New research shows that the appendix, often thought of as an “unessential” organ, plays a critical role in maintaining gut health.
Why this Matters
Certain cells found in the appendix, called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs), are vitally important for protecting against bacterial infection in people whose immune systems have been compromised.1 Furthermore, proteins in green leafy vegetables are thought to play a role in producing these ILCs.2
The immune system is made up of lymphoid tissue, which includes bone marrow, lymph nodes, parts of the spleen and gastrointestinal tract, thymus and tonsils.3 In addition, proteins and blood in the cells are part of the immune system. The purpose of this system is to fight harmful substances called antigens, which are any substance that causes a reaction by your immune system. Some examples of antigens include bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells.4 When a person becomes sick, her/his immune system has been compromised and is launching an attack on these antigens.
Your appendix serves as a reservoir for “good” bacteria.1,2 These “good” bacteria, called probiotics, are living bacterial organisms that benefit your body and digestive system.5 Probiotics exist naturally in your gut. Probiotics, similar to those that the body produces, can also be found in some foods. Otherwise healthy people do not need to add probiotics into their diets in order to promote gut health. However, probiotics can be taken to assist the “good” bacteria in those with compromised immune systems. They’re helpful for:
- Lowering the number of “bad” bacteria in your gut, which can cause infections or inflammation
- Replacing the body’s “good” bacteria (for example, taking antibiotics lowers the body’s “good” bacteria)
- Restoring the body’s “good” versus “bad” bacterial balance, which is essential for the body to function properly
Whether you’re aware of it or not, you probably already eat a food that contains probiotics – yogurt! Some other foods that contain probiotics include soy drinks, acidophilus milk, kefir, buttermilk, some soft cheeses, miso, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, and many pickles.3
A new study found that innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) found in the appendix are crucial for protecting against bacteria in those with compromised immune systems. They do so by keeping the body’s microbiome, or community of good bacteria, balanced. These cells prevent bacterial damage and inflammation during a bacterial attack. In those with compromised immune systems, ILCs play a vital role in fighting bacterial infections in the gastrointestinal system. If you have a compromised immune system, eating leafy green vegetables and probiotic foods may be important for assuring adequate ILC’s and a balanced microbiome.
1 LC Rankin et. al.Complementarity and redundancy of IL-22-producing innate lymphoid cells. Nature Immunology (2015). View
2 Immune cells make appendix ‘silent hero’ of digestive health. Walter + Eliz Hall Institute of Medical Research (2015). View
3 Immunodeficiency Disorders. U.S. National Library of Medicine (2014). View
4 Antigen. U.S. National Library of Medicine (2014). View
5 Probiotics. Cleveland Clinic (2015). View