The appendix has long been viewed as a useless organ, but new research suggests that it may actually serve a vital purpose. According to researchers at Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, the appendix may help manufacture and store helpful gut bacteria.
“[The appendix] may serve as a reservoir for beneficial gut bacteria,” said researcher Dr. Health F. Smith.
Researchers were curious to learn if the appendix actually served a purpose, as it has long since been documented as a vestigial organ with no real purpose. You may be surprised to learn that humans aren’t the only mammal with an appendix, and while it may function different in other animals, researchers were curious as to the appendix’s role in other species. They found that the appendix has evolved independently in several mammal lineages, over 30 separate times in fact. Moreover, it “almost never disappears from a lineage once it appears,” researchers wrote, suggesting that it likely serves some adaptive purpose.
By examining the mammals with an appendix, researchers were able to reject several previously suggested hypotheses as to the organ’s function. After eliminating some theories, they were able to devise a hypothesis of their own. The examination revealed that species with an appendix have “higher average concentrations of lymphoid (immune) tissue in the cecum,” researchers wrote.
Lymphatic tissue has previously been shown to stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, suggesting that the appendix may serve as a “safe house” for good gut bacteria, and it may act as a secondary immune organ. This healthy bacteria is thought to improve digestive health and play a role in keeping you from getting sick.
So while the appendix may not be so useless after all, it’s important to remember that a person can function just fine without their appendix. So if you feel pain in the lower right portion of your stomach, especially if it is accompanied with other symptoms like a fever or vomiting, get to a surgeon right away. If your appendix ruptures it can cause very serious health problems, so symptoms should not be ignored.
If you’re experiencing pain in the region, contact Dr. Koeplin’s office right away. Dr. Koeplin has safely performed appendix surgery many times, and he can help you take care of a problem before it snowballs.