The Appendix is a tube-shaped sac attached to and opening into the lower end of the large intestine in humans and some other mammals. It is considered to be a vestigial organ by most people. It is believed that the appendix performs no function and instead is potential trouble. The sooner it is removed, the better!
Unlike what most people believe, our appendix has some very important functions in our body. For years, physicians believed that the appendix was a vestigial organ just like the wisdom teeth and tail bone. It seems that these parts don’t do anything in the human body. But here is a surprise: the appendix is not a ticking bomb in our abdomen. A study examined the evolutionary basis for the appendix in mammal species and the result showed that the appendix evolved at least 30 times among different lineages over the past 11 million years, and once the organ appeared, it was never lost. That is one stubborn organ. So why did the appendix keep reappearing in humans across millions of years? What exactly is it good for?
Before anyone decide to remove the Appendix without a good reason, do know the following important functions of this organ:
1. Fight against Infection: Our Appendix is a storehouse for beneficial bacteria. These good bacteria help the gut recover from infections and protect the intestines from further infection by harmful bacteria. Research has shown that people whose Appendix has been removed are 4 times more likely to have a reoccurrence of bacterial infections that cause diarrhea, fever, nausea, and abdominal pain.
2. Fetal Development: The Appendix is believed to help in fetus development. The development of appendix begins during the 5th fetal week and shows very rapid development early in life. It is at its longest in size in childhood and diminishes in size throughout adulthood. Specific cells, called endocrine cells, appear in the appendix of the human fetus at the 11th week of development. These special cells in the fetal appendix produce important neurotransmitters and hormones, which help in various biological control mechanisms and metabolic processes that are needed for physical development.
3. Strengthening of Immunity: The Appendix helps in strengthening and supporting the immune system. Our Appendix has a high concentration of immune cells within its walls and functions as a lymphoid organ. The lymphoid organ helps in the maturation of immune cells called lymphocytes. Our Appendix helps in the maturation of specific lymphocytes called B cells. These B cells are responsible for producing antibodies that attack invading bacteria, virus, and toxins that are harmful to our body.
4. Antibody formation: Our Appendix is also involved in the production of certain molecules that help direct the movement of lymphocytes to various other locations in the body. A type of antibody called Ig A is produced in the Appendix. This antibody plays an important role in mucosal immunity.
5. Surgical Procedures: The Appendix can be used in various repair procedures for parts of the gastrointestinal system. The Appendix can be used to replace sphincter muscles and diseased uterus, allowing urine to flow from the kidneys to the bladder. The flexibility of the Appendix is remarkable and it is one of the few organs that can shift its function. That is why the organ, which was once considered vestigial, is now a back-up for various reconstructive surgical techniques.
So, let’s conclude here with these words from a research article, “Appendix can’t be called a vestigial organ unless the functional inactivity is proved. Lymphoid changes which occur after birth to provide the gut immunity is needed to be proved more by further studies. There might be incidental absence or rudimentary appendix in human body, but that doesn’t indicate that we would not have any appendix in future.”
Let’s remove the tag of vestigial from this so useful organ. We should appreciate its value and importance. It should not come to our mind when we think of “vestigial organs of the body.”
—The writer is a student of BSc Nursing at Rajiv Gandhi College of Nursing, Jammu. [email protected]