Is there an ideal toilet and why are the Germans involved?

Is there an ideal toilet and why are the Germans involved?

Learn how your morphology affects the quality of your toilet time and why German toilets are the perfect location for a bit of self-reflection.

We, humans, have improving our toilet habits around the world since the dawn of time. Most of us have learned (or are genetically encoded) not to play with our stool or eat it, but rather to dispose of faeces in the most hygienic way possible.

It probably started with a leaf and, perhaps, a coarse hole scratched out of the earth at an acceptable distance from home. Later, we made recipients, buckets if you will, that met many needs, including the ability to amass faecal matter in one place and prevent trailing it around on poorly shod feet.

Incidentally, it is the former home of Barbarian tribes and now respected engineers that are closest to the perfect toilet in our opinion. In fact, with one free modification, they could have the best comfort station in the world.

☝️HOW TO☝️ collect stool for your Atlas Biomed Microbiome Test. Make sure to pee first, then slide the toilet seat through the paper collection tab and position it under your rectum. Do your duty, scoop and shake. No fuss, no muss.

The world’s best invention

By sedentarising our toilet habits, we could focus more energy on activities without having to climb over the next hill for relief: this also limited the chances of getting robbed or mauled. Medieval toilet habits in forts included storing human faeces to be set on fire and poured on the heads of intruders in case of attack.

Having one’s personal porcelain bowl was something to aspire too, an ostentatious display of wealth, compared to say, the communal water closets of the downtrodden during the Industrial Revolution. Private toilets and plumbing reduced infection transmission and therefore increased hygiene and health. It was a magical time.

Not so long ago, the height of sophistication was a candle and an outhouse with sawdust to quench the smoldering odours. Only recently did the house get its very own water closet where one could sit, squat, contemplate and drown the perfumed sins of yesterday in a small pool of water. Outhouse or in-house, either way, the world was a better place.

German engineering at its finest

But nothing is free in this world, and that goes for toilet engineering too. There's also a cost-2-benefit ratio.

Indeed, hygiene and comfort levels increased but, as usual, we neglected the gut: our body’s most underrated organ to paraphrase a German author and MD, Giulia Enders. Her book incidentally is a highly recommended read for anyone who wants to enhance their health IQ on this organ.

Back to the topic at hand. It’s very clear that most people prefer a sit-down toilet bowl with a small water reservoir at the bottom.

We get it. It’s less strenuous, doesn’t require you to pop a squat outside of crossfit classes and is much better for playing on your phone. It also envelopes your foul-smelling deposits in liquid that protects your delicate nose buds.
Tell me what your stool looks like, and I'll tell you who you are

Such comforts are now widely available, unless you’re in an exotic far-flung destination or indeed, Germany: home of the “shelf toilet”. These resilient Europeans are known for pragmatism and a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to public debt and health. The “shelf” extends out to collect your stool, where usually it would drop straight into its watery grave.

Think of it like desensitisation training from an early age: crippling embarrassment over toilet habits is not a burden for a nation that stares down the barrel of their own stool every day. Was this inspiration for PhD student Giulia Enders writing her landmark book as a medical student? This author would like to think so.

But why would anyone want to get up close and personal with their poop? Exactly for the reasons you want to distance yourself from yesterday’s meals. The smell and appearance, duh.

There’s a lot to learn from your stool and there’s nothing standard about them. In fact, every bolus you pass is unique, but also influenced by your health and diet. Here are a few important features you can assess by looking at your stool:

  • Consistency: constipated, regular or loose?
  • Colour: brown, red, yellow, grey, black, dark green, purplish?
  • Mucus: is there a snot-like substance in your stool?
  • Particles: can you identify large pieces of undigested food?
  • Smell: is it “normal” bad, or particularly foul today?

Ask any GP, most people get shifty when it comes to talking about toilet habits. It’s a taboo topic but it’s time to put that to rest, because our digestive tract is home to a large part of our immune system and our gut microbes. Not to mention that it communicates directly with the brain, influences mental health and many seemingly unrelated diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes type II.

The German shelf toilet may be the ideal tool for your daily wellbeing assessment because it allows you to identify what's normal for you, and what's not, for free.

German engineering is not fool-proof however, as passengers of the long-awaited Berlin Brandenburg Airport would agree. If you suffer from infrequent bowel movements, the shelf toilet won't help. However, there's a small fix that might be one way to relieve constipation naturally: all you need are some glutes.

Pop a squat

German engineering couldn't have solved this flaw. Any why? Because shelf toilets are probably older than the technology that made this discovery.

Our colons evolved to pass stool when squatting. It just so happens that the last two segments of the large bowel, the sigmoid colon and the rectum, are differentiated by a significant “kink”. Researchers call this the rectoanal canal and it plays an important role in faecal continence.

Getting the angle right when you're on the loo may relieve constipation. Squatting has been shown to open up the angle of the rectoanal canal, thus allowing for a smoother and more direct evacuation of your stool. This also has the benefit of reducing straining.

Notes from a 1974 field study conducted by British surgeon DP Burkitt and colleagues suggested possible correlations between squatting and “near absence of haemorrhoids [and] constipation” among other conditions in the rural African populations they visited.

They also attributed the lack of common Western disease to the high-fibre diets of the people they studied. Interesting, fibre is still a source of interest today and can facilitate the expulsion of digested detritus if relief is what you are looking for.

Learn to love the fibre

Our ancestors enjoyed diets rich in fibre, the source of big and beautiful poos because fibre is rather magical. Soluble dietary fibres absorb water and the byproducts of your body’s metabolism that can be harmful. Insoluble fibres provide additional bulk.

Dietary fibres, including resistant starches from grains, potatoes, legumes and pulses nourish the gut bacteria. These microbes turn them into compounds like short-chain fatty acids that reduce inflammation, help maintain the integrity of the gut lining, perform anticancer functions and provide fuel for the cells of the gut lining, called epithelial colonocytes.

Dietary fibres directly and indirectly accelerate transit and reduce time spent in the colon, and that’s a good thing. They also capture cholesterol, bile acids and other toxic metabolites and remove them from the body.

☝️TIP☝️: fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other plant foods also contain a multitude of different fibres, vitamins and phytonutrients that are beneficial for your health and your next bowel movement.

Be good to your gut

It’s time we put one taboo to rest: the fear of our own stool. The human body is a majestic creation of biological genius. It’s self-healing, home to trillions of bacterial cells and rarely needs extra parts.

Put on your white coat to become your best health advocate: learn to look at organic smells and natural secretions like a scientist. Because, with a little German engineering and an occasional squat, you can tailor your own healthful toilet habits.

☝️Learn more about how gut microbes affect your health, protect you from disease and synthesis nutrients with the Atlas Biomed Microbiome Test.

Leigh Stewart
Leigh Stewart Head of Atlas Biomed content, trained chef and avid fermenter of edible bacteria.

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