Have We Been Wrong About the Appendix?

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Have We Been Wrong About the Appendix?Long believed to have no real purpose in the human body, the appendix only becomes important when it is inflamed and at risk of rupturing. A common surgical procedure is to remove the appendix. In all, this organ is not thought of too highly in medical science. But a potential health breakthrough has found that just maybe it serves a useful purpose after all.

U.S. researchers uncovered proof that the organ may protect the good bacteria in your body, the ones that promote healthy digestion. They are now famously known as probiotics. The appendix, located in and around the stomach, could be acting as a bit of a “safe house” for the bacteria, which are linked to a flurry of health benefits.

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The appendix is a thin tube with a closed end, a few inches long, attached to the colon. Its only known functions were releasing mucus into the colon and storing tissue needed to make immune cells. But its importance has been debated for a long time, as people who have their appendix removed don’t show any symptoms.

But perhaps there are silent symptoms we can’t see? Maybe the appendix provides a safe resting place for good bacteria to live undisturbed until they are needed. Without it, perhaps there are fewer good bacteria and more unhealthy bacteria.

If diarrhea or another problem swoops in and flushes out the intestines, the saved-up good bacteria could be released into the digestive tract to “repopulate” it and get it back to normal. The intestines have room for only so many bacteria (millions of them, as it were), so the more good bacteria there are, the less harmful ones can live there.

All this may also help explain why people get appendicitis (inflammation in the organ). The study says it’s possible that the immune system overreacts and attacks the good bacteria stored in the appendix. The immune system is powerful, and since we lived in relatively clean, sanitized conditions, it has nothing to do a lot of the time. So your white blood cells may spot a pool of bacteria in your appendix and assume it’s a foreign invader.

Anyway, that is the theory at play here, and so the story continues…