Q: Is squatting a better way to go to the bathroom? Can it reduce constipation?
A: There hasn’t been enough research to know for sure. Squatting was the normal way to defecate until the invention of the flush toilet in the mid-19th century—and is still the most common position used around the world.
A few small studies suggest that squatting may have some benefits. For example, in an Israeli study in 2003, people (age 17 to 66) took less time to defecate and reported straining less while squatting, compared to when they sat on a normal or low toilet. And in an Iranian study in 2002, defecation was more complete when people used a squat toilet. More recently, a Japanese study found that there was less build-up of abdominal pressure when people squatted, suggesting that less effort is needed to defecate.
“But nothing has been published that shows that squatting actually reduces constipation,” says Steven Jacobsohn, M.D., a gastroenterologist and member of our Editorial Board. What the studies do show is that squatting straightens the angle between the rectum and anus, allowing for more relaxed and complete elimination, which, in theory at least, may help with constipation and hemorrhoids.
Even if squatting facilitates bowel movements, it’s a hard position to assume if you’re not used to it. You must be pretty limber. Plus, western bathrooms are not equipped with squatting toilets—and devices that retrofit your regular toilet can be risky. A more practical way to avoid constipation is to increase your fiber intake and become more physically active.