advertisement



Q & A Library


Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Q
Do You Need Your Appendix?

I always thought that the appendix was unnecessary and removing it had no effect on health. Now I've heard that that's not really true and that the appendix does have an important function. What does this mean? No more appendectomies?

A
Answer (Published 3/12/2012)

The appendix is a small, tube-like structure once believed to be a useless vestigial organ. More recently, the idea - never entirely abandoned - that it is important for immune function has been gaining ground.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging - Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet! - Everything you need to get started eating a healthful, satisfying diet is here - including eating and shopping guides, over 300 recipes, and an exclusive version of Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid! Start your 14-day free trial now - and start eating anti-inflammatory today!

It is a small pouch attached to the first part of the large intestine (the colon) in the lower right portion of the abdomen and attracts notice only when it becomes inflamed, enlarged, and painful. The remedy is surgery. A delay can result in a burst appendix, which can be life-threatening.

Over the past several decades, because of its concentration of lymphoid tissue, the appendix was considered a sort of "sentry" for the GI tract, much like the tonsils at the other end. In 2007 researchers at Duke University Medical Center published findings suggesting that, instead, the appendix provides a "safe house" for beneficial bacteria where they could reside until needed to repopulate the digestive system should a disease such as cholera wipe out the normal flora needed for digestion. Two years later, the Duke investigators published additional findings concluding that the appendix has evolved at least twice, once among marsupials in Australia (such as koalas which are marsupials, not bears) and again in rats and other rodents, some primates and humans. Based on their work, the Duke team concluded that the appendix has been around for at least 80 million years, much longer than it would have been if it were vestigial, as suggested by no less an authority than Charles Darwin. The Duke researchers also found that more than 70 percent of primate and rodent groups contain species with an appendix.

Then, in 2011, the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology published a study by a team of researchers at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, New York, that appears to confirm the Duke theory. The Winthrop study focused on Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), a bacterium that can cause diarrhea and more serious symptoms ranging from fever, loss of appetite and abdominal pain to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. C. difficile flourishes when normal bacteria in the digestive system are depleted after prolonged treatment with antibiotics. In the past, most of those affected were the elderly in hospitals or long-term care facilities, but in recent years these infections have begun to occur with increasing frequency in otherwise healthy people who haven't taken antibiotics and haven't been hospitalized.

The Winthrop team recruited 254 patients who had been infected with C. difficile, some with an appendix and some without. They found that patients over 60 were more likely to have recurrences of C. difficile, whether or not they had an appendix, but that in younger patients only 11 percent of those with an appendix suffered recurrences of C. difficile, compared to 48 percent of those who had previously had the appendix removed.

This suggests, but doesn't prove, that the appendix does house beneficial bacteria waiting for a role to play in the body. Studies are now underway to see if antibiotic treatment might resolve some cases of appendicitis, but most still require surgery. More research is also needed to confirm the findings to date, and investigations are in the works to look into the question of whether some cases of appendicitis can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Until we know for sure, if you have symptoms of appendicitis - pain and tenderness in the abdomen, beginning around the belly button and then moving to the lower right and becoming more intense - be sure to get prompt medical attention. Despite what we're learning about the appendix, it if gives you trouble, in all likelihood, it will have to come out.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle, LLC on DrWeil.com (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!
 

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

 
Copyright © 2014 Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here