Don’t You Forget About Me (Or The Appendix)

This week I have something short and sweet for you, I’m going to be talking about appendixes!

First of all - what exactly is it? Personally, I feel the appendix is one of the organs or structures we learn the least about in traditional biology classes. As a matter of fact, it’s often written off almost completely! So for some background, the appendix is a few inches long, usually 2 to 4, and sits near the meeting point of the large and small intestines and is a dead end tube. In the grand scheme of the human body, it’s very small. In other animals, like rabbits, however, it’s much larger and plays an important role helping to break down cellulose from bark and wood that they eat! So what does it do in humans?

Many of us have been taught that the appendix is a vestigial structure. Basically, a vestigial structure is something that had a function at some during a species evolution but, because of changes to the species - be they morphological, chemical, physical, etc. a the function has dramatically diminished or even entirely lost. Their reputation as a vestigial organ is further bolstered by the fact that appendectomies are one of the most common surgeries and those who have had them - myself included - often have no lasting symptoms or changes. I had my appendix removed in 2013 and I don’t think I’ve really thought about it much since! However, in spite of this, the appendix actually DOES serve a purpose to modern humans. Recent studies have shown that the appendix actually plays a role in immune function, because it’s rich in good bacteria and lymphatic tissue! It’s even been found that people who don’t have an appendix may by almost 3 times as likely to suffer recurring intestinal infections! Of course, this doesn’t mean that people who have had an appendectomy need to be fearful, but being aware is always a positive thing, as is being in tune with our bodies!

So there you have it, the appendix is actually working a lot harder than we’ve been giving it credit for in recent years, and it’s time to let that non vestigial organ’s abilities shine! That’s all for this week, see you next week on Enter the Unusual with CM Loves Science!