Brain and Body

Is Your Appendix Actually Useless?

February 26, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

Photo credit: Screen capture from video by Dnews

Not so useless afterall?

It seems to be common knowledge that the appendix in our bodies is no longer an essential organ because it doesn't serve a purpose. Hence, why so many people live happily and healthily after having their appendices removed.

But just how much truth is there to that “knowledge,” scientifically speaking?

It turns out, according to research from Duke Medicine, that your appendix isn't so useless after all! Instead, it serves as a "safe house" for good bacteria! The beneficial bacteria within our appendices aid in digestion, as well as repopulating the gut and intestine with good bacteria after, for example, an onset of diarrhea that might deplete your gut flora.

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William Parker, an assistant professor of experimental surgery at Duke Medicine, stated the following in a press publication for their study:

"Our studies have indicated that the immune system protects and nourishes the colonies of microbes living in the biofilm. By protecting these good microbes, the harmful microbes have no place to locate. We have also shown that biofilms are most pronounced in the appendix and their prevalence decreases moving away from it."

Parker continued:

"Diseases causing severe diarrhea are endemic in countries without modern health and sanitation practices, which often results in the entire contents of the bowels, including the biofilms, being flushed from the body. The appendix's location and position is such that it is expected to be relatively difficult for anything to enter it as the contents of the bowels are emptied.”

"Once the bowel contents have left the body, the good bacteria hidden away in the appendix can emerge and repopulate the lining of the intestine before more harmful bacteria can take up residence. In industrialized societies with modern medical care and sanitation practices, the maintenance of a reserve of beneficial bacteria may not be necessary. This is consistent with the observation that removing the appendix in modern societies has no discernible negative effects."

So, it turns out the appendix does in fact play a useful role in the body, but don’t worry — living without an appendix isn’t life threatening in any way. The results of the study just let us appreciate that fact that our appendices do serve an actual purpose.

In the video below by Dnews, they describe why we can’t just assume our appendices are useless. They also explain why we don’t use our appendices any more, as well as clarifying  why we get appendicitis — the reason why many people having to get their  appendix removed.  


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