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

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