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.

The Thymus and Adult Health

The Thymus and Adult Health

New research shows a connection between the thymus and adult health. When I was a child in the early 1940s, doctors performed surgeries on children to remove a gland or organ because they thought it was vestigial and no longer needed. By the time I was in high school, my tonsils, adenoids, and appendix had all been removed. When my daughter Wendy became a teenager, she had repeated throat issues and infections. Her doctor refused to remove her tonsils or adenoids even though they were infected and hurting her repeatedly.

We know now that the tonsils and adenoids are an important part of the lymphatic system, keeping our bodies healthy by trapping harmful bacteria and viruses. As we have come to understand the immune system in humans, we have found that surgically removing the tonsils and adenoids can open us to infections. New research indicates the same is true of the thymus.

The thymus is a gland in the chest between the lungs, in front of and above the heart. It produces immune cells called T cells that protect against foreign invaders that could cause illness. In children, the thymus is very active, but after puberty, it shrinks. By then, the body has memory T cells specialized in attacking intruders the body has fought before. Since the thymus gradually becomes smaller, it is frequently removed in heart operations because it gets in the way.

Oncologist David Scadden and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston researched the thymus and adult health. They examined the health outcomes of 1,146 patients who had their thymus removed at the hospital between 1993 and 2020. They compared those with an equal number of patients who had the same surgeries but did not have their thymus removed. The death rate for those whose thymus was removed was three times higher than those who did not. Thymus removal was also associated with two times the risk of cancer within five years.

The thymus serves a purpose in childhood but may play a different role in adulthood. The researchers don’t know the cause of these striking numbers, but they show a strong connection between the thymus and adult health. We now know that the appendix, tonsils, and adenoids contribute to the body’s immune system to help keep us healthy. It appears that we should add the thymus to that list.

Psalms 139:14 says, “I will praise you, God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works..” We don’t have to look far to see God’s wisdom and design in creation. Just look in the mirror.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

References: Science News for August 26, 2023, and New England Journal of Medicine

T Cells and Antibodies Fight Pathogens

T Cells and Antibodies Fight Pathogens

T lymphocytes or T cells are one of the most amazing devices designed into your body. T cells are critical to defending your body against viral invaders (pathogens). T cells are white blood cells that work with proteins called antibodies to recognize and fight pathogens. When your immune system detects a pathogen, your body starts producing T cells and antibodies to fight it.

T cells are created in the bone marrow and then travel to the thymus gland right in front of the heart, where they mature. The T cells then circulate in the blood and lymphatic system, searching for pathogens by detecting the antigens on their surfaces. When they find pathogens, T cells and antibodies work to neutralize them, protecting your cells.

If a virus is new, it may take time for your body to generate the necessary T cells and antibodies to fight it. That’s where vaccines step in to give your body a head start so that if you get infected by a new pathogen, your body is prepared and ready to fight it. After clearing the infection, some of the T cells remain in case it returns.

The amazing immune system is the product of careful design and not some kind of accident. The more complexity we see in a system, the less likely it is a product of blind chance. The statement in Psalms 139:14 describes the wonder of T cells and antibodies: “I will praise you, Lord, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works and that my soul knows full well.”

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: The Mayo Clinic Health Letter for October 2022, page 8.

Autoimmune Diseases and God’s Design

Autoimmune Disease and God’s Design

“Autoimmunity is the system of immune responses of an organism against its own healthy cells, tissues, and other body normal constituents. Any disease that results from such an aberrant immune response is termed an “autoimmune disease.” –Wikipedia

As many as 4.5% of the world’s population may be affected by any of about 80 autoimmune diseases.
Some such as psoriasis are cosmetic, and others such as multiple sclerosis are life-threatening. So when the human body attacks itself, should we assume that it is because the body’s design is flawed? The exact cause of autoimmune disorders is unknown, but as more and more data becomes available, it is clear that this is not a flaw in the design of the immune system.

First of all, the number of autoimmune disorders that affect large populations is minimal. Psoriasis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac disease, Graves disease, and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common, affecting one person out of every 100. Type 1 diabetes, vitiligo, and rheumatic fever can affect one person out of every 1000 or so. Most autoimmune diseases are infrequent, with some affecting fewer than 1 in a million people.

Secondly, we now know that some bacteria or viruses entering the human body from animals may confuse the immune system and lead to disorders. COVID and AIDS have shown us that animals are a source of viruses that can cause disease in humans.

Thirdly, chemicals can trigger changes in cells that the immune system is not designed to handle. Pesticides, herbicides, recreational drugs, industrial waste, and medical waste have caused all kinds of problems for humans. Immune disorders may not be because of bad design of the immune system but the result of human ignorance, carelessness, and greed.

Fourth, a new study has suggested that stress may lead to some autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. There is a higher incidence of autoimmune diseases among people who were previously diagnosed with stress-related disorders.

God’s design of the human immune system is amazing. As the Psalmist said. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14). The immune system that allows most of us to live for many years with good health is one of the best demonstrations of the truth of that statement.

— John N. Clayton

See the September 2021 issue of Scientific American (pages 26-51) for much more information about autoimmune diseases, their causes, and potential cures. Pages 32 and 33 display a fascinating chart with data on 76 autoimmune disorders.

Healthy Microbiome Design

Healthy Microbiome Design

The colonies of microbes living on and in our bodies make up what is called our microbiome. The bacteria outnumber our own body cells by a ratio of ten to one. Your body is host to 100 trillion bacteria of at least 10,000 different species. Before you start to worry about that, most of the bacteria will not hurt you. More than that, you couldn’t live without a healthy microbiome.

Some bacteria are essential to make our immune system work to prevent infection. Others make it possible for us to digest the food we eat. Bacteria are on our skin, in our lungs, in our mouths, especially in our gut. Your digestive system needs a good balance of bacteria for proper digestion. Some medical experts think that an imbalance of gut flora (bacteria) leads to irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

There has been a boom in sales of probiotics in pills, liquids, and yogurts in recent years. These contain bacteria that may help your digestive system, but the amounts and types of bacteria may not necessarily be the ones needed for your system. Everyone has a somewhat different microbiome, and, as we recently posted, it all starts in our mother’s womb. Breastfeeding further adds beneficial bacteria to the baby’s flora.

When we take antibiotics, we can kill some beneficial bacteria resulting in digestive and other health problems. Science is trying to determine what is required for a healthy microbiome so that doctors can treat various issues that many times come from our poor choices regarding our health and diet. God designed a system that works, and we are just beginning to recognize that and learn how to take care of it.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Human Immune System

Human Immune System

We are continually looking for examples of intelligence and design in the world around us. One of the most incredible examples is the human immune system.

During the 2020 pandemic, we have all heard discussions among the experts about antibodies and how they can protect us from COVID-19. Scientists have also talked about who is vulnerable to the virus and herd immunity. We may not have thought about how our bodies were designed to fight diseases, virtually all of which come to us from animals.

Built into the human body is the ability to produce antibody proteins whenever a harmful antigen enters the body. This protein is a Y-shaped molecule that destroys the antigen. The antigen can be bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses. Once the antibody enters the bloodstream, it can last for a very long time.

More recent studies of people who survived the 1918 flu virus (which killed 50 million people worldwide) showed that survivors still had the antibodies in their blood years later. Dr. Eric Altschuler at the University of Medicine in New Jersey said, “Our immune system has a steel-trap memory. It’s incredible that the Lord has blessed us with antibodies our whole lifetime. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

The question arises as to whether this means we should let people get the COVID-19 virus until we all have antibodies to prevent getting it again. The problem with that view is that this virus can do great harm to our bodies, even if we survive it. The virus can perhaps also mutate and be re-introduced to our bodies.

We should never underestimate new challenges to our health, but the incredibly complex human immune system is designed to enable us to live in a world of challenges. Design requires a Designer.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

The data on the study of the 1918 flu antibodies was originally in an Associated Press release on August 17, 2008.

Vestigial Organs and Immune System

 Vestigial Organs - Appendix and Immune System

Many of us have taken classes in biology in which we were told that one of the arguments for Darwinian evolution is the presence of vestigial organs. New research questions whether vestigial organs are evidence of evolution or evidence of design.

The argument for the appendix being vestigial was that this fingerlike projection on our colons was a second stomach in earlier stages of evolution. The theory was that since we now cook our food, there is no need for the appendix and it has become useless. The same was said of the tonsils, adenoids, and gall bladder, so they could be removed with no consequences. I can tell you from personal experience that having these three items removed from your body does have negative implications for your general health.

Scientific American (March 2019, page 20) published a report of a 2017 study by an evolutionary biologist named Heather Smith. She is the director of the Anatomical Laboratories at Midwestern University in Arizona. Her study questions whether those organs are really vestigial. She examined 533 species of mammals and found that there is an immunological and gastrointestinal purpose for the appendix. The appendix contains a layer of gut bacteria that are important in fighting disease. Like the tonsils and adenoids, the appendix serves a vital role in defense of our bodies against infection.

It seems that the evolutionary explanation of the use of these organs is not totally correct. While things like wisdom teeth may be examples of vestigial organs; tonsils, adenoids the appendix and the gall bladder are not. The design of the human body is so complex that science is still trying to figure out all of the design features that enable us to survive.

–John N. Clayton © 2019

Immune System – The Seventh Sense?

Immune System - The Seventh Sense?
The cover story in the August 2018 issue of Scientific American is titled “The Seventh Sense.” Jonathan Kipnis wrote the article with the subtitle “Long thought to be divorced from the brain, the immune system turns out to be intimately involved in its functioning.”

The article reports on new studies of how the brain and the immune system interact. Not only does the immune system help an injured brain, but it also plays a role in helping the brain deal with stress and informs it of microorganisms in and around the body. When I was in college the brain and the immune system were viewed as independent of one another. The central nervous system controls all the body’s functions, and this new study shows that the brain is connected to this system in such a way that the immune system is an integral part of both.

We have five senses–smell, touch, taste, sight, and hearing. The sense of position and movement is usually referred to as a sixth sense. These senses report to the brain about our external and internal environments. The brain computes the activity needed for our protection. Microorganisms are present in all of these environments, and the ability to sense them and provide a way to defend against them is necessary. It appears that our immune system is hardwired into the brain, and if that is the case, it is the seventh sense.

In the modern world, we have so many things that attack our bodies that we need to find new treatments based on a better understanding of how the immune system works. New studies are in the works that will expand our knowledge. One thing is clear–the system is highly complex, and we are just beginning to understand how it works and how to deal with the new challenges brought on by the world in which we live.

Psalms 139:14 says it well: “I will praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works; and that my soul knows right well.” (King James Translation.) “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex. It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous.” (Taylor translation.)
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Hygiene Hypothesis and Disease

Hygiene Hypothesis
A new medical study is looking into something called the hygiene hypothesis.

Atheists often challenge the existence of God based upon their belief that the presence of diseases shows that there is no God. They conclude that an all-powerful God would not disease to exist. We have pointed out that a huge percentage of the maladies that afflict humans are the result of human abuse–pollution, drug use, foolish use of chemicals. etc. (See the posts for January 23, 2018; November 25, 2017; November 15, 2017; November 7, 2017; October 18, 2017).

Another dimension to the question of diseases is whether we have catalyzed the rates of contracting diseases by defeating the design of our immune system—the hygiene hypothesis. Major outbreaks of polio first began in the late 1800s. Multiple sclerosis doubled worldwide in the second half of the twentieth century. Type 1 diabetes rose dramatically in the 1950s. All of these diseases involve immune system problems.

In MS the immune system attacks the protective covering around certain nerve cells. In type 1 diabetes the body’s immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. The hygiene hypothesis says that exposure to various viruses or bacteria allows the immune system to protect the individual against what seem to be unrelated illnesses. It is not completely understood yet, but somehow the infections allow the developing body to learn how to deal with pathogens. The absence of exposure can prompt the immune system to attack the body itself.

In the early 1900s, one or two children under the age of 15 developed type 1 diabetes. In Finland, that number is now 60 children per 100,000. Between 1998 and 2010 the incidence of type 1 diabetes jumped by 40%. We need to point out that this is not caused by obesity. Type 1 diabetes happens in children who are not obese at the same rate as in those who are.

The evidence seems to indicate that there is a viral trigger and the type of viruses causing the diabetes are enteroviruses which are normally found in the intestines. A child exposed to those viruses at an early age develops a resistance to the enteroviruses and is not likely to contract the disease. If the viruses are not present in the environment, then later in life the immune system is defenseless against the enterovirus, and the immune system attacks the pancreas. At least, that is part of the hygiene hypothesis.

There is a great deal that science does not understand about how the immune system works. It is very complex, but it has worked remarkably well in humans throughout our history. Some of the diseases we are facing today seem to be occurring because the immune system of children has not been “tuned” by the viruses in the environment. Perhaps God’s design which served humans well in the past has been shut down by our rules for hygiene and the overuse of chemical agents. On the positive side, this study may eventually provide us with a vaccine which will eradicate the germ-caused diseases.

To read more about this see Scientific American for February 2018, page 56-59, or click here.
–John N. Clayton © 2018