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Is the human appendix really useless?

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Is the human appendix useless?

It’s useless, isn’t it? We’ve heard about this endlessly: the appendix is a vestigial organ - something that we might have needed in the past, but have evolved out of, something we don’t need anymore. And not only is it useless, it is also annoying – when inflamed, it causes an uncomfortable experience of appendicitis. When we remove the appendix, we get on perfectly fine. 

But we now know otherwise. Your gut is populated with different bacteria that help your digestive system break down the food you eat. The appendix is an important safe haven for bacteria.  

William Parker and Randall Bollinger from Duke University explains: “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. Our studies have indicated that the immune system protects and nourishes the colonies of microbes living in the biofilm. By protecting these good microbes, the harmful microbes have no place to locate. We have also shown that biofilms are most pronounced in the appendix and their prevalence decreases moving away from it."

Additionally, the appendix is also a part of immune defences against invading pathogens and helps with proper movement and removal of waste from the digestive system. Research performed at the Winthrop-University Hospital showed that individuals without an appendix were much more susceptible to certain diseases, for example, they were 4 times more likely to have a recurrence of Clostridium Difficile Colitis (I suggest that you do not google image this).

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So it turns out that the appendix we see at the end of documents is actually a very good representation of the human appendix!
 

What's interesting is how long it took us to find out the usefulness of the appendix:
 

  1. Its effects only become apparent, well, after a long time. It is really difficult to test out the function of anything if you can only observe its effects many years later. We are often biased towards immediate results; we assumed that like all other organs, there must be an effect that can be quickly observed, and when we couldn’t find this immediacy, we concluded that the appendix must not be useful. 
     

  2. Something could be useful only some of the time, without being useful all the time. We tend to make very quick conclusions about something or someone’s usefulness based on one or two observations. 

 

We can draw analogies from the findings of the appendix to our daily lives. It might seem like a small change in our lives do not promise a significant improvement, we don’t notice any difference immediately. Take health for example - one week of workouts and strict dieting is quite painful, and often the results are not what we hope they would be. But over time, the effects are significant.

Check out the example of Lisa Allen, whose life changed drastically after she simply stopped doing 1 thing. 

 

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