Appendix and your immune system


The appendix, the small, never thought of organ that most misconceive of as redundant. The appendix is a small, finger like projection which comes out of the large intestine on the right sight of the abdomen. Historically it has been thought of nothing more than an evolutionary hangover that provides no modern-day function and can be a real pain in the gut when it can gets inflamed or ruptures.

The common misconception is that our evolutionary ancestors used their appendixes to digest tough food like grass and tree bark.  Based on this evolutionary theory, some scientists believe that the appendix will disappear from the human body over time as it is no longer needed in our evolutionary lifecycle. However, this theory didn’t fit when researches reviewed over 553 different mammals to understand the evolution of the appendix. They found that while our Cats and Dogs don’t have an appendix, it had evolved into rabbits, primates and others on over 30 separate occasions without ever leaving the evolutionary lineage, suggesting it has a role to play.

An immune and good bacteria reservoir. 

Recent scientific research points to the appendix having a link to the immune system and your gut health. It is suggested that the appendix is a sort of mini reservoir for good bacteria, so that if our system is under attack and needs to flush itself out (like a bad bout of diarrhoea), then the appendix makes sure we protect and maintain some good bacteria to help the repopulation of the microbiome after the event.

The appendix is also thought to have a role in the immune system where Lymphoid tissue (organized structures that support immune responses) accumulates in the appendix after birth and reaches a peak between the second and third decades of life, decreasing rapidly thereafter. It has been shown that during the early years of development, the appendix functions as a lymphoid organ, assisting with the maturation of B lymphocytes (a variety of white blood cell) and in the production of immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies.

Mourning the loss of your appendix?

If you are reading this and starting to mourn the loss of your appendix, or worried that you have lost an organ that plays a role in the body, don’t fret. In our modern-day societies with excellent medical care and sanitation practices, it is believed that the maintenance of a reserve of beneficial bacteria may not be as necessary as it once was and this is consistent with the observation that removing the appendix has no negative side effects.

That being said, it is important to consider that some studies have shown that people without an appendix may take slightly longer to recover from an illness as our reservoir of good bacteria is no longer present to help rapid repopulation. So, be glad if you still have your appendix and if not, don’t worry, we can all take easy steps to help our microbiome. The microbiome is important pillar for the normal function of the immune system and as such adding good levels of fibre, fermented foods and probiotics to the diet may be a way to help not only the microbiome, but your health overall.

Special thanks to Alicia Harper for the image. 

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