What is the Appendix?

Digestion, Immune | March 31, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

Immune, Digestion

What is the Appendix?

Once thought to be a useless organ or evolutionary throw-back, the appendix is now gaining attention as a critical piece of the immune system.

The appendix is a finger-shaped sac at the beginning of the large intestine that is mostly made of lymphatic tissue. It is located in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen – if you put one hand on your hip and other on your belly button, meet your thumbs in the middle and you'll have found the approximate location of your appendix.

What Is The Appendix For?

Once considered an unnecessary organ, it turns out that the appendix helps us from day one. During foetal development, the cells of the appendix produce various hormones and amines that control a huge range of biological and metabolic mechanisms involved in growth and development [1].

In adulthood, the appendix is primarily involved in immune function. Lymph tissue begins to accumulate in the appendix after birth and reaches its peak in the 20s and 30s. After that, it declines and is almost completely gone by the age of 60. During the 20s and 30s, the appendix directs the flow of lymphatic fluid throughout the whole body. Locally, it produces immune factors such as white blood cells and immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies.

IgA antibodies are involved in the protection of mucus membranes throughout the body – this type of tissue is particularly abundant in the gastrointestinal tract, but is also found in the eyes, throat, lungs and urinary system.

What Is The Appendix For?With its position in the gastrointestinal tract, the appendix is in the prime location to expose white blood cells to a variety of foreign substances that pass through the gastrointestinal tract. This helps to “teach” the immune system about friend versus foe – it may even help to prevent autoimmune processes. The cells of the appendix are highly sensitive and can detect pathogens that have passed through the small intestine previously unnoticed. By triggering an immune response and isolating pathogens to the appendix, the nasties are unable to move into the large intestine – this may help to protect against bowel conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, parasite infections and colorectal cancer [1] [2].

Probiotic Safe-House: Another use of the appendix is as a safe space for beneficial bacteria to congregate and proliferate. If the large intestine's microbiome has issues with an imbalance of good:bad bacteria, then good gut bugs are then released into the colon to repopulate the area and restore balance [2] [3].


NOTE: Appendicitis is the most common cause of sudden, severe abdominal pain and is a medical emergency. Seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY if you experience sudden, severe abdominal pain.

When there is a blocking in the appendix, the tissue swells up and becomes highly inflamed.

Blockage is usually caused by a build-up of immune cells, but can also be caused by a hard stony mass of faeces called a fecalith; a foreign body that has been swallowed and passed through the small intestine; or even a mass of parasitic worms – gross but true!

Once blocked, the appendix becomes inflamed and distended, and can suffer from bacterial overgrowth and reduced blood supply. If left untreated, appendicitis can quickly lead to necrotic death of nearby tissue, gangrene, and sepsis. It can even lead to death.


APPENDICITIS IS A MEDICAL EMERGENCYSeek medical attention immediately if you experience severe abdominal pain or experience the typical pattern of appendicitis onset:

Appendicitis onset often begins with pain around the belly button or between the ribs. This is often accompanied by brief nausea and vomiting, or feeling turned off by food. After a few hours, the pain usually shifts to the lower right quadrant where it may intensify.

NOTE: Only 50% of people with appendicitis experience the symptom progression described above. In many people, the pain can be widespread and not localised. In pregnant and older people, the pain may be less severe. Seek medical attention if you suffer from sudden abdominal pain.

After the initial onset, the pain may decrease if the appendix ruptures. This is followed by a severe increase in pain and fever.

Appendicitis most often happens in children and people in their 20s, but can occur at any age.

With early treatment, the chances of full recovery are very high. Without surgery or antibiotic treatment, more than 50% of people with appendicitis die. Don't risk it – seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY!

Natural Therapies for Appendix Health


If you undergo surgery to remove your appendix, probiotics may aid in post-operative recovery – but speak to your medical team before taking ANY supplements after an appendectomy [8].

As a preventative measure, building up the population of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, may help to boost the reserves housed in the appendix and protect the microbiome of the colon [6]. They have also been shown to boost general immunity and could help to prevent lymphatic stagnation and build-up of cells in the appendix [7].

Probiotics are available in capsules or free flowing powders, and there are also kid-friendly products available.


FibreThere isn't a specific diet that will prevent appendicitis, but you can reduce the risk by eating lots of fibre. Fibre reduces the thickness or firmness of the stool, resulting in faster stool transit time – allowing the stool to pass through the intestines easily, moving pathogens out of the body with it, and preventing the formation of faecaliths that could block the appendix [5].

Together with probiotics, fibre has also been shown to boost immune function and lymphatic health [6]. If you struggle to get enough fibre in your diet, consider taking a natural fibre supplement like psyllium husk . Talk to a qualified nutritionist or naturopath if you experience ongoing constipation.
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Healthy Fats

A high fat diet is likely to block up the lymphatic system, including tissue of the appendix. This could lead to a back-up of cells and result in a blockage. However, a low fat diet also slows down lymphatic flow. Moderate intake of healthy fats is the key – just enough to . Say goodbye to trans fats, excessive saturated fats and hydrogenated margarines, and focus on plant-derived omega-3s.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also anti-inflammatory, strengthen the integrity of the lymphatic system, boost wound healing, and help to to regulate the immune system [10]. For a quick omega-3 boost, try adding flaxseed or hemp oil to salads or smoothies, snack on walnuts, and try algae-derived EFA supplements.
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If you needed a reason to drink more water, here it is – hydration can help prevent appendicitis! Drinking water helps to hydrate everything in the body, including stool passing through the digestive tract. If the stool becomes dehydrated it can form hard, small pellets called faecaliths that can block the appendix. Hydration is also essential for proper immune defences, the flow of lymphatic fluid, IgA function, and probiotic growth [4].

If you struggle to hydrate, consider taking a daily dose of electrolytes or a rehydration powder.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is needed for most functions of the immune system, including the proliferation of immune cells created in the appendix [9]. It's also a mild laxative and may help to keep the bowels moving to prevent a blockage of the appendix.

Vitamin C can help to promote wound healing and prevent post-operative infections following surgery to remove the appendix but always speak to your medical team before taking any supplements following surgery.
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APPENDICITIS IS A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY if you experience sudden onset abdominal pain.

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[1] Kooij, I. A., et al. (2016) The immunology of the vermiform appendix: a review of the literature. Clin Exp Immunol., 186:1, 1 – 9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5011360/

[2] Wu, Shih-Chi, et al. (2015) Association between Appendectomy and Subsequent Colorectal Cancer Development: An Asian Population Study. PLoS One, 10:2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4339380/#pone.0118411.ref010

[3] Guinane, C. M., et al. (2013) Microbial Composition of Human Appendices from Patients following Appendectomy. mBio, 4:1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3551545/

[4] Popkin, B. M., et al. (2010) Water, Hydration and Health. Nutr Rev., 68:8, 439 – 458. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/

[5] Sadovsky, R. (2000) Diagnosis of Acute Appendicitis in Children. Am Fam Physician., 63:2, 343 – 344. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2001/0115/p343.html

[6] Laurin, M., et al. (2011) The Cecal Appendix: One More Immune Component With a Function Disturbed By Post-Industrial Culture. The Anatomical Review., 294:4, 567 – 579. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ar.21357/full

[7] Liao, S. & Padera, T. P. (2013) Lymphatic Function and Immune Regulation in Health and Disease. Lymphat Res Biol., 11:3, 136 – 143. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3780287/

[8] Stravrou, G., et al. (2017) Gut microbiome, surgical complications and probiotics. Ann Gastroenterol., 30:1, 45 – 53. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5198246/

[9] Carr, A. C. & Maggini, S. (2017) Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients., 9:11, 1211. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707683/  

[10] Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., et al. (2014) Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Stress-Induced Immune Dysregulation: Implications for Wound Healing. Mil Med., 179:11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4293032/

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