I am writing to address some of the questions in the letter on The Human Appendix. I am a physician who works at a large academic center.
Regarding The letter writer's questions, an inflamed appendix is not uncommon (This is know as appendicitis), and removal of the appendix is one of the simplest surgery's we perform in modern medicine. It is unclear why the inflammation occurs, but if untreated it can be fatal. The appendix was historically thought to be a vestigial organ (useless), or an immune presenting organ ( i.e.: helps the immune system fight off infections). It is thought to have no role in the digestions of foods, and people can live a normal life span without it. The symptoms that go with appendicitis are mid belly pain (pain around the belly button) which moves to the lower right corner of our abdomen over time, and the inability/lack of desire to eat. Recent evidence in the scientific literature points to the fact that the appendix may actually be more important then once thought (see the recent Wired Science article which points to the original science) though this is still under debate . There is nothing you can independently do to keep the appendix healthy (other then try to eat a healthy diet and not take unneeded antibiotics), and we no longer remove appendixes prophetically, that is we do not take them out unless they are infected. There is nothing you can do to keep your babies appendix healthy beyond possibly breastfeeding to make sure he/she develops a healthy immune system.
The Gallbladder is a different story. Most gallbladder problems are caused by gallstones, which are stones made of bile and cholesterol (two substances which the gallbladder stores in order to aid with digestion). When we think about people who get gallstones, the classic med school mnemonic is "fat, female, fertile and forty". Woman, of reproductive/middle age who are fat get gallstones. So the only preventative measure is to stay fit and skinny, as you can't really control your age or gender.
I hope this helps, - S.M.G. MD
Regarding Letter Re: The Human Appendix, I am not a medical professional but I've had reason to learn about some of what was asked regarding the appendix and gall bladder as I had both of mine removed when I had a gastric bypass. First, there is evidence the appendix actually has a purpose by storing good bacteria. It's not critical, but it is helpful. Without an appendix, the some antibiotics can cause you GI distress.
Next, the gall bladder helps you digest, among other things, fatty food. Without a gall bladder, you will likely regret eating too much fat for dinner as you will tend to need the bathroom more urgently the next day. Without the gall bladder, tracking what you eat is important to maintain good GI comfort.
As a GB patient, fat rushes through me and I don't have a very big stomach which can not easily process certain foods (especially proteins) thus causing discomfort. Further, as a person over 50, my body naturally does not grow the helpful bacteria or enzymes as well.
I've read various medical sites talking about probiotics and there are certain probiotics that create a very good mix of the suggested helpful bacteria. However, they need to be encapsulated properly to bypass your stomach and get into the intestines lest they be destroyed by the stomach acids. Probiotics can help you maintain a comfortable life and help you draw in the nutrition from the foods you eat.
I use a product that I found on the internet and researched their claims. After some consideration I decided to try them and have been happily using their products for over a year. I found that after a few weeks, I can back off of the probiotic pill to every other day or so. Can I live without them? You bet! But my overall GI comfort level is harder to maintain without them.
I have not had much luck finding medical information regarding enzymes beyond the fact that as you get older, your body does not produce as many. What I have learned is that certain freshly picked greens make my digestive system very happy and, for everything else, the enzyme pills help me digest protein and other foods with greater comfort.
I have no ties with this company and am simply an avid user of their products. I personally use them and swear by their effectiveness.
IMHO, their web site leaves much to be desired, but their products perform quite well. - J.W. from Virginia
I've benefited from so many tips from survivalblog that I'd be gratified if you could pass this preventive measure on to your readers. I have on several occasions cured a case of appendicitis at the painful and nauseous stage by administering a purgative. Appendicitis is caused by a blockage in the bowel, a hard piece of stool that is blocking the secretions of the appendix. A purge that leads to full elimination can remove the blockage and give immediate relief. Aloe vera or gum of aloes is excellent for this purpose. (Do not use senna or epsom salts if ulcers or hemorrhoids are present. Purgatives should be used with caution during the first trimester of pregnancy.)
In an environment where people have no choice but to eat high fiber foods, appendicitis would be a rare problem. There are many other "modern" diseases that would disappear if our diet were not so "modern". For example, diabetes is only a problem because of the high percentage of refined starches and sugars in most people's diet. The natural human diet is one of the many things that God set and humans tampered with, to their own detriment. - Suzan G.
There was an article from the Institute for Creation Research just yesterday on this topic, highlighting recent research showing that the appendix harbors a "cache" of bacteria that are used to re-colonize the gut following a major illness or condition that disrupts the digestive system. Evidently there are no vestigial organs. - Tip H. in Washington