26 June 2007

What's with the Appendix?

So, my friend Dawn and I are having an ongoing debate about the function of the appendix (not the stuff in the back of a book... the thing in your body). We both have a pretty good feeling that it's not used for much of anything these days, but where we differ is in what it may have once been used for.

She says it was designed for digesting animal bones.

I say it was made for digesting wood.

She's got her sources, I've got mine.

So I went to the experts to find out what they have to say on the matter.

Dr. Matthew Koenig is a neurologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital. We are old friends and I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to tap into his brain for a conclusive expert medical opinion. So I ask. And I get a reply -- the reply of a Johns Hopkins physician to a question concerning basic anatomy. Here it is:

"I think it has something to do with digesting wood and other cellulose containing products and roughage that we can no longer digest but I'm not sure. Check with Wikipedia."


Thanks for the expert counsel, doc.

Well, at least now I had at least a partial case for the wood theory (though I really have no idea what roughage is...). So I started thinking: Hmm... I wonder if perhaps we still use the appendix but just don't realize it. I mean, how often might we be digesting wood and roughage and not even realize that we've consumed it?

So I started looking for food and beverage products that contain some variety of wood product -- which led me directly into the heart of glycerol ester of wood rosin.

Glycerol ester of wood rosin is the purified natural rosin of pine trees. It also goes by the name of Ester gum. It's used widely in fruit-juice drinks and sodas where it keeps the flavors oils in the drink from settling to the bottom. Classified by the World Health Organization as a 'bulking agent' or a 'stabilizer', it is allowed at a ratio of 150 mg per kg. Apparently it's commonly found in sports and energy drinks.

Hmm. Didn't George Brett have a problem concerning pine wood rosin? Or was that pine tar wood resin? Hmm... Sport drinks, eh?

The FDA has no problem with the use of pine tree rosin in athletic beverages: "Wood rosin ester is approved for use as a direct food additive (21 CFR 172.735) for use in citrus oils that are added to beverages to increase the density of the citrus oil and to act as an emulsifier at a maximum level of 100 parts per million.... Wood rosin ester also is approved for use as a direct food additive as a plasticizing agent in chewing gum (21 CFR 172.615) and for use as an indirect food additive in the manufacture of articles or components of articles intended for use in producing, manufacturing, packing, processing, preparing, treating, packaging, transporting, or holding food (21 CFR 178.3870)" Citation.


Yes, folks. Next time you notice a wintry pine flavor in your spearmint gum, you'll know where it's coming from.

Don't worry, though. It is perfectly safe to consume the rosin of pine trees. How do we know? Through experiments such as this: "On the basis of the results of studies of faecal excretion by rats of unlabelled glycerol ester of wood rosin [identified as 'beverage-grade estergum'], the authors concluded that hydrolysis was minor" (National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection, Bilthoven, Netherlands Citation.

Think about it, folks: Dutch scientists examining rat poop so that we may drink Gatorade and Fresca with peace of mind.

Which brings us to an interesting segue: Does a rat have an appendix? The answer is yes, a rat has an appendix. Oh, the things we learn when analyzing the contents of the common sports drink.

Sorry, almost forgot the segue... so a rat has an appendix and we have an appendix (unless you've had yours out). Rats can process glycerol ester of wood rosin and so can we. Think this might have something to do with the use of the appendix?

Actually, it has nothing at all to do with the use of the appendix. That organ has been relugated to the position of a useless leftover awash in evolutionary bitterness. The amount of wood rosin in a can of Fresca is probably less than the wood-product you used to pick up eating those candy dots from the sheet of paper.

Alas, the debate goes on. (Last time I look for medical advice from a Hopkins doctor, though!)


MJ said...

I think I digested a lot of wood last night sanding that guitar neck. Yum. No wonder I wasn't hungry for dinner.

Andrea said...

what about tonsils? like the appendix, they used to be considered purely vestigial, but in recent years have had a full-on Rolling-Stones-style comeback tour in the anatomy books.

But wait, you're the blogger -- you tell me.

Jennifer said...

Matt's a neurologist. In neurology, the brain reigns supreme: everything else is an ancillary system. The fact that Matt's able to say anything intelligible about the appendix is a testament to his awe-inspiringness. Dude!