Seven body organs you can live without

October 6, 2017 by Adam Taylor, The Conversation
Credit: Komsan Loonprom/Shutterstock

The human body is incredibly resilient. When you donate a pint of blood, you lose about 3.5 trillion red blood cells, but your body quickly replaces them. You can even lose large chunks of vital organs and live. For example, people can live relatively normal lives with just half a brain). Other organs can be removed in their entirety without having too much impact on your life. Here are some of the "non-vital organs".

Spleen

This organ sits on the left side of the abdomen, towards the back under the ribs. It is most commonly removed as a result of injury. Because it sits close the ribs, it is vulnerable to abdominal trauma. It is enclosed by a tissue paper-like capsule, which easily tears, allowing blood to leak from the damaged . If not diagnosed and treated, it will result in death.

When you look inside the spleen, it has two notable colours. A dark red colour and small pockets of white. These link to the functions. The red is involved in storing and recycling , while the white is linked to storage of white cells and platelets.

You can comfortably live without a spleen. This is because the liver plays a role in recycling red blood cells and their components. Similarly, other lymphoid tissues in the body help with the immune function of the spleen.

Stomach

The stomach performs four main functions: mechanical digestion by contracting to smash up food, chemical digestion by releasing acid to help chemically break up food, and then absorption and secretion. The stomach is sometimes surgically removed as a result of cancer or trauma. In 2012, a British woman had to have her stomach removed after ingesting a cocktail that contained liquid nitrogen.

When the stomach is removed, surgeons attach the oesophagus (gullet) directly to the small intestines. With a good recovery, people can eat a normal diet alongside vitamin supplements.

Reproductive organs

The primary reproductive organs in the male and female are the testes and ovaries, respectively. These structures are paired and people can still have children with only one functioning.

The removal of one or both are usually the result of cancer, or in males, trauma, often as a result of violence, sports or road traffic accidents. In females, the uterus (womb) may also be removed. This procedure (hysterectomy) stops women from having children and also halts the menstrual cycle in pre-menopausal women. Research suggests that women who have their ovaries removed do not have a reduced life expectancy. Interestingly, in some male populations, removal of both testicles may lead to an increase in life expectancy.

Colon

The colon (or large intestine) is a tube that is about six-feet in length and has four named parts: ascending, transverse, descending and sigmoid. The primary functions are to resorb water and prepare faeces by compacting it together. The presence of cancer or other diseases can result in the need to remove some or all of the colon. Most people recover well after this surgery, although they notice a change in bowel habits. A diet of soft foods is initially recommended to aid the healing process.

Gallbladder

The gallbladder sits under the liver on the upper-right side of the abdomen, just under the ribs. It stores something called bile. Bile is constantly produced by the liver to help break down fats, but when not needed in digestion, it is stored in the gallbladder.

When the intestines detect fats, a hormone is released causing the gallbladder to contract, forcing bile into the intestines to help digest fat. However, excess cholesterol in bile can form gallstones, which can block the tiny pipes that move bile around. When this happens, people may need their gallbladder removed. The surgery is known as (cholecystectomy. Every year, about 70,000 people have this procedure in the UK.

Many people have gallstones that don't cause any symptoms, others are not so fortunate. In 2015, an Indian woman had 12,000 gallstones removed – a world record.

Appendix

The appendix is a small blind-ended worm-like structure at the junction of the large and the small bowel. Initially thought to be vestigial, it is now believed to be involved in being a "safe-house" for the good bacteria of the bowel, enabling them to repopulate when needed.

Due to the blind-ended nature of the appendix, when intestinal contents enter it, it can be difficult for them to escape and so it becomes inflamed. This is called appendicitis. In severe cases, the appendix needs to be surgically removed.

A word of warning though: just because you've had your appendix out, doesn't mean it can't come back and cause you pain again. There are some cases where the stump of the appendix might not be fully removed, and this can become inflamed again, causing "stumpitis". People who have had their removed notice no difference to their life.

Kidneys

Most people have two kidneys, but you can survive with just one – or even none (with the aid of dialysis). The role of the kidneys is to filter the blood to maintain water and electrolyte balance, as well as the acid-base balance. It does this by acting like a sieve, using a variety of processes to hold onto the useful things, such as proteins, cells and nutrients that the body needs. More importantly, it gets rid of many things we don't need, letting them pass through the sieve to leave the kidneys as urine.

There are many reasons have to have a kidney – or both kidneys – removed: inherited conditions, damage from drugs and alcohol, or even infection. If a person has both kidneys fail, they are placed onto dialysis. This comes in two forms: haemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. The first uses a machine containing dextrose solution to clean the blood, the other uses a special catheter inserted into the abdomen to allow dextrose solution to be passed in and out manually. Both methods draw waste out of the body.

If a person is placed on dialysis, their depends on many things, including the type of dialysis, sex, other diseases the person may have and their age. Recent research has shown someone placed on dialysis at age 20 can expect to live for 16-18 years, whereas someone in their 60s may only live for five years.

Explore further: Study finds gallbladder surgery can wait

Related Stories

Study finds gallbladder surgery can wait

September 23, 2014
Laparoscopic cholecystectomy, a minimally invasive procedure to remove the gallbladder, is one of the most common abdominal surgeries in the U.S. Yet medical centers around the country vary in their approaches to the procedure ...

Cortisol controls recycling of bile acids

July 7, 2011
Nature sees to it that we do not have "too much choler" (bile) in our body. A delicately equilibrated regulation system ensures that there is always exactly the right amount of bile in the gallbladder. When we are hungry, ...

Laparoscopic surgical removal of the gallbladder in pediatric patients is safe

August 7, 2014
A recent study conducted by Mayo Clinic researchers recommends laparoscopic cholecystectomies (surgical removal of the gallbladder) for pediatric patients suffering from gallstones and other gallbladder diseases. This study ...

To remove the gallbladder or not—that is the question

December 23, 2014
Gallbladder removal is one of the most common operations performed in older adults. Yet, research from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston shows many patients who would benefit most from the surgery don't ...

Immune cells make appendix 'silent hero' of digestive health

November 30, 2015
New research shows a network of immune cells helps the appendix to play a pivotal role in maintaining the health of the digestive system, supporting the theory that the appendix isn't a vestigial—or redundant—organ.

Recommended for you

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Oct 06, 2017
For example, people can live relatively normal lives with just half a brain.

In the USA, only half a brain is required to buy an assault rifle, wear a uniform or even run the entire country.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.