It seems that people rarely think of appendix and its importance and the only mention of it is when it has to be removed. But, what exactly does this organ do?
The appendix is a tube-shaped sac attached into the lower end of the large intestine. Medically, it is known as ‘vermiform appendix’ due to its worm-like shape. This organ was disregarded as useless for a long time and considered as a souvenir of our revolutionary past.
Charles Darwin and many other scientists believed that this organ is a vestigial one which once helped people digest tree bark. Given that tree bark is not a part of human`s diet anymore, the appendix as such was thought to be unnecessary as was no longer serving any use. However, a recent research from the Duke University Medical Center suggests otherwise.
The appendix might produce and even protect beneficial probiotics in the digestive system. Researchers believe that the human digestive system contains bacteria needed to digest food properly. When a disease attacks, these bacteria are destroyed. In such instances, the appendix can serve as a reserve for good bacteria. Once the immune system fights off the disease, the bacteria re-colonize the digestive system.
Conventional medicine has long believed the appendix was a useless organ that served no function whatsoever. But, recent evidence suggests that this organ might play an important role in the development of the immune system. Namely, a research has shown that lymphoid tissue builds up in the appendix after birth. Consequently, the appendix aids in the maturation of B lymphocytes and supports the production of antibodies. The appendix manufactures molecules that help in the movement of lymphocytes to various areas in the body.
Based on current research on the topic, it seems that the appendix serves as a reserve for beneficial gut flora. As mentioned above, when disease reduces the number of beneficial bacteria in the intestines, the appendix may store them for back up.
In addition, it has been shown that those who had their appendix removed could be 4 times more likely to suffer from an irritation of the large intestine, known as Clostidium difficile colitis. This condition typically occurs when the body is low on gut flora, which might explain the relationship between the appendix and its role in keeping healthy probiotic levels. Although the research is still taking place, it does show that appendix is needed for maintain optimal health.
It is worth noting that although it plays an important role in the human body, the appendix carries the risk for appendicitis. This condition starts with a pain in the middle of the abdomen which might come and go. Within a few hours, the pain affects the lower right-hand side and it becomes more severe. Walking, coughing, or pressing the area may worsen the pain.
The most common symptoms of this condition include being sick, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, flushed face, and high temperature (fever). Although appendix removal is not always the only option in case of appendicitis, it cannot be taken for granted. According to studies from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 300-400 Americans die from this condition annually.