Do We Need an Appendix?
The debate has raged on for years as to what, if any, purpose the appendix serves. The current theory is that the appendix at one point in time helped to digest the roughage that our ancestors consumed when their diet was largely comprised of raw foods. Many researchers theorize that our appendix is quite simply a useless organ that might have been important at one point in our evolutionary process, but now serves virtually no function. Indeed, it is true that the appendix can sometimes become blocked and inflamed, creating a condition known as appendicitis, in which the appendix can potentially rupture and, if untreated, may prove fatal. Hence, most medical professionals consider the appendix to be nothing more than a potential liability. Many doctors are willing to remove healthy appendixes during other, routine operations. But are modern doctors missing something?
The answers vary widely. A study by the University of Miami published in the 2003 American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology went so far as to suggest that the removal of an appendix during “benign gynecologic procedures does not increase post-operative complication rates or length of hospital stay.” Most doctors subscribe to this belief, advocating that the removal of a healthy appendix results in neither longer hospital stays nor any form of post-surgical complications, and many actually recommend performing appendectomies during common procedures to avoid potential problems with appendicitis later in a patient’s life.
However, the other school of thought relies upon the belief that if humans do evolve, then why do our bodies still retain an appendix if it is not used for any known purpose? Could the appendix be helping with the overall health of an individual’s body? Is it in fact nothing more than a useless piece of tissue? Recent research appears to demonstrate that the appendix may actually play an important role in helping to maintain the health of the gastrointestinal tract, thus contributing to a stronger immune system.
A study published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology by a group of researchers from the University of Arizona College of Medicine at the Arizona State University, concluded that the appendix is in essence a safe-house for symbiotic gut microbes that help preserve internal flora during times of gastrointestinal infection, stating that “this function is potentially a selective force for the evolution and maintenance of the appendix, and provides an impetus for reassessment of the evolution of the appendix.” According to the researchers, the appendix is a specialized organ that has helped maintain humanity’s grasp on health for more than 80 million years, and without the appendix the symbiotic relationship between bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract might well be severely diminished, if not destroyed, leading to the eventual inability to properly digest foods and absorb nutrients. While this research is by no means conclusive, and further studies into the area need to be undertaken before a final conclusion can be made, it is certainly worthy of note for those who might otherwise blindly follow traditional teachings.
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