What Good is Your Appendix?

Q: It seems like the only time we hear about the appendix is when someone’s has to be removed. It doesn’t seem to be a problem not to have one, so what is it and why do we have one in our body?


A
: For years, doctors thought that the appendix was a vestigial organ, a part of the human anatomy that evolution had rendered unnecessary. It is true that you can live just fine without the appendix, but evolution or not, we are born with one, so it must serve some purpose!

Recent research has shown that the appendix plays a part in the body’s immune defense system, secreting a set of unique enzymes to help ward off bacteria and viruses. Some research also suggests that it serves as reservoir of “good” bacteria that helps keep the population of dangerous bacterial invaders in the intestines under control. Survival of the fittest indeed.

Dr. Brent Ridge is the health expert for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. You can call and ask him a question live every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sirius Satellite Radio, Channel 112 (1.866.675.6675). You can also follow along as he learns to grow his own food and raise goats on his farm in upstate New York by visiting www.beekman1802.com.

Got a health question for Dr. Brent? E-mail him at drbrent@care2.com.

7 comments

Vural K.
Past Member 7 years ago

thanks...
Kabin
Konteyner

Robin H.
Rob H7 years ago

It can come in handy when needing a new bladder.
How's that for mind blowing!

Kate S.
Kate S7 years ago

"but evolution or not, we are born with one, so it must serve some purpose!"

I agree with Tanya. It may not be a vestigial organ, it may indeed serve a purpose, but vestigial body parts do exist on many species, and scientists so far have not found purposes for them. Duclaws on dogs, for example. You're a doctor, check your science and your wording, and please do give us references to the research you cite.

Lisa Hale
Lisa Hale7 years ago

I'm no expert, but it would seem that the appendix works as a filter for bad bacteria, and when it gets overwhelmed with it, then it has to be removed???? Perhaps when it is healthy it does secrete enzymes and such, but it seems like it would be a filter - a holding chamber for bad bacteria until the body could get rid of the bacteria...Maybe this is why we never hear of it until it has to be removed...

Jacs Bate
jacs Bate7 years ago

Good point Tanya.
My dentist tells me that more and more people nowadays do not get all thier wisdom teeth, and that our jaws are growing smaller. Probably because our diet has changed so much over the centuries. Perhaps "environmental adaptation" makes more sense if the word "evolution" makes you a bit jumpy :-)

Tanya M.
Tanya M.7 years ago

"...but evolution or not, we are born with one, so it must serve some purpose!"

Ain't necessarily so. Vestigial would mean that it used to serve some purpose to our distant ancestors, but no longer does so. As for the rest, how about a link to that research?