(Katherine Ellen Foley/ Quartz) — For years, medical scientists have suspected the appendix—a tiny organ tucked away near our large intestines—lacks a real purpose in our bodies. They believed it was a vestigial organ, that might have been a part of the digestive systems of our ancestors, but did nothing for modern humans except occasionally get inflamed and force a surgical removal.
But that mindset is slowly changing. Last year, researchers showed that the appendix regulates aspects of our gut’s immune system. And in a paper published Oct. 31, researchers found that people who had an appendectomy were less likely than the general population to develop Parkinson’s disease later in life. They analyzed data from the Swedish national patient registry, which gave them access to the medical information for the entire country from 1964 to 2016. Out of a 1.7 million total people, roughly half a million had appendectomies. In patients with appendectomies, the rate of developing Parkinson’s was 1.17 cases per 1,000 people; for all others, the rate was 1.4 cases per 1,000 people.
They also looked at a smaller dataset of 847 people with Parkinson’s, which included 54 people who’d had their appendixes removed. That subset started showing symptoms of Parkinson’s about three and a half years later than the other patients. (…)