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Dr. Gregory Pais, ND
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Immunologists and surgeons at Duke University Medical School think they have figured out the real job of the appendix: It manufactures and stores the protective bacteria for your gut. For conventional docs this is a big deal since they've said the appendix is useless, if not dangerous. They only paid attention when it became infected and needed to be removed. According to the CDC, in 2005, 321,000 Americans were hospitalized with appendicitis.

Actually, since the beginning of naturopathic medicine in this country-the late 1890s-naturopaths have focused on diet, digestion, and assimilation. We've said all along that the appendix was a necessary part of the gastrointestinal tract with an impact on levels of probiotics ('good bacteria') in the gut. So you can add this one to folic acid recommendations in pregnancy. 20 years before your OBGYN told you to take folic acid in pregnancy, naturopaths were reading the scientific research and telling their pregnant patients to take sufficient folic acid.
For generations the appendix has been dismissed as superfluous. Doctors figured it had no function. Surgeons removed them routinely. People live fine without them. And when infected the appendix can turn deadly. It gets inflamed quickly and some people die if it isn't removed in time. Two years ago, 321,000 Americans were hospitalized with appendicitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to this study in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, the appendix deals with the huge amount of bacteria populating the human digestive system. Most are good bacteria that help digest food, assimilate nutrients, and maintain a healthy intestinal environment. But sometimes the flora of bacteria in the intestines die or are purged. Drugs such as antibiotics or steroids destroy the useful bacteria. The appendix's job is to reboot the digestive system in that case.

The appendix "acts as a good safe house for bacteria," said Duke surgery professor Bill Parker, a study co-author. Also, the worm-shaped organ acts like a bacteria factory, cultivating the good germs, Parker said.

When a person's healthy bacteria are disrupted by drugs or disease it can be very difficult to repopulate through foods like yogurt or miso. Often they develop opportunistic infections-'yeast infections'-and go through a cycle of boom and bust. Killing off the good and bad bacteria with yet more antibiotics (oral or topical) or antifungals, feeling better for a short period of time, and then having symptoms again when the yeast grow back. To this cycle add the ridiculous focus on 'anti-bacterial' everything and these people really end up in trouble.

Five scientists not connected with the research said that the Duke theory makes sense and raises interesting questions. The idea "seems by far the most likely" explanation for the function of the appendix, said Brandeis University biochemistry professor Douglas Theobald. "It makes evolutionary sense."

The theory led Gary Huffnagle, a University of Michigan internal medicine and microbiology professor, to wonder about the value of another body part that is often yanked: "I'll bet eventually we'll find the same sort of thing with the tonsils."

How many times have I told my patients, "Your tonsils are an important part of your immune function, they need to be present to do their job"?
Biofilms In The Large Bowel Suggest An Apparent Function Of The Human Vermiform Appendix. Journal of Theoretical Biology. In Press, Accepted Manuscript, Available online 7 September 2007R


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