Appendix not a useless organ

For years we’ve been lead to believe that our appendix, while painful when infected, is an obsolete organ that the body simply doesn’t need. Well, Melbourne researchers may just have busted this myth.

A team from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne and the Centre d’Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy in France, has uncovered that the appendix, by how it interacts with immune cells, can be crucial to good digestive health.

During bouts of food poisoning, or bacterial illnesses, the immune system and appendix team up and can also give a boost to the immune system of cancer patients. Innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) prevent damage and inflammation of the appendix, which has a store of good bacteria that can be released when required by the body.

Professor Gabrielle Belz, a laboratory head in the institute’s Molecular Immunology division said the findings should force us to reconsider the importance of the appendix, “Popular belief tells us the appendix is a liability,” she said. “Its removal is one of the most common surgical procedures in Australia, with more than 70,000 operations each year. However, we may wish to rethink whether the appendix is so irrelevant for our health.

“We’ve found that ILCs may help the appendix to potentially reseed ‘good’ bacteria within the microbiome – or community of bacteria – in the body. A balanced microbiome is essential for recovery from bacterial threats to gut health, such as food poisoning.”

However, if your appendix becomes infected or ruptures, we wouldn’t fight with your doctor to keep it, having it removed may be the safest option.

To read more about the study, visit 

To find out what you can do to improve your gut health, read our article, ‘Five ways to improve gut health’. 

Written by Debbie McTaggart

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