To be or not to be? When it comes to the appendix, that seems to be the question.
The appendix has been called a vestigial organ, but that interpretation may be changing.
We were taught in school that the appendix seemed to have no apparent purpose and should absolutely be removed if inflamed. This still seems to be the general consensus, but there are varying arguments that the appendix may influence health in a few different ways…
The appendix (or vermiform appendix; also cecal [or caecal] appendix; vermix; or vermiform process) is a finger-like, blind-ended tube connected to the cecum, from which it develops in the embryo. The cecum is a pouchlike structure of the colon, located at the junction of the small and the large intestines. (The term “vermiform” comes from Latin and means “worm-shaped.”)
The Appendix may protect us from harmful germs while also protecting good bacteria.
The appendix most likely is there to protect us from bad germs by creating and protecting good germs, say scientists from Duke University Medical Center. (You can read about this study in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.)
After assessing several experiments and observations, the scientists theorized that the appendix may serve as a reservoir for beneficial gut bacteria, allowing them to survive a bout of diarrhea that cleans out the gut, after which they may help repopulate the gut.
The authors explained, “While there is no smoking gun, the abundance of circumstantial evidence makes a strong case for the role of the appendix as a place where the good bacteria can live safe and undisturbed until they are needed.”
Several other mammal species also have an appendix, and studying how it evolved and functions in these species may shed light on this mysterious organ in humans.
The potential benefits of a missing appendix relative to Parkinson’s disease:
Misfolded α-synuclein is a pathological hallmark of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Killinger et al. now report that the human appendix contains an abundance of misfolded α-synuclein and that removal of the appendix decreased the risk of developing PD. The appendix of both PD cases and healthy individuals contained abnormally cleaved and aggregated forms of α-synuclein, analogous to those found in postmortem brain tissue from patients with PD. Furthermore, α-synuclein derived from the appendix seeded rapid aggregation of recombinant α-synuclein in vitro. In two large-scale epidemiological studies, the authors demonstrated that an appendectomy occurring decades prior reduced the risk of developing PD, suggesting that the appendix may be implicated in PD initiation.
The jury is apparently still out on the appendix, but this conversation leads us to ask, is there really anything in our body that doesn’t serve some meaningful purpose?
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