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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.

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science
New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
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The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

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