For a very long time the appendix was believed to be nothing more than a vestigial organ. In other words, an organ that no longer has importance to us, but at one time did have significance in our ancestors. An obvious example of a vestigial organ would be the non-functional hind-leg and foot bones in modern whales that are just buried within their fat. The ancestors of modern whales at one time where land dwelling mammals that walked on all fours.
At most the appendix is recognized as a lymphoid organ that perhaps plays a role in immune function. It contains dense aggregations of lymphocytes, a.k.a. lymphoid nodules. That is until Bill Parker, from Duke University School of Medicine, hypothesized a radical new function of the appendix. He believes the appendix serves as a reserve for beneficial bacteria in our guts. We already know the significance of our flora protecting us against harmful microbes. Most of us have experienced what happens when we disrupt our army of good bacteria when we take too many antibiotics, i.e. yeast infections, diarrhea, etc. This is not new news. However, the fact that our appendix may harbor a reserve army of these good guys is a revolutionary idea. But how could this idea be tested?
In December 2011 a study was published that tested Parker’s idea. The researchers hypothesized that if the appendix did contain reserves of beneficial bacteria then those who had an appendix would recover better from Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections than those who did not have their appendix. C. diff is a pathogen that doesn’t compete well with our army of bacteria, but flourishes when our army is depleted, as can occur with many courses of antibiotic treatment.
The study found that those who had an appendix had an 11% recurrence of C. diff. It also found that those without an appendix had a recurrence of C. diff 48% of the time, i.e. four times more likely to have a recurrence.
There was a time that the value of our tonsils was not appreciated also. Maybe it’s time to rethink the treatments for an inflamed appendix.
What do you think?
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