And while streamlining yourself of, say, your tonsils may be a bad idea, there’s one organ we may actually be better off without: the appendix.
A new study, published yesterday in Science Translational Medicine, has found that having your appendix removed is associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease. It’s not a small difference either – people who had their appendix removed started showing symptoms of Parkinson’s more than 3.5 years later than those who hadn’t. And that’s if they noticed any at all, as the study also found that the appendix-free had their overall risk of developing the disease cut by nearly a fifth.
This new research is the largest and longest study into the condition so far, involving 1.6 million people over 52 years – 91 million years of human life in total. Using data from over 50 years of detailed patient records from the Swedish National Patient Registry, the researchers were able to investigate disease diagnosis, treatments, and even match individuals by age, sex, and location in order to better compare the progression – or not – of their Parkinson's.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen research linking Parkinson’s disease to our guts. Quite a few studies have found remarkably different microbiomes in the guts of those suffering from the disease compared to non-sufferers, and there’s evidence that stomach complaints such as constipation might be one of the very earliest symptoms. There have even been promising signs that Parkinson’s may be on the ever-growing list of conditions treatable by that most disgusting of miracle remedies, fecal transplants.
For a while, researchers have suspected a type of protein called α-synuclein as one of the culprits behind the disease. This protein turns up all over our bodies, but is most abundant in the brain, where it plays a role in nerve signaling. However, in Parkinson’s patients, this protein can build up into clumps, killing off cells in the parts of the brain responsible for movement and producing the tremors, stiffness, and slowness that characterize the illness.
The new study seems to support this idea, as the research team also found that these proteins accumulate in the appendix. But strangely, this is true regardless of whether a person suffers from Parkinson’s or not – suggesting the proteins are just one of many factors contributing to the development of the disease.
“There has to be some other mechanism or confluence of events that allows the appendix to affect Parkinson’s risk,” lead researcher Viviane Labrie told The Guardian. “That’s what we plan to look at next – which factor or factors tip the scale in favour of Parkinson’s.”