For eons, people have assumed a squatting posture when relieving their bowels; that was the only option before modern toilets were invented. Even today, squatting is the norm in many parts of the world (including the McDonald’s on the Champs-Élysées, to my surprise and chagrin).

Might old-fashioned squatting be better for our bodies?

The maker of the Squatty Potty thinks so. The Squatty Potty, a stool that’s shaped to fit around the foot of a toilet, allows your feet to be elevated and your body to assume a squatting position. That posture straightens the bend in your rectum (called the anorectal angle) so it’s easier for you to eliminate, the Squatty Potty Web site explains.

The man behind the Squatty Potty is Robert Edwards, 37, a Utah-based designer and contractor. When he learned that his mother, who had hemorrhoids, was using a bulky stepstool to help her squat, he thought the concept intriguing but the execution inelegant. Before long he’d built a prototype Squatty Potty for his mom.

“The modern toilet is an ergonomic nightmare,” Edwards says. “We didn’t evolve to ‘go’ that way.” Edwards says squatting can eliminate a host of “issues caused by modern toilets,” from constipation and hemorrhoids to pelvic-floor disorders, all of which, he says, are “linked to straining” while defecating.

But remember that Edwards is a designer, not a doctor. He admits there’s not a lot of science to support the notion that squatting’s superior to sitting. “I plan on maybe doing some medical studies,” he says, “but for now we’re going to stick with the more alternative route we’re on.”

Edwards says he’s sold more than 15,000 of his products. The lower-end plastic model costs $34.95, while an attractive – well, as attractive as such an item can be – bamboo model sells for $79.95.

The Squatty Potty is far from the only squat-supporting toilet accessory on the market. But do these things actually contribute to better health?

I asked two gastroenterologists, William Whitehead, director of the University of North Carolina’s Center for Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders, and John Clarke, clinical director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology. In short, both agreed that while there’s no substantive science linking squatting to any particular health benefit, it’s physiologically plausible that squatting might make it easier to empty one’s bowels.

Whitehead told me, “I think there is a general belief that it is beneficial to have knees raised and feet higher” while evacuating and that squatting is “more natural.” But, he added, “there is no literature that I know of” to demonstrate that squatting is in fact beneficial.

Clarke agreed about the lack of scientific literature regarding squatting. Still, he said, “You could argue that it physically makes sense. It changes the angle and makes it easier for stool to come out, if that’s an issue.”

I had one lingering question for Edwards. “Does your mom mind your talking in public about her elimination problems?” I asked during our phone interview.

“She hates it,” he said. “But her hemorrhoids are gone.”