Useless organs By dr. David Hepburn

Dr. David Hepburn: 

Leo, my Havanese dog (by the way, we Havanese owners are an uppity bunch and always use the word “Havanese” when referring to our “dog” so that you don’t think we are owners of a Shih-tsu or Deputy Dawg) wears his emotions on his butt. Happy, and his tail becomes a weapon of mass destruction. Sad and it wilts like a Viagra failure. Excited and it becomes a merry-go-round game to pursue, Frightened and it somehow makes him look bigger like a fuzzy toy rabbit, albeit a fierce-some one, of course.

But how important is a tail to we bipeds? In fact, what is your most useless organ? (My wife’s response was “What or who?”) Turns out we have several organs and tissue, that are vestigial, just junk in our trunk. Useless, useless, useless, Trump, useless…or are they?

Coccyx

The tailbone, more fun to call coccyx if you’re a ten year old tempting your naughty vocabulary, is a collection of five fused (or sometimes separate) vertebrae. These fused vertebrae are the only vestiges that are left of the tail that other mammals still use for balance (cheetah), communication, (lions) and, for some primates in Africa and DC, as a prehensile limb. However, the coccyx, unlike Washington, isn’t completely useless. It allows ligaments, tendons, and muscles to attach to it that have a few important functions, including the role it plays in enabling us to sit properly. The coccyx used to be removed when people injured them but nowadays it is rarely taken out.

Coccyx Bone - Dr. David Hepburn
Coccyx Bone – Dr. David Hepburn

There are cases of infants born with extra vertebrae, giving them tails. There are no real adverse health effects of such a tail, unless perhaps the child was born in the Dark Ages. In that case, the child and the mother, now considered witches, would’ve been killed instantly, which we usually file under adverse health effects.

Tonsils/adenoids

The tonsils are another useless part of the body that can cause a bit of grief. Open your mouth wide and you’ll see a tonsil on each side of your throat, unless you’ve had them removed, in which case you’re much less likely to see them. Tonsils lurk about the back of your throat while adenoids hang out in the back of your nose. Tonsils and adenoids (T&A) are lymphoid tissues that are prone, in kids, to becoming infected and inflamed and as such were indiscriminate targets of scalpels.

Tonsillectomies would cause kids to miss school and eat way too much ice cream, making them sick yet again. Any child with a decent criminal bent could stretch this surgery-induced holiday to two weeks, particularly if you suggested that your coccyx was also sore. I am proud to say that I missed 136 days in Grade 3, just shy of the record set by Capone. But are they troublesome, evolutionary vestiges or ardent defenders of the body? Both tissues function in antibody production and cell-mediated immunity and might well be important as a lymphoid defense mechanism organ in the upper respiratory tract.

Doctors are now a little more reluctant to remove the tonsils or the adenoids no matter how badly Junior snores, snorts or schnoozles. When studies indicated that there was no decrease in the number of colds, sore throats, and other respiratory infections between children who had them removed, and those who did not, Benny & Jerry stocks completely tanked.

Vermiform Appendix.

The appendix is a narrow, muscular tube that attaches to the large intestine. Its purpose was to digest cellulose back when we were cattle or sheep or dentists. But as we have advanced our diet to one of less prehistoric tree bark and more Snickers Bars, the appendix seems useless, unless you’re a surgeon who spends way too much time playing Blackjack. But recently it was discovered that the appendix actually stores good bacteria that can be used to repopulate the gut in cases of severe diarrhea.

It is a reservoir of probiotics! While not so important in countries not devastated by diarrheal diseases, those who live in nations with poor sanitation may need these in-house probiotics. The vermiform (meaning “worm”like) appendix really did resemble a worm when I was living in the jungles of Vanuatu and took out appendices that were jammed up by the disgustingly large Ascaris worms.

Appendix- Dr. David Hepburn
Appendix- Dr. David Hepburn

OK, enough for today as I have been sitting here way too long typing up this life-saving information and frankly… my coccyx needs some ice cream.

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Are you pro probiotics? – By Dr. Dave Hepburn

This column is only for billionaires, which… is all of you. You are rolling in veritable vault-loads of bacteria. You’re a bacterial billionaire. Some of your teenagers are extremely wealthy, as are their hockey bags. In fact, for every single cell in your body you have ten bacteria; on your skin, in your mouth, genital tract, your jockstraps and helmets.

Your colon, you’ll be thrilled to know, is the happy hellish home to most of these billions. But don’t be in a hurry to try and get rid of them courtesy of some primitive cultish practice like voodoo or colon cleansing, the latter which not only does no good whatsoever but may in fact be harmful. (For those gullible colon cleansing folks…you’ve been hosed…so to speak.) Stick to voodoo like my patients do, which may be the reason Dr. Dave bobbleheads are being snapped off the shelves and I have a constant pain in my prostate.

Your bowels are teeming with lovely, yet sensitive, bacteria with names like E.coli and Petunia. However, your bowels also contain a bowlful of nastier, tougher, bacteria with names like Clostridia and Kevin. All of these bowel beauties, good and bad, compete for your pop tarts. Millions of them eagerly waiting in the bowels of your bowels with saliva dripping from their wee bacterial beaks. Sleep well now, Billy.

Bowel Bacterias Dr. Dave Hepburn
Bowel Bacterias – Dr. Dave Hepburn

Normally, the Petunias and those of similar ilk outnumber the nasty fellas significantly, a good thing for keeping your bowel flora and fauna in balance, albeit an uneasy one. The good flora, as mentioned, are a sensitive lot and should they be insulted by say an antibiotic or a foreign invader, they get nervous, can’t eat and often faint. The hardier, evil bugs don’t care and so they take over the pop tart smorgasbord, and in so doing can cause some rather unacceptable symptoms like bloody diarrhea, pain, cramps and death and stuff.

So in this ongoing battle of the gut it makes sense to send in reinforcements from time to time. Welcome probiotics. Yes, you can deliberately add more of these sweet germy gems to that twisting cauldron of poop. That, in fact, is what a probiotic is.

The most famous probiotic is, of course, lactobacillus, found in yogurt. When I first learned of the enormous bacterial count in yogurt I was quite viscerally affected, which may explain the reflexive gagging sounds I make when I spot a roving Yoplait in aisle 6 at the Piggly Wiggly. It also explains why I reach for the soothing Snickers bars to make me feel better as no bacteria could ever survive in my Snickers bars thank you very much. But knowing what I do now about how great probiotics can be, I can almost tolerate a yogurt in the same room, as long as the lid is on and it doesn’t look me directly in the eye.

Lactobacillus - Dr. Hepburn
Lactobacillus – Dr. Hepburn

A live probiotic, taken at the same time that you might have to go on antibiotics, can restore the strength of the good bacteria, preventing the diarrhea often seen in those on antibiotics. Probiotics can also be useful in actually treating good old fashioned infectious diarrhea and possibly even irritable bowel syndrome. In addition to GI problems, probiotics are also considered in the treatment of vaginal, skin and respiratory infections and might even prevent tooth decay and periodontal disease.

Most probiotics are bacteria similar to those naturally found in people’s guts, especially in those of breast fed infants (who have natural protection against many diseases.) Probiotics are available as supplements but are also found in foods like fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh, and some juices and soy beverages. The bacteria may exist in these foods naturally or be added during preparation. Isn’t that a lovely thought? “Bill, add a pinch more salt to that miso and, ummm, do we have any more baby poop left?”

What is important is that not all probiotics are created equal and the correct probiotic, be it bacteria, yeast or Edmonton Oiler, must be chosen for the proper problem or it is a waste of time and bowel, and don’t we all hate bowel waste. If you took the wrong probiotic for a gut problem you might be disappointed to learn that it was the probiotic used for vaginal yeast infections, particularly if your drivers license contains words like Charles or Gordon. So for most of you guys of the male species, it may be better to just inhale deeply… from a hockey bag.