Anatomy And Physiology

Is Appendix Useless



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Doctors have long considered appendix, a narrow, muscular worm-like pouch found at the intersection of the small and large intestines, a vestigial organ, and they advocated its surgical removal as a preventive measure when it got infected. It was considered a evolutionary remnant, a potential mischief maker whose rupture was feared to be fatal.

Research over the past few years prove that appendix performs several useful functions. It houses beneficial bacteria important for sound intestinal health. These intestinal flora form a micro-colony of organisms called biofilm, which is a combination of microbes, mucous, and immune system molecules. This biofilm lines the intestines. The microbes in the biofilm are nourished by the polysaccharides coating on the intestinal surfaces and, in turn, help to break down the food we eat.

The biofilms exist in greater concentrations in the appendix than in the intestines. When a person suffers from diarrhea, the body loses all the useful bacteria along with the fluids and the appendix repopulates the intestines with some of the bacteria in its reserves and restores it to normalcy soon.

The appendix has a lymphoid tissue which contains infection-fighting lymphoid cells. After birth, the lymphoid tissue in the appendix makes white blood cells and antibodies, including a special class of antibodies known as immunoglobulin A. The white blood cells in the appendix are exposed to myriad microorganisms and viruses passing through the gastrointestinal tract and learn to fight them. Thus they strengthen the immune system.

Research also suggests that removing the appendix increases the risk of Crohn's disease, a type of inflammatory bowels with that causes pain, abdominal cramps and bleeding.

Scientists suggest that people in industrialized societies have a high rate of appendicitis, allergy and perhaps autoimmune diseases since their "hygienic" practices have left their immune systems less challenged by parasites or other disease-causing organisms commonly found in the environment. So when these immune systems are suddenly challenged, they can over-react.

The appendix slows down the production of antibodies after 20-30 years. Even though the appendix serves very little active purpose by the time one turns sixty, newer uses have emerged for the humble appendix. Doctors now realize they can use the appendix for reconstructive surgery. For example, the appendix tissue is used to re-create sphincter muscle in a bladder replacement surgery.

So, while there are times when it is necessary to remove the appendix, there is no need to remove it simply because you're having an abdominal surgery, so why not remove a "useless" trouble-maker.

And who knows what other functions your appendix might have

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