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 firstname.lastname@example.org.