Over the past decades, the poor appendix has been maligned and misunderstood. It isn’t exactly connected to any continued part of your digestive tract and it seems to just sit out there in the nether regions of your abdomen doing nothing in particular.

appendix mcburneyThat is, of course, until it gets inflamed. For these reasons most of all, the appendix has been marginalized and often viewed as almost unnecessary; an anatomical anomaly that hasn’t yet evolved out of the human body yet but definitely on its way out. If you’re lucky and you’ve made it through life without really needing to engage with your appendix, that means it's doing exactly what it is supposed to do; which is more than you can imagine and more than medical science realized until fairly recently.
Your appendix is, believe it or not, is actually part of your immune system, in fact, it’s made up of the same type of tissue that your tonsils are made out of. Historically, there was an assumption that tonsils were almost unnecessary, basically just storehouses for bacteria, and removal was frequently, almost casually performed on children. The appendix has suffered a similar fate. We now know that these assumptions were incorrect and both the tonsils and the appendix play an important role in immune function.

Your appendix is made up almost entirely of immune tissue, it is positioned below the area where your small intestine and large intestine connect, and is not actually part of the intestinal tract per se. It’s sort of a germ elimination area and beneficial bacteria warehouse. As part of your immune system your appendix has the immune savvy to help your large intestine eliminate pathogens and toxins that make it to your gut and can do some real damage. But wait, that’s not all...even more amazing, it has the goods in house to help restore your gastrointestinal tract if the good bacteria have been inadvertently flushed from your intestines. Stomach flu, diarrhea, irritable bowel, even surgical procedures that require a full flush of the bowels can leave your intestines vulnerable to any number of belly damaging bad guys. That is unless your appendix is on the job. As soon as it senses a washout, it rallies the troops and sends out squads of good bacteria to repopulate and get you back on track as quickly as possible.
appendix picSo, let’s hear it for your unassuming appendix; the mild mannered and misunderstood Clark Kent of the organ world. If you wanted to give your appendix an appreciative pat, it’s typically located just below and to the right of your naval (interestingly, this isn’t true for all people).

So why all the appendectomies and horror stories about appendicitis? Well, if you’ve ever had appendicitis you will know that it is horribly uncomfortable to say the least. The downside of being made only of immune tissue means that when it does get infected, it really gets infected. There’s nothing else to it so inflammation basically means inflammation in the entire gut. Once it’s inflamed to that degree it has trouble cleaning itself out and in really bad cases then ends up needing to be removed...which you now know, isn’t such a great idea.

So how about giving your appendix a little help in staying well? You can do that by doing things that keep your immune function in top form and eating immune happy foods. If you eat probiotic rich foods, this helps your appendix replenish and keep its warehouse full of good stuff. Also, remember that things like garlic, onions, leeks, and dark green leafy greens all help boost immune function. Avoid processed foods, especially processed sugars since they take an immediate toll on your immune system. Avoid food additives and other toxins like artificial sweeteners that contribute to systemic inflammation.
In short, focus on whole and unprocessed foods, plenty of clean liquids, and move your body appropriately. Remember that intensive exercise when you are already stressed out or in the ‘immune function’ danger zone, only depletes things more thoroughly so listen to your body. Your appendix will thank you by being happy and healthy and continuing to quietly contribute to the well-being of your gut and the rest of you.