Your Appendix is Useful After All

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September 17, 2009

By Dr. Mercola

When you start feeling a throbbing pain in your abdomen, one of the first things you would likely start blaming is your appendix, regardless of whether the pain is emanating from. But do you know which side the appendix is on?

Your appendix is a slimy sac that hangs between your small and large intestines. It's usually located in the lower right side of the abdomen, but may also be located on the left side in very rare cases. This reverse placement usually indicates a condition called "situs inversus."1

The appendix has long been thought of as a worthless evolutionary artifact, good for nothing except a potentially lethal case of inflammation. But now researchers suggest that your appendix is a lot more than a useless remnant.

Not only was it recently proposed to actually possess a critical function, but scientists now find it appears in nature a lot more often than they had thought. And it's possible some of this organ's ancient uses could be recruited by physicians to help the human body fight disease more effectively.

Your appendix may serve as a vital safe house where good bacteria can lie in wait until they are needed to repopulate the gut after a case of diarrhea. Past studies have also found the appendix can help make, direct and train white blood cells.

The appendix appears in nature much more often than previously acknowledged. It appears in Australian marsupials such as the wombat and in rats, lemmings, meadow voles, and other rodents, as well as humans and certain primates.

Appendicitis, or an infected appendix, can be fatal. According to the CDC, over 320,000 people are hospitalized each year, and up to 400 Americans die due to appendicitis.

Until recently, the appendix was believed to be nothing more than an ancient remnant; a useless organ that served no purpose in your body, and for this reason alone, surgeons have routinely removed them.

However, recent research has discovered that this is not true.

As common sense dictates, there is a purpose for every organ in your body, even the ones that modern medicine can’t figure out, and your appendix is one of them.

How Does Your Appendix Promote Health?

A previous study published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology found that your appendix serves as a “backup factory” for beneficial commensal bacteria, the symbiotic germs that aid digestion and help protect your body against disease-causing germs.

If the good bacteria in your colon dies, which could happen as a result of cholera or dysentery for instance, it appears your appendix steps up to help recolonize your gut with good bacteria.

Modern society has become so hypervigilant against bacteria that many forget a very important point -- The bacteria in your body actually outnumber your cells by about ten to one, and without them you would die.

For example, the friendly bacteria that reside in your gut have a number of very important functions, such as:

It’s also important to remember that 80 percent of your immune system is located in your digestive system, making a healthy gut a major focal point if you want to maintain optimal health.

A robust immune system is your number one defense system against disease.

Modern Lifestyle Does Not Negate the Need for Your Appendix

Researchers have speculated that despite the beneficial influence of the appendix, most people living in the modern world don’t need it because you can easily repopulate the good bacteria in your gut.

I do not agree with this assessment because your good bacteria is constantly being assaulted by antibiotics, chlorinated water, birth control pills, stress, sugar, and a host of other environmental factors.

Gastrointestinal problems are in fact a very common concern for a majority of Americans.

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.

This is why I often recommend that you use a high-quality probiotic as an “insurance policy” to make sure your body remains balanced with good strains of bacteria, particularly if you don’t lead a perfectly healthy lifestyle.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that this is still just the beginning as far as what scientists know about the appendix. It may turn out to have other far-reaching but subtle effects on your body function than what is currently known.

After all, scientists have now discovered that more than 70 percent of all primate and rodent groups contain certain species with an appendix. If its purpose was so inconsequential, why would so many different species have it?

So far, at least one negative side effect of having your appendix removed (called an appendectomy) has been uncovered -- an increased risk of Crohn’s disease. So please, don’t fall for the advice to have your appendix removed simply because “it has no purpose.”

When Should You Agree to Have Your Appendix Removed?

Naturally, there are times when an appendectomy is warranted. If your appendix becomes infected or inflamed, failing to remove it could be fatal.

Just don’t agree to have your appendix removed for no other reason than you’re having an unrelated abdominal surgery performed, which happens more frequently than you might think.

Major warning signs that your appendix might be a problem include:

If you have all of the above symptoms you should be evaluated at your nearest emergency room.

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 7 percent of the time, compared with 28 percent of the time when no scan was done.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 HealthLine, Vermiform Appendix