Removing the appendix could reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease, research has suggested.
Its importance to the human body – if any – has long been the subject of speculation, but now scientists believe the tiny organ could be a contributor to the onset of Parkinson’s disease (PD).
A study of more than a million people found removing the appendix could be linked to a 20% decrease in the degenerative condition.
Researchers with the American Association for the Advancement of Science investigated the connection between Parkinson’s and the appendix, which has been shown to contain high quantities of a protein that aggregates in the brains of patients.
They studied an epidemiological dataset containing demographic information and PD statistics on 1.6 million people in Sweden, and found that appendectomy – the procedure to remove the appendix – reduced the overall risk of developing PD by 19.3%.
Analysis of a second dataset of 849 PD patients revealed that appendectomy was associated with a delayed onset of PD by an average of 3.6 years later in life.
Around 127,000 people in the UK are thought to have PD, according to the NHS.
The research was published in the Science Translational Medicine journal.
Claire Bale, head of research at Parkinson’s UK, said the findings “build on previous research indicating that, for some, Parkinson’s starts in the gut”.
She said: “There is much still to learn about how surgical approaches, such as removing the appendix, may stop the progression of toxic proteins that cause Parkinson’s.
“However, these approaches are unlikely to eliminate the condition, as Parkinson’s may also start in other areas of the body or brain.”