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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. 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 is 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, or feel like your rectum is blocked.
Constipation may be caused by changes to your diet or physical activity level, medications you’re taking, or because you aren’t drinking enough water. In more serious cases, constipation can be a symptom of a health condition or the result of bowel blockage.
In the Squatty Potty’s video, the prince tells us 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 Japanese study that compared how effective it was to sit, sit with hips flexed, or squat (a position similar to using the Squatty Potty) while having a bowel movement. Researchers found that squatting created an angle in the rectal canal that led to less strain.
Ashkan Farhadi, MD, a gastroenterologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California agrees. He says, “The Squatty Potty does increase the rectal canal angle, from 100 degrees to 120 degrees. When we increase the angle, the rectum opens up. When we want to have a bowel movement, we open the angle.”
Is it true? Yes. However, sitting normally also creates a reasonable angle for most people, says Dr. Farhadi. While it’s correct that the Squatty Potty does create an angle to help the rectal canal be more open, not everyone needs the extra help.
The Squatty Potty uses an Iranian study to showcase how humans were naturally designed to squat rather than sit on a toilet. Researchers asked subjects to compare their experiences using unraised squat toilets and Western toilets. The subjects concluded the squat toilets to be more comfortable and efficient. However, there were only 30 people 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 the stool – which your diet, activity level, and overall health influence –also determine how easy it is for you to go to the bathroom.
Is it true? No. “The claim that sitting is unnatural is not a correct claim,” says Dr. McHorse. However, he notes that using the Squatty Potty won’t do any harm, and might even be helpful for certain people.
“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,” says Dr. McHorse.
According to another study the Squatty Potty uses to support its claims, it requires less effort to empty your bowels when you’re squatting compared to sitting.
Dr. 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. Namely, people who strain to have a bowel movement. But if you’re having problems with regularity, don’t expect the Squatty Potty to solve your problems. “Patients with infrequent bowel movements probably wouldn’t benefit, unless they’re also straining,” he says.
Is it true? Sort of. Dr. Farhadi says that although there aren’t high quality studies to back the Squatty Potty’s claims, it makes sense that squatting reduces strain, based on how our bodies are designed. “There is no question that, physiologically, this should work, but the question is, does everyone need it?” he says.
Both Dr. Farhadi and Dr. 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 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,” says Dr. McHorse.
For people with constipation, an effective way to find relief is by making lifestyle changes. Drinking more water, staying physically active, taking a fiber supplement, and eating more fruits and vegetables, and other high-fiber foods can all help.
Also, pay attention to how your body reacts to different foods. In some people, for example, eating dairy products or heavily processed foods may contribute to constipation. Either 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.