In the United States, 1 in 15 people get appendicitis. Even though I was aware of this staggering statistic, I still never thought anything would happen to my sacred appendix… until it did. After a perfect Monday (maybe a little too perfect) the night ended with extreme stomach pain, and two days at the hospital ended with the removal of my appendix. RIP.
In an attempt to keep myself calm, I continuously reassured myself that appendices are unimportant, but I remembered hearing that they used to help with digestion. Naturally, as a foodie, I needed to be sure that missing my appendix wouldn’t affect my eating in the future, and luckily it won’t. Well, sort of. Here’s why not.
Humans Used to Eat Foliage
No, you did not read that wrong. And I’m not talking about our beloved kale when I say foliage. I’m talking about legit leaves. Our ancient ancestors used to eat LEAVES.
In fact, early humans are believed to have had the same diet as modern day chimps, so I would hope that our digestive system back then was just a little bit different than it is today.
The appendix is believed to have been a key part in breaking down this hard-to-digest “foliage” and other plants. I mean seriously, can you imagine easily digesting a bowl of crunchy leaves rn?
Today many biologists have studied the evolution of the digestive system, and propose that the appendix is a vestigial structure. In English, that means it does absolutely freaking nothing. This is because as we have evolved as a species we began to eat things that were easier to digest (squeezable apple sauce anyone?).
But now scientists are saying that the appendix might have a new important role. Imagine how I felt when I typed into Google post-surgery Why you don’t need your appendix and was met with articles titled “You don’t need your appendix right? Wrong!” and “Oops! Looks like you might need your appendix after all.”
What Does the Appendix Do Now?
Whether it grosses us out or not, our bodies are filled with bacteria, most of which is good bacteria that we actually could not survive without. The appendix today is thought to store some of that good good (bacteria).
Doctors believe that the human appendix today is a “safe-house for symbiotic gut microbes,” AKA it acts like a side-kick that can save the day if a main compartment of bacteria were to get infected. So what is an appendix-less girl like me supposed to do? Eat foods that promote good bacteria! Certain foods are known to supercharge the bacteria in your gut, like fermented plant-based foods sauerkraut and kimchi. Yummy.
Since most of us don’t casually eat kimchi and other probiotic-rich foods on an everyday basis, these hacks could be useful to help sneak more of these foods into your diet. And even though you may (hopefully) still have your appendix and the idea of eating bacteria sounds absolutely disgusting, good bacteria can keep your immune and digestive systems strong.
So don’t eat leaves, pray that your appendix doesn’t get inflamed, and eat more bacteria. That is all.