Millions of years ago it seemed that my function was much more important than it is in today’s world. Diets in the wild during the hunter/gather generations consisted of any grub man could get his hands on. If you ate the “right” thing you survived. If you ate the “wrong” thing, then you became a forgotten memory.
Most of the foraging of our ancestors consisted of insects, grains and greens. They also have found residues of fruit in the remains of prehistoric man. Whatever was sweet, was known to be safe. The red flag went up on sour and bitter stuff, which could be highly poisonous.
My job was thought to help with the digestion of hard, rough plant material. They didn’t have any Homo Sapiens’ Supermarket franchise at the time, so you ate whatever you found foraging during the day. Many times it was just tree bark. Man hoped to survive till the next sunrise. I played an instrumental role in getting nutrients out of hard dietary residue so that together we could continue to procreate and evolve.
With time, humans starting consuming a completely different diet. Use of fire improved the digestibility and taste of meat. More protein meant a larger brain and man became a smarter organism. My shape slimmed over millions of years, with decreasing amounts of dietary fiber in the diet. The body efficiently economized my size to resemble that of a four-inch worm.
In our world of today, I am part of the team that helps keep your body healthy.
When you get an infection, good bacteria initiate a game of hide and go seek. Beneficial bacteria always win when they take cover inside my emergency bunker.
Ever since the advance of man-made antibiotics in the 1940’s, more good bacteria have been congregating within my domain. I am able to hide them from the enemy (bad bacteria). Scientific controversy remains whether good bacteria can still survive some of the stronger antibiotics and still take cover inside me.
Performing an -ectomy (cutting me out of the body) shows lowering immunity to infection. There was a study reported in the journal, Clinical Gastroenterology Hepatology, 2011, Dec;9(12):1072-7 comparing individuals with an intact organ to those patients that had operations to remove me. Researchers were looking at re-infection of dangerous bacteria called C. difficile (Clostridium difficile) and if I protect the body from this infection. Those patients that kept me on hand had only an 11% recurrence of this infection. Removing me from the body, increased chances of re-infection by 48%.
Studies need to be repeated to see if this holds true with other serious bacteria like C. difficile.
Doctors shouldn’t operate to remove me unless it’s a necessity. It looks like my function helps the body reboot after invasions of bacterial predators. My safe haven allows the preservation of beneficial bacteria till the infection subsides. Afterwards, they can return to the body to regrow normal flora to help restore health.
Located near the juncture where the small goes into the large intestine, I look like a pouch hanging off the large intestine. I am Rob’s appendix.
If your doctors have to take me out, make probiotic cultures like yogurt, kombucha and kefir your next best friend.