What is an appendix? (anatomy)
The appendix is “a small, pouch-like sac of tissue that is located in the first part of the colon in the lower right abdomen”. Due to its close proximity to the colon, microorganisms such as bacteria settle and thrive in this environment. When the opening of the appendix to the colon gets blocked by feces and mucous, this can lead to appendicitis which is the inflammation of the appendix. Depending on the severity of the blockage, this can lead to the rupture and death of appendix tissue precipitating a medical emergency.
What is the function of the appendix?
The function of the appendix is currently a topic of debate amongst experts. In the past, it was believed that the appendix had no significant functional role and were susceptible to infection, so it had been common practice pre-emptively remove the appendix during abdominal surgeries. However, there is increasing evidence to suggest that the appendix may have functional roles that shift throughout the lifespan. Studies have found that the appendix plays an important role throughout our growth and development from fetus to young adulthood.
The role of the appendix in fetal and neonatal development
In the developing fetus, the appendix consists of endocrine cells that produce “biogenic amines and peptide hormones which facilitate in biological control mechanisms”. Furthermore, following birth the lymphoid tissue in the appendix plays a role alongside neonatal tissue, mucous, and skin in establishing the intestinal microbiome and in the early development of the immune system.
The role of the appendix in early life and adulthood: Probiotics, the Appendix and the Gut
During the early years of development, the appendix plays a role in our lymphatic system in assisting the maturation of immune cells such as B lymphocytes in antibody production. Through adulthood, the appendix is believed to be important in modulating the immune system. It contains GALT (gut-associated lymphatic tissue. Moreover, the appendix, as previously mentioned, is home to microorganisms and therefore plays a role in the intestinal microbiome. Thus, similar to the large intestine, our immune systems interact with the microorganisms of our microbiome in the appendix. There have been studies that suggest that the appendix may play a role in modulating our health. A study found that following the surgical removal of the appendix, patients had a significantly higher risk of developing large bowel cancer, mood disorders, depressive symptoms, and psychological disturbances. Although we cannot infer causation through these correlational studies, it suggests that a healthy appendix may be beneficial for our emotional and physical health and wellbeing. This may be because lymphatic tissue, of which the appendix has an above-average concentration of lymphoid (immune tissue) which stimulates the growth of probiotics and other beneficial gut bacteria. Thus, the appendix has been regarded as a “safe house” for health-promoting microorganisms.
Conclusion: Why Taking Probiotics is Important for Those without an Appendix
The gut plays an important role in the health and wellbeing in every aspect of the word: physically, emotionally, cognitively, mentally etc. Throughout early life and adulthood, the appendix has been considered to be the home to immune systems as well as a “safe house” for beneficial bacteria. Moreover, surgical advances have enabled surgeons to use the appendix in reconstructive surgery to replace the urinary bladder or ureter if necessary. Although we are still expanding our understanding of the function of the appendix and health implications when it is removed, it seems to be advantageous to keep our appendix if it is in a healthy condition!
The appendix plays an important role in intestinal ecological microbial contributions and maintenance and much more to which we have yet to discover. For those who have had their appendix removed, it is highly recommended to take probiotics (alongside prebiotics from dietary and supplemental sources) such as R’s KOSO to promote a healthy microbiota in the colon