Are toilets causing colon cancer?

John Hopton for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Since the human race became aware that some cancers are caused by elements of lifestyle, there has been an understandably obsessive attempt to pinpoint which behaviors cause which cancers. In some cases this has been extremely useful, while other time we’ve found ourselves being told to do or not do the same thing intermittently until we begin to wonder if the powers that be actually have a clue what’s going on at all.
Colon cancer is high on the list of fatal cancers, and it is more prevalent in the West than in other parts of the world. A reasonable assumption is that it’s due to dietary difference. But another, more odd theory posits it’s our use of sitting toilets, as opposed to the squatting method preferred in developing countries. (*Don’t read over breakfast warning*): The suggestion is that sitting on Western, throne-style toilets leaves the colon restricted, causing some fecal matter to remain lodged inside, the toxins from which can increase the risk of cancer over time.
The simple, hole-in-the-floor squatting method used in countries with fewer luxury toilets (and also in developed countries such as Korea and Japan, although western style toilets are becoming more popular) is deemed to be more natural, and to work with the “design” of the body to allow full evacuation.
How realistic is the link between sitting toilets and colon cancer, though? The site toilet-related-ailments.com argues passionately that sitting as opposed to squatting toilets are responsible for high rates of colon cancer in America. They quote Science News from 2003 as saying: “Each year, about 150,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer in the United States alone. Although the disease is the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide, few people living in developing nations contract the illness.” They then tell us that “by choosing to squat for waste elimination, you need not fear this disease.”
Having taken us through a long and graphic lesson about how our excretory system works, toilet-related-ailments.com finally suggests to us a product which can help us to use our existing toilet like a squat toilet. There is also a banner at the top of the site which we can click to get “the best toilet converter in the world today!” The people at this site may have been so convinced about the link between colon cancer and sitting toilets that they found a product to deal with it, or the chicken may have come before the egg.
In late 2014, WebMD reported that colon cancer rates are falling for the over-50 population and rising for younger people. Has anyone noticed people of a certain generation turning to squat toilets, whilst youngsters still stick to those trendy sitting toilets? Dr. Jules Garbus, an attending colorectal surgeon at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, NY, told WebMD that although the reasons for increased colon cancer in younger people are unclear, “Dietary and lifestyle factors in this age population need to be carefully examined.” Diets and other lifestyle patterns such as drinking certainly change between generations. The type of toilet we use does not.
The issue has been covered in the mainstream press. The Daily Mail asked if a modified toilet could make us healthier, but their main source was the product designer himself. Slate Magazine’s Daniel Lametti says that “Modern-day squat evangelists make money off the claim that a ‘more natural’ posture wards off all sorts of health problems, from Crohn’s disease to colon cancer,” but admits that “there’s now some empirical evidence for the claim that defecation posture affects your body.”
Lametti made reference to the time in 1978 when President Carter had to take a day off from work with a severe case of hemorrhoids. A few weeks later, Time Magazine asked a proctologist named Michael Freilich to explain the president’s ailment. “We were not meant to sit on toilets,” he said, “we were meant to squat in the field.”
But even if significant, to what extent can that effect on the body by linked to colon cancer? One reliable source is a study published on the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2012. The investigative starting point was: “The sitting position, rather than squatting, during defecation has been hypothesized to be a risk factor for colorectal cancer.” The conclusion? The study “did not support an appreciable role for using sitting toilets as risk factors for CRC (colorectal cancer).” The research says that: “There is indeed scientific evidence that squatting results in faster and more complete defecation. However, in our study, squatting was not associated with a lower risk of CRC.”
Related studies on the site suggested a decreased risk of colorectal cancer associated with coffee consumption, a decreased risk of distal colorectal cancer associated with rice consumption, and a decreased risk due to a high intake of fish, particularly of distal colon cancer. It was also found that “women who have ever used oral contraceptives are at lower risk of colon and rectal cancer.”
It appears that there are plenty of lifestyle and behavioral factors involved in colon cancer risk, but the extent to which our style of toilet is one of them is, at best, uncertain.
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