My 10-year-old daughter recently experienced a bout of abdominal pain. My doctor told us it was an inflamed appendix, and the pain has subsided with the prescription of antibiotics. He still recommends removing the appendix to prevent any future problems. What are your thoughts?
Acute appendicitis is something that can turn serious, particularly if the organ gets to the point of rupturing, which can be life-threatening.
Pain in the area of the appendix, however, is often either gas pain or, even more likely, a problem with the ileocecal valve. The ileocecal valve is located between the small and large intestine, in basically the same area as the appendix. Many times what is thought to be an appendix problem is instead a problem with this valve. The ileocecal valve is responsible for two important tasks: (1) to serve as a barrier that prevents the toxic contents of the large intestine from backing up into the small intestine, and (2) to prevent food products in the small intestine from passing into the large intestine before the digestive processes have been completed. Stressful emotions and/or a diet high in spicy or roughage-type foods can sometimes cause the valve to become "stuck" in either the open or closed position. This can produce an array of symptoms, some of which may resemble appendicitis.
Fortunately, there are simple, effective techniques to remedy ileocecal valve problems. (Personally, I find that people who've had their appendix removed tend to have more problems with the ileocecal valve—which makes learning these techniques even more important.)
As far as removing the appendix in an effort to "prevent any future problems," I would be extremely reluctant to do so. Most of us were taught that the appendix is a useless structure. We continue to learn, however, just how complex and intertwined the parts of the body are, even after hundreds of years of study.
The appendix organ is an important part of the lymphatic system, which in turn is part of your overall immune system. It is strategically located at the point where the small and large intestines meet, near the ileocecal valve. It provides a “trap” where harmful microorganisms can be captured and destroyed or inactivated by our immune cells. Once you remove the appendix, you lose a part of your immune system.
Research also suggests that the appendix may act as a type of "safe house" where beneficial bacteria from the bowels are grown and stored. In an event where the bowel becomes infected with pathogenic bacteria and is purged, the bacteria from this "safe house" would be used to restore healthy levels in the colon. In earlier times—and even today in many third-world countries where diseases like cholera exist—the ability to quickly re-colonize beneficial bacteria in the colon would be crucial to survival. I suspect it’s just as critical in individuals who experience food poisoning, heavy antibiotic use, chlorinated water, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or many forms of chronic prescription drug use.
It would be interesting to see studies on serious food poisoning that compared the survival rates of those individuals who had their appendix to those who didn’t. Similar studies on the use of antibiotics, prescription drugs, chemo, and radiation exposure would probably be eye-opening as well.
After thousands of years, the medical field is just starting to learn about the many benefits of probiotics. Making the connection between the appendix, colon health, and a stronger immune system is probably a little bit of a stretch for most doctors at this point. For your daughter’s sake, however, I would strongly suggest leaving this little worm-like pouch where it is if possible. It’s far more important than most realize.
And for anyone without an appendix, a regular supply of probiotics is a form of cheap insurance. Because you no longer have the reservoir of good bacteria, daily replenishment would be a good idea.