Why Do We Have Appendixes?

A new video from Australia answers the long-asked question, “Why do we have appendixes?” I’ll be honest — until about five minutes ago, the only thing I knew about the appendix is that sometimes it causes appendicitis and has to be removed. I figured, “People live very well without appendixes, so they must not be very important, right?” It turns out, however, that the appendix serves a significant purpose in maintaining intestinal health. This prize-winning video by an Australian ninth grader explains why.

The video was created by 15-year-old Paige Bebee, who just won the 2015 University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Eureka science prize for her efforts. Starring her younger sister, Milla, the video shows that the organ is not as useless as many might think. In fact, it’s pretty darn cool:

The appendix is a thin tube, about four inches long, located close to where the large intestine and small intestine meet. It’s usually found in the lower right side of the belly. Appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes swollen and infected, requiring the organ to be removed. A healthy appendix, however, can aid recovery following a bad infection. Here’s how: The gut is full of beneficial gut flora — that is, good bacteria that help maintain healthy intestinal function. When you have a severe case of diarrhea, all of those good bacteria get removed. As the video explains, “The shape and position of the appendix make it ideal as a reservoir for healthy bacteria to repopulate the gut after these episodes.”

Thus, after an intestinal infection, your appendix can help your gut return to normal, healthy operations. This finding was supported by research from Duke University and Winthrop University Hospital, which studied cases of Clostridium difficile colitis (aka C. diff, a nasty infection that usually affects hospital patients). Patients afflicted with C. diff who had had their appendixes removed were four times more likely to have recurrences of the infection than those who retained their appendixes. The appendix isn’t looking so useless anymore, is it?

The video points out that, although plenty of people get by just fine without appendixes, the appendix is still important in developing nations especially, where clean water and adequate sanitation are often lacking, and intestinal infections are still a major problem.

Watch the whole video below:

Images: YouTube (2)