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Helpful Bacteria May be Hiding in Your Appendix

July 08, 2008 | 89,817 views

appendix, appendicitis, appendectomy, surgery, bacteria, probioticsYour appendix is a small dead-end tube connected to a section of your large intestine. It has long been thought to be a vestigial remnant of some other organ, but there is little evidence for an appendix in our evolutionary ancestors. Few mammals have any appendix at all, and the appendices of those that do bears little resemblance to the human one.

Some researchers now believe that the appendix is a “safe house” for commensal bacteria, the symbiotic germs that aid digestion and help protect against disease-causing germs.

The appendix is isolated from the rest of the gut, with an opening smaller than a pencil lead. In times of trouble, such as an infection that flushes the system, these commensal bacteria could hide out there, ready to repopulate the gut when the danger is past.

Biofilms, colonies of beneficial microbes, form in your large intestine. They aid digestion and protect against infection, while enjoying the protection and nutrition of the human host. Researchers have found biofilms on the epithelial lining of the appendix as well.

 

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Appendicitis can indeed be life threatening and is not something to be taken lightly. About 300 to 400 Americans die, and about 321,000 are hospitalized due to appendicitis each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

However, the idea that your appendix is a completely useless organ that can be removed without consequence is definitely naive. I don’t believe human beings are born with any unnecessary parts that can be thoughtlessly removed as an aside during surgery.  

As this research indicates, your appendix most likely does serve an important function by producing and protecting the good bacteria in your gut. And, since 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut, being able to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in your intestines is vital to your health.

Granted, this function may be slightly less crucial for life today than a hundred years ago when intestinal disease epidemics were far more common. For example, between 1908 and 1912, the appendicitis rate was about 107 cases per 1 million people in the United States, compared to just over 1 case per 1 million people today.

That said, your appendix is STILL a useful organ, so please don’t fall for the advice to have it removed “because it has no purpose.”

There are times when it is necessary to do so, because if you fail to remove it you will die from massive infection. But there’s just no reason to remove your appendix simply because you’re having abdominal surgery -- unrelated to your appendix -- done.

It makes perfect sense that your appendix may help regulate your intestinal good bacteria. And, hopefully, now that this function for the appendix has been recognized, surgeons will stop removing healthy appendixes for no reason.

Has the Modern World Eliminated Your Need for the Appendix?

Personally, I do not agree with the researchers’ conclusions that your appendix is unnecessary in the modern world because, as they say, you can easily repopulate the good bacteria in your gut.

Why?

Because your good bacteria is constantly being assaulted by antibiotics, chlorinated water, birth control pills, stress, sugar, and a host of other environmental factors, which has made digestive problems extremely common, even if people are not actually dying from epidemic intestinal disease that completely wipes out their healthy bacteria.

Ideally, your gut should contain a ratio of 85 percent good bacteria to 15 percent non-beneficial bacteria. But the factors I listed above have actually caused this ratio to reverse in many people, leaving them clearly deficient in good bacteria and hence more predisposed to illness.

This is why I often recommend that you use a high-quality probiotic as an “insurance policy” to make sure your body is properly balanced, particularly if you don’t lead a perfectly healthy lifestyle, or when traveling and eating unfamiliar foods.

Who Knows What Other Functions Your Appendix Might Have…

Another thing to keep in mind is that there is simply no way to know what OTHER subtle but far-reaching effects your appendix has on your body functions. At least one negative side effect has already been uncovered from having your appendix removed -- an increased risk of Crohn’s disease.

Unfortunately, we may never know what these other beneficial factors are, because as William Parker, the senior author of the study, said about doing further research to prove this current theory about the benefit of the appendix:

“… an experiment to prove this theory would be very expensive. And in any case, why would you want to spend money to find out something that is not likely to help cure a disease?”

Folks, that’s the reality inherent in modern, conventional medical research. It’s not done to figure out how your body works or how it can heal itself, per se. Research is ultimately done for the purpose of designing drugs so a profit can be generated. U.S. research does not want to spend research dollars to determine why you really need your appendix and should limit surgical removal.

When Should You Opt for an Appendectomy?

It’s important to point out, as I said earlier, that there are cases when an appendectomy can save your life, because once your appendix becomes infected or inflamed, it is life threatening.  

Here are some major warning signs that your appendix might be in trouble:

  • You have absolutely no appetite, even for your most favorite foods.
  • You have pain that started around your belly button and has moved to your lower right abdominal area.
  • You have pain when jumping up and down. Try to gently jump up and down. If there is no pain, try jumping even higher. This will move your peritoneal cavity and if it is irritated with an inflamed appendix, you will be in miserable pain.
If you have all of the above symptoms you should be evaluated at your nearest emergency room as soon as possible, as if your appendix ruptures you dramatically increase your risk of dying from overwhelming sepsis.

If you are a woman, you may benefit from receiving a CT scan or ultrasound prior to having an appendectomy. A study published in the journal Radiology found that in women who had this done prior to surgery, a healthy appendix was removed only 7 percent of the time, compared with 28 percent of the time when no scan was done.

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