Why do I have a spleen?

This fragile first-shaped sack in your body’s infection fighter, filtering bacteria, viruses and other nasty invaders from your blood. Your spleen's main function is to act as a filter for your blood. It recognizes and removes old, malformed, or damaged red blood cells. When blood flows into your spleen, your spleen performs "quality control"; your red blood cells must pass through a maze of narrow passages. Healthy blood cells simply pass through the spleen and continue to circulate throughout your bloodstream. Blood cells that can't pass the test will be broken down in your spleen by macrophages. Macrophages are large white blood cells that specialize in destroying these unhealthy red blood cells.

The blood vessels in human spleens are able to get wider or narrower, depending on your body's needs. When vessels are expanded, your spleen can actually hold up to a cup of reserve blood. If for any reason you need some extra blood – for example, if trauma causes you to lose blood – your spleen can respond by releasing that reserve blood back into your system.

Your spleen also plays an important part in your immune system, which helps your body fight infection. Just as it detects faulty red blood cells, your spleen can pick out any unwelcome micro-organisms (like bacteria or viruses) in your blood.


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Why do I have a pancreas?

This organ injects special protein substances called enzymes into your small intestine to break down carbohydrates for fats and energy, and proteins for body-building materials. The pancreas has an endocrine function because it releases juices directly into the bloodstream, and it has an exocrine function because it releases juices into ducts.

Enzymes, or digestive juices, are secreted by the pancreas into the small intestine. There, it continues breaking down food that has left the stomach.

The pancreas also produces the hormone insulin and secretes it into the bloodstream, where it regulates the body's glucose or sugar level. Problems with insulin control can lead to diabetes. Other possible health problems include pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.

A healthy pancreas produces chemicals to digest the food we eat. The exocrine tissues secrete a clear, watery, alkaline juice that contains several enzymes. These break down food into small molecules that can be absorbed by the intestines. When blood sugar falls, pancreatic alpha cells release the hormone glucagon. Glucagon causes glycogen to be broken down into glucose in the liver. The glucose then enters the bloodstream, restoring blood sugar levels to normal.


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Why do I have kidneys?

This bean-shaped organ is so essential to good health that your body comes with a second one for free! Each kidney is crammed with more than a million microscopic filters-called nephrons – that skim the waste chemical and other gunk from your blood. One of the main jobs of the kidneys is to filter the waste out of the blood. How does the waste get in your blood? Well, your blood delivers nutrients to your body. Chemical reactions in the cells of your body break down the nutrients. Some of the waste is the result of these chemical reactions. Some is just stuff your body doesn't need because it already has enough. The waste has to go somewhere; this is where the kidneys come in. First, blood is carried into the kidneys by the renal artery (anything in the body related to the kidneys is called "renal"). The average person has 1 to 1½ gallons of blood circulating through his or her body. The kidneys filter that blood about 40 times a day! More than 1 million tiny filters inside the kidneys remove the waste. These filters, called nephrons, are so small you can see them only with a high-powered microscope.


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Why do I have an appendix?

This skinny tube in our digestive system is mostly useless today and can actually endanger your life if it becomes inflamed. Scientists suspect that the appendix, which replenishes essential bacteria in our guts, was an important organ back before germ-fighting medicines helped humans overcome constant bouts of diarrhea. Scientists disagree on what the appendix actually does. Some think it's a leftover organ from earlier humans but that it no longer serves any purpose.

Other scientists think it's responsible for returning good bacteria to the gut after an infection. If the appendix really does serve as a source of good bacteria, then it is an important part of the human immune system. When your appendix becomes inflamed, it’s called appendicitis. It’s usually caused by a bacterial infection. The infection might start in your stomach and travel to your appendix. It might also arise from a hardened piece of feces in your intestinal tract. If you suspect you have appendicitis, make an appointment with your doctor. To diagnose your condition, they will ask you about your symptoms and conduct a physical exam. They may also order lab work and imaging tests.


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Why do I have a liver?

The liver helps you by taking toxins (substances in the body that are actually like poisons) out of your blood. Wait! Why do you have toxins in your blood in the first place? Sometimes your body produces them as part of its normal function, like breaking down protein, a component in foods such as meat and nuts.

The liver also cleans blood that has just been enriched with vitamins and minerals during digestion. After you've eaten something, the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from the food pass from the intestine into the blood. Before going out to the rest of the body, the nutrient-rich blood makes a stop at the liver.

The liver processes the good stuff into forms that the rest of the body can use. Waste or stuff your body doesn't need can be carried by bile back into the intestine and out of the body when you poop. Other waste processed by the liver goes through your blood to your kidneys and out in your pee. Your body’s biggest internal organ, the liver is like a complex chemical-processing plant. It converts nutrients from the small intestine into fuel your body can use. It makes bile, an essential substance for digestion.

And, if you ever accidentally ate something that was harmful, your liver would try to break it down and clear it out of your system. But don't put your liver to the test! Steer clear of poisons and other harmful stuff.


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