The functionless organ, the remnant of something that was once great and needed and is now, through evolution, just a useless space waster…… We are happy to forget it is even there until it causes grief and is removed.
Nope! Not anymore.
We may actually need it.
Research is now showing that the appendix is an important immune organ and that appendectomies can have substantial health repercussions. Turns out we do need our appendix and our body is more clever than we thought.
The appendix is a form of GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissues) that contains an abundance of immune cells - an abundance in number and type. These immune cells are involved in the production of antibodies and contains large numbers of T-regulatory cells which helps to establish and maintain immunological tolerance.
So what is immunological tolerance? Well basically it is how the immune system learns to discriminate self from non self and not attack it’s own tissue (auto immunity) and also not over react to environmental entities like allergens, gut microbes etc.
And there is more…..
The appendix seems to function as a reservoir or “safe house” for commensal bacteria that is, bacteria that live in harmony with us and benefits our health. It can then provide a rapid re-innoculation of the bowel following an environmental insult to the microbiome.
Well when you eat terrible food, food laden with chemicals, or come in contact with infectious diarrhoea, short term antibiotics, toxins and other dietary changes. they can irritate and cause inflammation in the bowel. And they can kill off the good bacteria that benefit us helping us digest food, keeping our immune system functioning and even impacting our mood.
And this is where the appendix steps in. The appendix is isolated away from the rest of the gut and has a very small opening, tinier than a pencil lead. This shape and position means that the good bacteria that live in harmony with us are largely protected from the things in the rest of the digestive system that can annihilate them. They are protected from the faecal stream that miught be carrying on the disease causing bugs.
So basically, the appendix houses the good germs, the symbiotic ones that aid digestion and helps protect against disease. They hide out in the appendix in colonies and in times of trouble, they wait until the coast is clear then move out and repopulate the gut making sure you have a never ending supply of beneficial gut bacteria. Another example of our clever body working for our survival.
Oh no! I have no appendix. Is this a catastrophe?
Not really. Your appendix can kill you so if you need it out then get it out.
Removing the appendix doesn’t have too many negative side effects in industrialised countries with modern medical care and good sanitation because widespread outbreaks of gastro are rare meaning this beneficial bacterial is unlikely to be completely exterminated and eradicated. But there are some consequences of appendectomies (not the essential ones more the ones prophylactically or “just in case”).
If you have have lost yours it just means you need to support a healthy microbiome with evidence based (as in the right species) or probiotic especially after the removal and/or antibiotic treatment.
So a quiet acknowledgement of the clever appendix - labeled useless for so long but yet critical for immunity and the health of our gastrointestinal tract. A refuge for the good bacteria to hide out in. A safe haven ensuring your gut will always have a supply of good bacteria when it needs them.
Another example of our very clever body.