Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Kyle. Kyle Wonders, “Why do we have an appendix?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Kyle!
Have you ever stopped to think about which of your body parts is most important? First of all, you wouldn't be able to stop and think if you didn't have a brain. You wouldn't be alive without a heart pumping blood through your body or a set of lungs supplying your blood and heart with fresh oxygen.
The human body is a miraculous machine, and its many parts work together seamlessly to make you the person you are. While some parts of the body, such as the spleen, might seem less important than others, like the stomach, the truth is that each part of the body plays a unique role that's important.
Well, except for maybe one part of the body that usually goes unnoticed unless it starts causing problems. Sitting at the junction of the small and large intestine, is a thin, seemingly-useless tube that's about four inches long: your appendix.
Did you know you have an appendix? It's okay if you didn't. Many people never know or think about their appendix, because it doesn't appear to have any function at all.
For years, scientists and doctors have studied the appendix, hoping to learn why this short, thin tube sits in the lower right abdomen. Over the years, most experts have concluded that the appendix is simply a useless leftover from the long evolutionary past of humans.
It can cause problems, though. For reasons that are often unclear, the appendix can become swollen and infected, causing severe abdominal pain. This condition, called appendicitis, requires surgery (known as an appendectomy) to remove the infected appendix.
If the surgery does not happen quickly enough, the infected appendix can rupture. If it ruptures, it can spread infection throughout the abdominal cavity, creating a potentially life-threatening situation.
So what happens if you have your appendix removed? Nothing! People go on living just fine without an appendix. This fact reinforced for years the view that the appendix served no purpose whatsoever.
More recently, however, some scientists have found evidence suggesting that the appendix may indeed have a role to play in certain situations. Researchers from Duke University Medical Centre now believe the appendix may serve as a storage room for good bacteria.
Their studies show that, following an illness involving severe diarrhea (such as cholera or dysentery), good bacteria stored in the appendix can repopulate the digestive tract. The reserve of good bacteria in the appendix effectively "reboots" the digestive system in these severe cases where an illness wipes out all of the good bacteria necessary for proper digestion.
Just because they may have found a purpose for the appendix, researchers warned that it's not a reason to keep the appendix around if appendicitis occurs. The risk of infection from appendicitis is far worse than the need to maintain a storehouse of good digestive bacteria.