Written by Dr. Mark
Referenced article: https://qz.com/882112/why-do-we-have-an-appendix/
A friend from Chiropractic school shared this article the other day which is pretty interesting. The head line is kind of funny, but at the same time kind of sad, that because we didn’t understand the purpose of the appendix we just assume it serves no purpose. It’s obviously not a vital organ since a lot of people are walking around without them but I would think it, along with our tonsils and adenoids, serves a purpose to help us function, even if we can function without it.
The research the article references proposes “the appendix is a secondary immune function that both catalyzes immune cell responses and floods your gut with beneficial bacteria when they’ve been depleted.”
Appendices are not unique to humans. Over the course of eight years or so, Heather Smith, an anatomist and lead author of the paper (who had her own appendix removed at the age of 12), led a team that examined all the available information on mammals with the organ. The total number of species came out to be 533, and included chimps, dogs, and even pikas. These animals are as different as could be: They hail from all parts of the world, eat different diets, and even travel in different types of social groups. Smith was looking for similarities among their various appendices that could explain what kind of purpose the organ could serve in humans.
They thought that maybe, variation among appendices would be related to animals’ lifestyles. But no such luck: “We failed to find a link between appendix presence (or size) and the dietary, ecological, and social characters,” they wrote.
But they did find a common immunity trait. “In animals that have an appendix, there is a higher concentration of lymphoid tissue in the cecum,” says Smith. The cecum is a part of the digestive tract that begins in the large intestine, from which the appendix stems. This lymphoid tissue, she thinks, is full of cells that trigger an immune reaction when the body is under duress.
Additionally, their work supports evidence that the appendix is a reserve of emergency bacteria for when the rest of the gut is wiped clean. Our guts are populated with trillions of microbes (mostly bacteria), that live symbiotically with us. They get a cozy space to live with a constant food supply (both the food we eat and the nutritious mucosal lining coating our intestines), and in return they give us extra nutrients and crowd out infection-causing bacteria. When we take antibiotics or get food poisoning (or anything else that causes the intestines to rapidly evacuate their contents), our guts are completely flushed of all bacteria. “The appendix has a concentration of good gut bacteria that can repopulate the gut,” says Smith. Although they weren’t able to study the specific types of bacteria in each animal, this is a theory that has been described (paywall) in humans before.
I share this article because I thought it was pretty interesting, not to worry those of you that don’t have an appendix. I like how they point out the importance of good bacteria, and the symbiotic relationship we have with them, they help keep us healthy and it’s an interesting concept that the appendix is a “reserve” of concentrated good bacteria. Maybe if you don’t have one anymore, you may want to be sure you are getting plenty of probiotics, but really everyone should be doing this.
I also think it’s important to recognize that we don’t, and probably never will, fully understand our bodies and how they function, but I have confidence that our creator knew what He was doing. We should do as much as we can to support what we’ve been given, and minimize our interference, whether that is chemically by introducing foreign substances or physically by cutting things out.
Be Blessed – Dr. Mark