Are Squat Toilets Better for Your Health?

We Americans are pretty particular about our pooping habits. Camping trips aside, there’s generally only one acceptable way to go: sitting down. U.S. tourists returning from international trips share horror stories of bathroom conditions in other parts of the world. “It was a hole in the ground!” Sitting to poop is just more civilized than squatting, we tell ourselves. It can’t be sanitary to hover over a hole.

But we are mistaken. Billions of people around the world squat at bathroom time. Squat toilets are the norm in Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. And for a while now, the pro-squat squad has been trying to get America on board. Proponents of squatting say seated pooping is not only harder—it’s hazardous to your health.

Our bodies certainly aren’t designed for the toilets we use. The alimentary canal ends with the rectum, where waste is stored, and the anus, where it leaves the body. The tube between them is slightly kinked, which is what allows you to hold it. Standing up pinches off the passageway. To a lesser extent, sitting does the same. This is great when there’s no rest stop in sight, but when it’s time to go, you want the channels clear. The squatting position straightens out the tube, allowing your poop to show itself out. There’s less straining, which we can all agree is a good thing.

Hemorrhoids are a pretty big problem in this country. By age 50, approximately half of Americans have had them. And the number one cause (no pun intended)? Straining during bowel movements. 

But we don’t have to live this way. A niche industry of squat enablers has sprung up in the U.S. It’s dangerous to sit on your toilet, say the manufacturers, who offer footstools, and adapters to squat-ify Western toilets. Their websites blame our seated poopstyle for colon cancer, heart attacks, sexual dysfunction, heartburn, and appendicitis. You can prevent all these problems, they say, if you just buy what they’re selling.

David Ling, inventor of the Sandun-Evaco toilet converter, promises users “a lifetime of health benefits (better skin, flatter abdomen, reduced toxicity, better mental clarity and reduced risk of disease as a result of a cleaner and healthier colon).” The makers of the Squatty Potty—a footstool with a toilet-shaped cutout—claim their product can ease constipation, prevent colon disease, and improve pelvic floor issues. The $25 to $80 Squatty Potty has been endorsed by Howard Stern, and has inspired the most glittery train wreck of a commercial we’ve ever seen.

Is there any truth to these claims? Maybe. Some of them. There’s definitely no evidence that you can get clearer skin or better abs from a toilet converter, and nobody’s testing the effects of squatting on vague concepts like “mental clarity” and “toxicity.” A few studies have shown that squatting does make pooping easier and faster and may reduce the risk of hemorrhoids. The rest of it remains to be seen.

Doctors at a British Hospital Are Now Prescribing Houseplants for Depression

Halfpoint/iStock via Getty Images
Halfpoint/iStock via Getty Images

You don’t have to take a trip to the countryside to reap the mental health benefits of being around nature—a single plant might just do the trick (as long as you can keep it alive).

Fast Company reports that the Cornbrook Medical Practice in Manchester, England, is one of the first in the country to prescribe houseplants to help treat anxiety and depression. It’s part of a horticultural therapy program led by a local nonprofit called Sow the City, which leads initiatives to foster community gardens in Manchester.

It’s just as much about building a sense of community through gardening as it is about the therapeutic advantages of caring for your own house plants. “There’s evidence that people who are socially isolated have worse health outcomes,” Sow the City director Jon Ross told Fast Company. The organization has also assisted Cornbrook Medical Practice in establishing its own herb garden, which patients are welcome to help maintain. Ross and his team work closely with doctors at different offices to optimize each garden for its particular clientele—sometimes, that means building a small, flora-filled sanctuary that’s just for rest and relaxation.

Other times, it’s a fully-fledged vegetable garden. For a “Hospital Beds” program at another hospital, Sow the City installed raised vegetable beds where long-term mental illness patients can soak in some sunlight, socialize with each other, and take pride in seeing the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors flourish. There’s an added physical health benefit, too: The patients get to eat the produce. “We really don’t have good food in our public hospitals,” Ross said.

Sow the City also makes sure that no green thumbs are necessary to participate in any gardening party. Its members populate the gardens with already-healthy, easy-to-tend plants, and they’ll even train patients on how to care for them.

If you’re thinking a garden might improve your own quality of life—doctor’s orders or not—here are 10 easy-to-grow plants for first-time gardeners.

[h/t Fast Company]

You’re Probably Brushing Your Teeth All Wrong

busracavus/iStock via Getty Images
busracavus/iStock via Getty Images

No matter how much you hate brushing your teeth, there's no getting around it: Regular brushing helps you maintain a healthy mouth as well as a healthy heart. But even if you've been doing it since you were tall enough to reach your bathroom sink, there's a chance you're not brushing your teeth properly. Fortunately, improving your brushing habits can be as simple as tweaking your technique and taking an extra minute out of your day.

According to Popular Science, the key to productive brushing is duration. Both the American Dental Association and the British Dental Association recommend brushing for at least two minutes at a time twice a day—usually in the morning and at night. Two minutes may not sound like a long time, but unless you're counting down the seconds, it's hard to know exactly how long you've brushed. The easiest fix for this is setting a timer: That way, you can brush mindlessly without worrying about when to stop.

That's not to say every brushing session that hits the two-minute mark will have the same results. When you brush, your goal should be to clean every tooth without abusing your gums. That means gently sweeping the bristles in short, back-and-forth motions at a 45-degree angle to your gums. If your gums feel sore, even after you switch to a gentler technique, the problem may lie in the brush itself. Make sure you choose a tool with soft bristles, as stiff bristles will only cause damage to the sensitive areas of your mouth.

Sometimes even setting a timer, upgrading your toothbrush, and improving your technique isn't enough to combat the central problem of oral hygiene: It isn't very exciting. The more you dislike brushing your teeth, the less likely you are to do it, so you should find any opportunity you can to make it a more rewarding experience. One trick is listening to your toothbrush sounds: Research has shown that people who listened to audio of their brushing played back to them felt cleaner and more accomplished afterwards.

[h/t Popular Science]

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