Does appendix removal affect health?

Dr Mark Porter / 13 April 2017

Dr Mark Porter advises a reader who wonders whether having their appendix removed can affect their health afterwards.



Q: Does having your appendix removed have any effect on your future health?

 A: As many as 1 in 6 of the UK population has their appendix removed at some stage.   It is an important structure in some mammals in whom it contains bacteria that help digest plants and leaves, but it doesn’t appear to have any such function in humans and is traditionally regarded as an evolutionary hangover from the days when our primitive ancestors were mainly vegetarian.

That said, some experts now believe it may have a role in maintaining our natural defences.  In younger adults, for instance, it has been shown to help mature some types of white cell (the main soldier in the immune system).  

And there is speculation that the appendix acts as a cul-de-sac for the healthy bacteria to hide in so they are not expelled during bouts of severe diarrhoea (an all too common scourge in the undeveloped world).  Once the illness has settled the bacteria can re-emerge from the appendix to re-seed the rest of the bowel acting as an “internal” probiotic.

Even so, those of us who have lost our appendixes don’t seem to suffer any undue effects – at least not in 21st century Britain.

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