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.

Should You Take a Daily Aspirin to Prevent Heart Disease?

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iStock

For decades, physicians have recommended that older patients or those who have had a cardiac event like a heart attack take a low-dose aspirin daily. Acting as a blood thinner, aspirin can help prevent blood clots from forming and causing more cardiovascular issues.

This wisdom was examined in a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which looked at more than 19,000 elderly people and found no measurable benefit to the practice for people aged 65 and over. Worse, aspirin may actually cause harm by increasing the risk of bleeding.

So, who should be taking aspirin as a preventative measure, and when?

The most recent study, which began in 2010 and followed subjects 65 and older with no prior cardiovascular disease taking either 100 milligrams of aspirin daily or a placebo, found that the risk of bleeding in the stomach or brain was increased in those taking aspirin (3.8 percent in the aspirin group versus 2.8 percent in the placebo group). The rate of disease-free survival among subjects was no higher among those taking aspirin compared to those on the placebo.

Aspirin has been shown to help some patient populations, however. For people who have already suffered a heart attack or stroke, aspirin can reduce the risk of a recurrence. According to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, adults aged 50 to 59 who have a 10 percent or greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease, typically as the result of lifestyle, genetic, and dietary factors, will likely benefit from a daily dose. As that patient population ages and risk of bleeding increases, it becomes a risk-to-benefit assessment. The task force found insufficient information for aspirin use to prevent cardiovascular disease in people under age 50.

The American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association both recommend aspirin to decrease cardiovascular events in patients with risk as low as 6 percent over a 10-year period. For adults with only average risk, no medical authority currently recommends the regimen.

As with any medical issue, it’s best to consult with your doctor about taking aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease. Only your specific medical history can help determine whether it’s right for you. And if you're currently taking aspirin and have concerns based on the newest research, don't stop taking it until you've had a chance to discuss it with your provider.

[h/t NPR]

5 Ways to Express Your Gratitude (and Reap Its Benefits)

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iStock

Bad days happen to the best of us: The alarm doesn't go off, your kids are fussy, you get stuck in traffic, and as soon as you get to work, you spill coffee down the front of your favorite shirt. And then, to add insult to injury, you log onto Facebook and are greeted by the smiling face of your old college roommate, who is just so #blessed. Lucky her.

But is her life really better than yours? It turns out that being grateful for what you have—even if some days, what you have appears to be a disaster—is mostly an exercise in self-reflection. Here are some simple things you can incorporate into your daily routine in order to better appreciate the good things you have going in your life—and doing so, studies have found, can improve your physical and emotional health.

1. KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL.

Gratitude journal on a pink background.
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The task is easy: Each week, take the time to write down and reflect on five things that you're grateful for. "These can be small things, but big things are fine, too," Jo-Ann Tsang, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, says.

A 2003 study by researchers from the University of Miami and the University of California, Davis [PDF], found that students who recorded the things they're grateful for felt better about their lives, exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical problems, were more likely to make progress towards personal goals, and were more optimistic about their upcoming week than students who were tasked with writing down hassles or neutral life events.

For the greatest benefits, focus on people, rather than things, in your journaling, and go into detail about why you appreciate each item. Also, don't feel compelled to journal daily: According to the University of California, Berkeley's Greater Good blog, journaling once per week was found to be more beneficial than daily journaling.

2. DO A 30-DAY CHALLENGE.

Glass jar filled with colorful notes.
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Committing to a full month of reflection not only boosts your gratitude awareness, but gives you the satisfaction of completing a goal. Lisa Ryan, gratitude expert and author of Express Gratitude, Experience Good, suggests writing down three to five things that you're grateful for each day for the next 30 days. As with gratitude journaling, this exercise works best if you're specific. Instead of writing that you're grateful for your husband, Ryan says, "you should write, 'I'm so thankful that Scott cooked a great dinner last night.'"

If you choose to write your list in the morning, you'll set a positive expectation for your day. Writing it in the evening will remind you of the good the day brought, even if it was a particularly hard day to get through. It will also help you fall asleep faster and sleep better, Ryan says.

3. HOST A GRATITUDE PARTY.

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If you're going through a hard time, write down the names of the people who have helped you in your life. Then, plan a party in their honor. Amy Newmark, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude, says, "You'll find that in planning your guest list, you'll start noticing how many people are there for you extending a helping hand every day. This will make you more grateful, and you'll feel less alone every day."

4. GAIN SOME PERSPECTIVE.

Man hugging his dog.
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Thinking about the alternatives can help you appreciate what you have, Newmark says. For example, are you stuck emptying the dishwasher again? Think about the fact that you have a warm, comfortable home filled with kitchen appliances. Are you running around in a frenzy, with no time for yourself? Think about how full your life is. "Would you rather not have these errands to do, these kids to drive around, this job that creates all this work?" Newmark asks.

5. SPREAD KINDNESS.

Hands holding a cut-out heart in the air.
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The very fact that you have the ability to do something nice for someone else will make you feel more confident of your own situation, more aware of your own capabilities, and more grateful for the blessings in your own life. Keep a list of the good deeds you perform—it can be as simple as holding a door for someone or letting a mother with a crying child go ahead of you in line at the store, Newmark says.

And find the right "dosage" for you. For some people, doing five kind things on one day each week, rather than doing five good things throughout the week, showed more positive benefits. Others, however, get more of a boost from daily positive activity [PDF].

This story first ran in 2016.

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