Stories tagged Duke University Medical School

Oct
05
2007

Added duties: A team of researchers at Duke University think they've found the purpose of our appendix: to produce needed germs for our digestive track to help break down our food.
Added duties: A team of researchers at Duke University think they've found the purpose of our appendix: to produce needed germs for our digestive track to help break down our food.
All during college, I had this irrational fear each time finals week would roll around that I would be struck with appendicitis. It never happened and to this day, I still have that little bugger jiggling around down there by my intestines.

And if this group of researchers is correct, I should be glad I still have it. A team of scientists at the Duke University Medical School thinks its found the purpose of the appendix.

That little dangler found between the end of our small intestines and start of our large intestines could be producing good germs for your digestive system. Our body actually uses bacteria to help digest our food. And if we lose too much of it, the researchers surmise, the appendix produces and kicks in a new batch of bacteria to help us keep breaking down our food.

Chew on this stat for a second: there are more bacteria than human cells in our bodies. Most of that bacteria is good and works in out digestive system to process our food.

This new news flies in the face of the long-held idea that the appendix had no current purpose. Some scientists figured that it was a leftover from some bodily function that humans had evolved out of over the years. Doctors routinely snip it out when doing other surgeries in the area to prevent the patient from the chane of suffering appendicitis. The most recent figures, from 2005, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 321,000 people in U.S. where hospitalized for the condition.

The new theory figures that the appendix can regenerate bacteria after too much of it is lost by the body. Severe intestinal problems like cholera or amoebic dysentery can completely flush a person’s body of all of its digestive germs.

In our more diverse culture of today, we actually don’t need out appendix as much because we’re exposed to many “good” germs on a regular basis, the scientists postulate, with us picking them back up, if we need them, from other people around us. That has made our appendix less needed.

Helping back that idea up are statistics that in less developed countries, where an appendix is still very useful, the incidences of appendicitis are much lower.

Other medical researchers not connected with the study say the idea seems credible.

And we should all still be worried our appendix if it starts to hurt. If they become inflamed, it can be deadly with about 300 to 400 Americans dying year because of the condition.