Generally, the only mention of the appendix is when it needs to be removed. But what exactly does the appendix do?
The appendix is a tube-shaped sac that is attached to the large intestines. In medical terms, it is referred to as ‘vermiform appendix’ for its thin, worm-like shape. For years, the appendix was dismissed as a useless souvenir of our evolutionary past.
Many scientists, including Charles Darwin, believed that this small pouch protruding from the intestine was a vestigial organ that once helped humans digest tree bark. Since tree bark is no longer part of the average human’s diet, it was thought that the appendix was no longer serving any use. Recent research from the Duke University Medical Center(i) suggests otherwise.
The appendix may produce and protect beneficial probiotic colonies in the digestive system. According to researchers, the human digestive system is full of bacteria that is necessary to digest food. When diseases attack, these important kinds of bacteria are purged or killed off. In such situations, the appendix can act as a reserve for good bacteria. After the immune system beats off the disease, the bacteria emerge and re-colonize the gut.
For the past few decades, conventional medicine believed the appendix was an unimportant organ that served little to no function. Yet evidence shows that the appendix may play a vital function in the development of the immune system. According to research, lymphoid tissue accumulates in the appendix after birth. In turn, the appendix helps in the maturation of B lymphocytes and the production of antibodies. The appendix produces specific molecules that aid in the movement of lymphocytes to various locations within the body.
Based on current evidence(ii), it seems that the appendix serves as a “reservoir” for beneficial gut flora. When illness reduces good bacteria from the intestines, the appendix may store some of that good bacteria for back up.
It has also been shown that individuals without an appendix could be four times more likely to suffer from recurrent Clostidium difficile colitis, an irritation of the large intestine by spore-forming bacteria. This condition is often present when the body is running low on gut flora, potentially explaining the connection between the appendix and its role in maintaining probiotic levels. While the research is ongoing, it seems that the appendix is important for maintaining optimal health.
While it does play a helpful role in the human body, it still carries the potential for appendicitis. While appendicitis doesn’t always result in appendix removal, it cannot be ignored. Studies from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found that around 300 to 400 Americans die from appendicitis every year.
Ariana Marisol is a contributing staff writer for REALfarmacy.com. She is an avid nature enthusiast, gardener, photographer, writer, hiker, dreamer, and lover of all things sustainable, wild, and free. Ariana strives to bring people closer to their true source, Mother Nature. She graduated The Evergreen State College with an undergraduate degree focusing on Sustainable Design and Environmental Science.