Health Column: To squat — or not?

03/08/2015 7:00 AM |
Designed by a Utah family in 2010, the Squatty Potty 'helps you to eliminate faster and more completely' by forcing you to squat. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Designed by a Utah family in 2010, the Squatty Potty ‘helps you to eliminate faster and more completely’ by forcing you to squat. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

One of 2014’s hottest holiday items wasn’t an expensive electronic device or an innovative kitchen gadget. It was a $25 plastic toilet stool called a Squatty Potty — and it sold out on shopping websites like Amazon.com before many people even had a chance to add it to their virtual wish lists. 

Designed by a Utah family in 2010, the Squatty Potty “helps you to eliminate faster and more completely by putting your body into a natural squatting position over your own toilet,” according to an online product description.

It reportedly reduces straining and helps prevent and heal hemorrhoids.

The 7- to 9-inch footstools, which purportedly “un-kink your rectum,” became especially popular after they were featured on “The Dr. Oz Show” and enthusiastically touted by celebrities like Howard Stern, who often tells his Sirius XM listeners that the Squatty Potty has “changed my life.”

That’s a ringing endorsement. Still, I called gastroenterologist Dr. Joseph Duva of East End Internal Medicine in Riverhead to find out whether he thinks the contraption is the real deal.

Before laughingly assuring me that yes, he has heard of the product, Dr. Duva gave the Squatty Potty the proverbial thumbs up.

“I think it’s good,” he said. “I think it can be very effective for some people.”

Dr. Duva reminded me that our ancestors squatted for millennia before the modern toilet became widely used in the mid-19th century. He also said the sitting position a toilet forces your body into “is not the best angle to allow defecation.”

“There’s a muscle [the puborectalis] that’s supposed to relax when we poop,” he explained, and this can only be achieved by squatting.

OK, that makes sense. But do people really need to spend $25 on a plastic footstool, or will a dollar store find suffice?

“Anything that elevates the knees to that angle is going to work,” Dr. Duva assured me. According to squattypotty.com, your feet should rest seven inches off the ground when using a standard toilet and nine inches when using a handicapped toilet. In other words, your knees should come up above your hips.

If there’s a downside to the Squatty Potty, Dr. Duva said, it’s that it isn’t a cure-all for constipation, because there are different reasons people suffer from the ailment, including digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.

Still, he said, the product is a natural and more reliable alternative to over-the-counter drugs.

“Unlike laxatives and other things that become less effective over time, this is something that will basically always work because it’s changing your anatomy,” he said.

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