For a long time, the human appendix was thought not to have a special purpose. But now, thanks to the new research, scientists have shown that the appendix as an important function: it serves as a reservoir for beneficial gut bacteria.
Why The Appendix Matters
It’s no secret that when the appendix becomes inflamed (appendicitis), doctors usually remove it. This was a common practice simply because for decades, we believed that the appendix had no special purpose. But thanks to Heather Smith, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine who is currently studying the evolution of the appendix across mammals we now know that the appendix has evolved independently in several mammals, over 30 separate times. What this means is that the appendix has adaptive purposes: diet, climate, environment, all play a part.
What is clear is this: the species that have an appendix have higher concentrations of an immune tissue called lymphoid in the cecum. This means that the appendix may very well be our secondary immune organ.
To add to this interesting discovery, the species who have an appendix also have more beneficial gut bacteria, suggesting that the similar thing happens with humans too: those who have an appendix, probably have more beneficial gut bacteria. In essence, the appendix serves as a “safe house” for helpful gut bacteria.
Interestingly, people who have had their appendix removed may need slightly more time to recover from illness.
When The Appendix Needs To Go
However, it’s important to understand that when the appendix becomes inflamed, it will usually have to be removed.
Here is what Professor Bill Parker had to say about this: “It’s very important for people to understand that if their appendix gets inflamed, just because it has a function, doesn’t mean they should try to keep it in.”