By Shellie Rosen, Ph.D., Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM)®, DOM, L.Ac.
The appendix was long considered a vestigial organ, which made appendectomies appear to have no downside. However, medicine has begun to discover the role of the appendix and how those without it may be vulnerable.
While younger age groups dominate the 5 percent of cases of appendicitis in the United States, the World Journal of Emergency Surgery revealed in 2014 a growing incidence in older populations due to increased life expectancy. In other words, the longer we live, the more likely we are to experience appendicitis. Still, there are ways to support the role of the appendix, whether you have one or not.
The appendix sits in the colon, where the small intestines move material waste to the large intestines. Appendicitis can be caused by food or dried fecal matter that blocks the opening. Infections inside the appendix can also cause appendicitis. The appendix has the highest gut-associated lymphoid tissue concentration in the digestive system. This lymphoid tissue ripens healthy bacteria and immune cells and stores them for fighting infection. Biofilms are bacteria stuck together to form a mucosal barrier, protecting anything that might damage them. Beneficial biofilms defend against antagonistic ones that cause infections.
The microbial colonies tucked safely in the appendix can repopulate the gut after an infection. Microbial cells comprise 70 percent to 90 percent of body composition. The role of the appendix as part of the body’s microbial immune system is significant. When the immune system identifies a threat from a dangerous bacteria or virus, fluids flush the intestines to clear toxins through diarrhea. After removing the bad guys, the appendix releases good biofilms that populate the digestive system.
Folks with access to clean food and water do not often notice the absence of the appendix because they suffer from less frequent gastrointestinal illnesses. Still, there is evidence that the appendix provides immunological defense. The Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology Journal has published research showing appendix biofilms potentially protect against Clostridium difficile infection (CDI). The American Gastroenterological Association recommends probiotics to treat CDI, and the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii has been shown to reduce recurring infections. The National Institutes of Health published a review in July 2023 noting the benefits of probiotics in managing uncomplicated acute appendicitis.
Regardless of the status of your appendix, foods rich in probiotics or supplements will protect the one you have or add supportive bacteria for the one you had removed. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, raw cheese, natto, tempeh, miso, kvass, kimchi, salted gherkin pickles, and brine-cured olives. For probiotics in liquid form, consider drinking kombucha, apple cider vinegar, kefir (water, coconut, dairy), and traditional buttermilk. Liquid probiotics are excellent for before and after surgery or when digestion is resting. If you prefer to get probiotics in supplement form, look for strains such as Bacillus coagulans, Saccharomyces boulardii, Bacillus subtilis, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Bacillus clausii because they colonize the gut.
Gas and bloating may increase with probiotics but only temporarily as a new bacterial balance sets in; if you are sensitive, begin slowly. Populating the gut with healthy bacteria benefits whole-body immunity and may save you from appendicitis.
Abundant Blessings on your gut this fall! Shellie L. Rosen, Ph.D., Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM)®, DOM, L.Ac.
Signs of Possible Appendicitis:
The main symptoms of appendicitis are nausea, vomiting, and severe abdominal pain at the midpoint between the right hip bone and the belly button. Rebound tenderness from hand pressure in this area, named McBurney’s point, is a significant sign of appendicitis. A person with these signs must visit an emergency room for a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis and begin antibiotics before the appendix ruptures and spreads potentially fatal bacteria throughout the abdominal cavity. A delay in seeking medical help is associated with high morbidity and mortality rates, especially in seniors. Side Note: Take a child seriously if they complain of severe abdominal pain.