Healthcare News & Insights

Oops! Turns out the appendix is important after all

Conventional wisdom says that the appendix doesn’t do much and won’t be missed after removal. But new research indicates the medical community might need to rethink that stance.

Some researchers have theorized that the appendix actually harbors a reserve of “good” bacteria that can help fight off more troubling infections. New research is starting to provide support for the idea.

According to the hypothesis, serious gastrointestinal infections can rid our systems of beneficial bacteria that we need to function — but the appendix stores additional quantities of these good bugs, which our bodies use to replenish our GI tracts.

The theory was first put forward in 2007, and recent research has found data that appears to back it up.

The researchers looked at more than 250 patients with a history of recurrent C. difficile infections. C. difficile is a notoriously hard bug to treat, common among patients who have to take antibiotics for long periods of time. They found that patients who no longer had their appendix were more than twice as likely to experience a repeat bout of C. difficile.

No one is arguing that appendix removals should be done less often — an infected, ready-to-burst appendix is potentially life-threatening. But it does indicate that, at minimum, we should learn more about just what that tiny, sometimes trouble-making, organ can really do for us.

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