Removal of the Useless Appendix

Removal of the Useless Appendix

When I was a teenager, I had a severe gastrointestinal problem that eventually resulted in the removal of my appendix. Doctors told me the appendix was a vestigial organ left over from my evolutionary past. The narrative was that while my hominid ancestors needed an appendix, I didn’t. In my college class on evolution, the professors told us the appendix was essentially a second stomach that animals needed to process coarse food. As humans evolved, we didn’t eat those foods, so removal of the useless appendix would not cause any problems.

Like many evolutionary arguments, this discussion of the appendix is rooted in ignorance. The appendix is a small worm-like organ that projects from the cecum, which is the first part of the large intestine. Charles Darwin identified the appendix as vestigial because people could live without it. With the information available to him at the time, Darwin’s view seemed reasonable and went unchallenged for a very long time. We now know better.

In contrast to the former call for removal of the useless appendix, we now know that it has at least two beneficial uses. The first is that it helps to support the immune system. The appendix has a high concentration of tissue that fights any bad things that might get into our gut. The second function, brought forward by Duke University researchers in 2007, is what they called a “safe house.” The appendix serves as a safe reservoir for our beneficial gut bacteria. A gastrointestinal problem resulting in diarrhea can flush out all of your good gut bacteria. The appendix repopulates the gut with bacteria after gastrointestinal issues.

People who have had their appendix removed tend to have more nasty bacteria in their gut than people who have not had that surgery. There is much about the human body that we don’t understand. In my lifetime, I have seen tonsils, gallbladders, and the appendix removed because medical science felt they served no purpose. We now know better as we see that God’s design of the human body is incredible. There may be a few things, such as body hair, that are unnecessary, but there are aesthetic reasons to retain even most of those.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Your appendix is not, in fact, useless. This anatomy professor explains” in NPR Health News for 2/2/2024.