Missing an appendix? You could be missing out

Missing an appendix? You could be missing out

The purpose of the appendix has long been pondered. This 2- to 4-inch pouch is located near where the large and small intestines meet. It seems to exist only to threaten rupture and require surgery.

Until now…maybe.

New research suggests that the appendix may be more of a hero than previously thought, protecting beneficial bacteria living in the gut. Good bacteria can support the digestive system after a bout of diarrhea, illness or can fend off infections.

Researchers studied the evolution of gastrointestinal traits across more than 500 different mammal species, including the presence or absence of the appendix. They found that the appendix almost never disappeared from a lineage once it appeared, and actually evolved into existence more than 30 separate times. The study also indicated that species with an appendix tend to have higher concentrations of lymphoid tissue in their cecum, a pouch that connects the small and large intestine, which may be related to a person’s immunity levels.

“This persistence for the appendix to exist may indicate that it has a role to play in digestive health,” says Dr. Steven Fox, internal medicine physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center. “But what that role actually is remains largely a mystery.”

While it may be nice to have a “safe house” of good bacteria living in the appendix, some experts suggest that our modern hygiene and sanitation habits may safeguard us just as well. Another hypothesis is these hygiene and sanitation habits and lack of germs may cause the immune system to overreact and attack the good bacteria stored away in the appendix, which may lead to appendicitis.

“Obviously, more research is needed,” says Dr. Fox. “The idea that the appendix could actually be more useful than we’ve thought is intriguing and worth studying.”

So, for the approximately seven percent of people who will develop appendicitis in their lifetime, perhaps to the point of needing an appendectomy, or for those who have been doing fine without an appendix for years – do not fear.

Dr. Fox suggests there are plenty of ways to support your immune system and harvest good gut bacteria without that little pouch. “Eating a high fiber diet, taking quality probiotics and avoiding unnecessary antibiotics can support your digestive health.”

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  1. I had my appendix removed at 24 years of age, I am now73 and have been diagnosed as coeliac although I don’t seem to suffer as much as other coeliacs.
    Could there be any connection?

  2. Of course the appendix is useful! God didn’t just create it just for it to be taken out. It has a purpose. Once Doctors understand that they will then treat an appendicitis instead of just removing it.

  3. My appendix was removed at age 8. After this I was prone to gastric upsets, which quite often took me longer than expected to recover from. In my late twenties I was ill for a month and lost about 12% body mass. At another point in my early thirties I was bed-ridden for two weeks. I vividly recall that during this period even loosely fitting garments around my waist caused extreme discomfort and abdominal pain. After I discovered the benefit of adding good quality pro-biotics, my issues significantly lessened. I’m now 50. My mom had her appendix removed in her early twenties and she now suffers from coeliac disease to the extent that the slightest intake of gluten causes her painful intestinal inflammation. For what it’s worth, all I can say about my childhood lifestyle is that my mom was exceptionally cleanliness conscious and a keen believer all forms of vitamins/supplements, etc. Junk food also was taboo in our home. IMO the over-sterilization of my environment and taking pills like Zymafluor could have contributed to my early appendicitis.

  4. Had ruptured appendicitis and my appendix removed at age 5. Never noticed any issues throughout my childhood or being sick more than others after that, but it’s possible I might not have noticed or known otherwise. Now, in my adulthood, I have moments of extreme bloatedness and gastric issues that come and go. Sometimes probiotics help but other times seem to only intensify it, especially kombuchas at times. I
    wonder if having no appendix could be why? No doctor, not even naturopaths, have ever made that connection. Hmmm…?

  5. I had my appendix removed at a young age iam now 15 see no problems my life is normal 😘🙄

  6. Liz, I am exactly like what you described. Had my appendix removed at age 5, also didn’t notice issues throughout my childhood (there probably was but I didn’t notice or make the connections) and also, like you, I have the moments of extreme bloatedness that you described as an adult. Sometimes it’s so bad, I can hardly walk and it’s had me in tears before. It seems to happen more if I haven’t eaten all day or if I’ve been stressed and maybe not slept much. I, too, can’t seem to find a doctor or naturopath who has answers. About the komuchas, I find that I can tolerate some brands much better than others. Specifically, the ones with added sugar I cannot do. I stick with lionheart brand for the most part.

  7. Cassandra Houghton March 18, 2021 at 9:51 pm · Reply

    I had my appendex removed when I was 16. I was pumped full of all different kinds of antibiotics by my dermatologist to battle acne (ironically this is probably why I am still battling acne to this day due to the damage to my digestive system). Could be related to appendicitis. I had a pretty poor vegan diet at the time, I didn’t really know how to cook and lived off of cheerios, French bread and French fries. I wish I was joking.

    To this day I have chronic digestive issues that may be linked to my lack of appendicitis

  8. I had my appendix removed at 15 and have been fine with until 45 when I started having acid reflux, inflammation and can’t eat tomatoes. Wonder if it’s connected.

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About the Author

Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson
Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson

Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson, health enews contributor, is public affairs director for Advocate Medical Group and Advocate Physician Partners.