Find More Evidence That Your Appendix Serves a Purpose
It’s time to stop picking on the appendix. An article
published in the journal Comptes Rendus Palevol supports the theory
that the much-maligned organ may serve as a “safe house” for beneficial
Your appendix is a little tube connected to the cecum (a
pouch at the end of your large intestine) on the right side of your abdomen. Most
of us know two things about the appendix: that infection there is dangerous,
and that the organ itself is useless. The first statement is definitely true. A
burst appendix is nobody’s idea of a good time. But useless? Perhaps not.
One scientific paper published in early 2016 found
that removing an appendix-like structure in mice made them more susceptible to
infection and inflammation. Other researchers have argued that the little tube acts as a reservoir
for beneficial gut bacteria, keeping them safe even when infection damages the
rest of the gut’s bacterial ecosystem. When the dust settles, the good guys in
the appendix can start afresh, repopulating the gut with protective microbes.
Heather F. Smith researches the evolution of our bodies at
Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine. For her latest
study, she and her colleagues compared the developmental history of the appendix
in 533 mammal species.
The researchers found that, far from originating once in a
single common ancestor, the appendix evolved independently more than 30
different times–a fact that suggests that it must do something.
The data also showed that species that have an appendix
also have a higher concentration of lymphoid tissue, which supports immunity
and the growth of beneficial bacteria, in the cecum. Taken all together, these
findings support the theory that your appendix is there to help keep you safe
and crawling with the right kind of microbes.
So it’s useful, yes. But do we need it? Not entirely. “In
general,” Smith told TIME, “people who have had an
appendectomy tend to be relatively healthy and not have any major detrimental
There may be some minor effects, though. People who’ve
undergone appendectomies are slightly more prone to infection. “It may also
take them slightly longer to recover from illness,” Smith said, “especially
those in which the beneficial gut bacteria has been flushed out of the body.”