Counseling Sheet


Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

The structure of the appendix is ideal for its function. It is a pouch lined by lymphatic tissue. Lymphocytes are involved in the immune system of the body, and are especially active in destroying cancer cells and producing antibodies.

The entire function of the appendix is not completely understood yet, but it is certain that it is not a vestigial organ as was once thought. The appendix is precisely placed to contact a large number of germs which normally inhabit the colon. It is located in the right lower quadrant of the abdomen, attached to the cecum, the first part of the large bowel. Lymphocytes sense the germs present there and produce certain substances for the blood that give a contact resistance against the germs, including enteric viruses that may cause cancer. Thus, it can be readily appreciated that the position and structure of the appendix is perfect for the job it must perform, that of becoming acquainted with germs and "learning" how to protect the body against them.

Persons who die of cancer, especially lymphoma, leukemia, cancer of the colon, breast, or ovary are two times more likely to have had an appendectomy. With these statistics, it becomes desirable to guard against unnecessary loss of the appendix. Of course, if one has the life-threatening disease appendicitis, it is essential to remove the appendix. But, if a surgeon operates for appendicitis, and finds the appendix not inflamed, it is felt by many that he should leave the appendix in place, or if the abdomen is opened for gallbladder operation, a hysterectomy, or some other surgical condition, the appendix should not be removed incidentally as was once the custom.

If one loses the appendix for any reason before the age of 30, he should use greater care for the rest of his life to avoid cancer risks. These risks are fairly well defined in medical circles, and should be studied so as to avoid them where possible. These risks include dietary factors such as rich foods (fats, refined carbohydrates, protein, and other dietary supplements), heavy meat or milk consumption, too many calories; and non-dietary factors of various chemicals, exposure to certain animals, and the use of certain drugs and hormones.

How can one prevent appendicitis? First and foremost is the type of diet. A diet low in fiber and high in dairy products, meat, refined grains, and sugar is most likely to set up a condition in the appendix that will result eventually in appendicitis. Take instead a diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as the principle dietary, using all other foods sparingly. Several studies have suggested that vegetarians are practically immune to appendicitis. Further, it occurs more in tense individuals, especially if they take a diet high in refined sugars, grains, and fats.

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Seale, Alabama 36875