of Gastroenterology says that each year in the United States, there are about 2.5 million visits to the doctor because of constipation and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on laxatives.
What it means to be “regular” depends on the individual, since every body functions differently. The American Academy of Family Physicians defines regularity as having a bowel movement anywhere from three times per day to three times per week.
In general, constipation occurs when you:
- have less than three bowel movements per week
- strain too much in the bathroom
- have hard stool
- feel like you’ve not had complete bowel movements
- feel like your rectum is blocked
Constipation may be caused by:
- changes to your diet
- changes to your physical activity level
- medications you’re taking
- not drinking enough water
In more serious cases, constipation can be a symptom of a health condition or the result of bowel blockage.
The makers of Squatty Potty claim they’ve designed a product that makes emptying the bowels easier and more comfortable by ensuring the user is squatting — not sitting — at the best angle and reducing strain. But what do experts think?
Claim #1: Squatty Potty creates the optimal angle
In the Squatty Potty video, the prince says that sitting on the toilet with your feet flat on the floor creates an angle that makes it harder for your bowels to empty.
This claim is based on a
Ashkan Farhadi, MD, a gastroenterologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, agrees.
“The Squatty Potty does increase the rectal canal angle from 100 degrees to 120 degrees,” he says. “When we increase the angle, the rectum opens up. When we want to have a bowel movement, we open the angle.”
This makes sense because the digestive system contains a series of sphincters, or rings of muscle that guard various openings. The anal sphincter expels waste from the body.
When you squat during a bowel movement, the sit bones are able to separate. This allows the sphincter to fully expand and waste to move through with the help of gravity.
- increased bowel emptiness
- reduced straining patterns
- reduced bowel movement duration
A 2017 study of 33 participants echoed these findings. Researchers found that pedestal toilet bowel movements, where the user is seated upon the toilet, took an average of 113.5 seconds. Meanwhile, using a footstool lowered the average to 55.5 seconds. All but one participant reported less effort in a squatting position.
- pelvic or uterine prolapse
- irritable bowel syndrome
- inflammatory bowel disease
- colon cancer
- ulcerative colitis
The study also notes the role that British colonization may have played in introducing the pedestal toilet, once reserved for royalty and those with mobility limitations, to India and other nations which colonizers considered “primitive.”
Is it true? Yes. The Squatty Potty does create an angle to help the rectal canal be more open, and even those with average bowel patterns can benefit. Still, sitting normally also creates a reasonable angle for most people, Farhadi says.
Claim #2: We were designed to squat, not sit
The Squatty Potty uses a 2002 Iranian study to showcase how humans were naturally designed to squat rather than sit on a toilet.
Researchers asked participants to compare their experiences using unraised squat toilets and Western toilets. The participants deemed the squat toilets to be more comfortable and efficient. However, only 30 people participated in the study, none of them had any rectal problems, and they were already used to squatting for bowel movements.
“The act of having a bowel movement is very complex. It’s much more than just the angle of the colon,” says Dr. Tom McHorse, a gastroenterologist at Austin Regional Clinic. Factors like the makeup of your stool — influenced by your diet, activity level, and overall health — also determine how easy it is for you to go to the bathroom.
Is it true? This point is contested. According to the
“The claim that sitting is unnatural is not a correct claim,” says McHorse. “In a small number of patients this can be helpful, but the claim that we’re not made to sit on the toilet isn’t bound by scientific evidence.”
However, he notes that using the Squatty Potty won’t do any harm, and might even be helpful for certain people.
Claim #3: It helps bowel movement
According to another
The studies above also support this claim.
Still, Farhadi says this claim applies to some, but not all.
The Squatty Potty is “a useful tool in a particular group of patients,” he says. “Patients with infrequent bowel movements probably wouldn’t benefit, unless they’re also straining.”
If you’re straining, the Squatty Potty might help, but if you’re having problems with regularity, don’t expect it to solve your problems.
Is it true? Emerging evidence points to yes, though it’s not the consensus yet. Farhadi says that although there are only a few high quality studies to back the Squatty Potty claims, it makes sense that squatting reduces strain based on how our bodies are designed.
“There’s no question that, physiologically, this should work, but the question is, does everyone need it?” he says.
Both Farhadi and McHorse agree that there’s no harm in trying the product.
While it might not provide relief for everyone, it’s possible that changing your position can help if you’re straining a lot when you’re trying to have a bowel movement. The angle created by using the Squatty Potty can help to open the rectum for an easier bowel movement.
“If there are problems that appear to be related to release of the stool, this device might help,” McHorse says.
For people with constipation, an effective way to find relief is by making lifestyle changes, like:
- drinking more water
- staying physically active
- taking a fiber supplement
- eating more fruits, vegetables, and other high fiber foods
Also, pay attention to how your body reacts to different foods.
For example, eating dairy products or heavily processed foods may contribute to constipation in some people. You can eliminate or eat less of those foods that affect your bowel movements.
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may also recommend using a laxative or a stool softener. Talk with your doctor about what’s best for you.
If you have constipation or other changes in your bowel movements, call your doctor for an appointment.
Do you think the Squatty Potty could be right for you? To learn more about it or to purchase one, click here.