And the "most useless organ of the human body award" goes to...
November 28, 2007 3:33 PM   Subscribe

StupidQuestionFilter: What is the most useless organ in the body?

I mean, if I had to have an organ removed, and I could choose which one, and wanted to maintain optimal health, which one should I choose?
posted by JaySunSee to Health & Fitness (43 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by greta simone at 3:34 PM on November 28, 2007

It's named so for a reason
posted by greta simone at 3:35 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by annaramma at 3:36 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I believe you can lose one testicle/ovary without actually affecting the total hormone output. But don't take my word on it.
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:37 PM on November 28, 2007

Perhaps the gallbladder or the spleen.
posted by susiepie at 3:39 PM on November 28, 2007

Useless body parts anyone?
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 3:41 PM on November 28, 2007

Yes, the appendix is the quintessential useless human organ. Oddly enough scientists found out recently that the appendix actually does do something, though. It turns out it's a good place to store all that bacteria you have lying around.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:41 PM on November 28, 2007

Doesn't the word "organ" sort of mean something that is (or was once thought to be) necessary for life and very useful? The criterion is not size; the pituitary is the same size as an earlobe, but we call one an organ and the other we don't.

If you have to choose: appendix, spleen, one kidney.

If you're looking for organs that suck and generally act as a counter argument to (soi dissant) "Intelligent Design", then consider then prostrate. If you don't want kids, then you may be safe (and better off later in life) having it removed.
posted by cmiller at 3:42 PM on November 28, 2007

That's "prostate", and I like having mine, thank you very much.

Without a prostate, a man can't get an erection or have an orgasm.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:44 PM on November 28, 2007

Man can have both erections and orgasms sans prostate, SCDB, as long as he has the nerves intact and functional testes for hormones. Though his ejaculate may be less voluminous.
posted by docpops at 3:48 PM on November 28, 2007

I'd vote for the thymus. Once you bust out into the world it's mostly just potential trouble.
posted by docpops at 3:50 PM on November 28, 2007

Without a prostate, a man can't get an erection or have an orgasm.

Completely false. (Maybe you should stick to CDMA2K protocols, SCDB?) The nerves coursing in the capsule of the prostate are important - but not strictly necessary - for these functions, but the entire prostate gland can be removed without damaging these nerves, making it a moot point.

I think if I had to pick, I'd ditch my gallbladder first, then my appendix (if you consider it an organ of its own and not part of the colon.) The gall bladder (and probably the appendix also) are relics of a way of life that modern human beings have long since left behind.

The seminal vesicles are also pretty useless and I'd sure ditch them before I tossed out my prostate gland. The spleen is next on this list, but it does have some important immune functions; even though total splenectomy is generally fairly benign, you are more likely to die of serious infections (i.e. pneumonia) without your spleen.

There are a lot of women who do not want to bear children. For those women, one way of looking at it would be to say that their uterus was not particularly useful.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:54 PM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

If you ignore your personal feelings toward having children, you'd have to agree that both the prostate and the seminal vesicles are damned important to reproduction and survival of the species.
posted by rocket88 at 4:02 PM on November 28, 2007

I've gotten along pretty well without a gallbladder for the past 6 years. (Appendix is probably still less useful though.)
posted by Daily Alice at 4:11 PM on November 28, 2007

The male breast.

Wisdom teeth (are the teeth an "organ"?)

Do humans make any use of their vomeronasal organ or is it completely vestigial?
posted by Rumple at 4:19 PM on November 28, 2007

You can live quite easily without your thryoid as long as you take thyroid hormone replacement (which is generally inexpenive and readily accessible).
posted by scody at 4:27 PM on November 28, 2007

guh, THYroid. I had mine out 10 years ago; you'd think I would have stopped making that typo around the same time.
posted by scody at 4:28 PM on November 28, 2007

Lots of people function well from a youngish age without tonsil, adenoid, or appendix. When you get older, gallbladder, uterus/prostate, one kidney, and frankly, chunks of various organs can all go. Now, if you want to get tricky, technically, can you go without one eye, one ear? That's sensory impairment, which can suck, but I'm pretty sure eyes are organs and lots of people get along okay with one these days.

Of course, IANAD but I'd listen to the resident one and go with gallbladder. (Actually, I'd dump my uterus myself, but only half of us can choose that.)

That being said, people survive without random organs all the time. I know a kid without a diapraghm (his is made of Teflon or Kevlar, I can't remember which) and I have a family member who had her large intestine removed over 20 years ago and has no problems.
posted by cobaltnine at 4:33 PM on November 28, 2007

Male nipples.
posted by klangklangston at 4:35 PM on November 28, 2007

Ikkyu2, you're the doctor. But your comment doesn't seem to address what I was told about.

It isn't a question of nerves. It's a question of plumbing. What I was told was that the blood supply runs through the prostate, and it controls the "valve" which results in an erection.

Ejaculation is certain not possible without a prostate, but of course it's possible for a man to have an orgasm without ejaculation -- though I think it would feel a bit weird. On the other hand, orgasm is caused by a hormone released from the pituitary (or so I was told) and isn't that hormone processed and used by the prostate?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:36 PM on November 28, 2007

The spleen is pretty useful when it comes to regulating your immune system and filtering red blood cells. Even the gall bladder has a function.

Appendix and then tonsils. Personally I want my appendix out. I have nightmares about appendicitis whenever I get ready to go camping or travelling to a country with shitty or insanely expensive healthcare.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:37 PM on November 28, 2007

A good friend of mine lost his eye in a childhood accident. Hasn't had any impact on his health, happiness or success. Plus, he gets to pop his prosthetic out as a joke.
posted by weebil at 4:40 PM on November 28, 2007

>Male nipples.

Those seem less like an organ than a terrain feature.
posted by mosk at 4:42 PM on November 28, 2007

I would go with wisdom teeth, since just their very existence can cause (orthodontic) problems.
posted by clh at 4:43 PM on November 28, 2007

Since when were wisdom teeth or nipples an organ?
posted by unSane at 5:05 PM on November 28, 2007

I have done just fine without my gallbladder since the year 2000.
posted by konolia at 5:10 PM on November 28, 2007

0xFCAF: "I believe you can lose one testicle/ovary without actually affecting the total hormone output. But don't take my word on it."

I can tell you from personal experience that this is true (for the testicles, at least).
posted by CrayDrygu at 5:17 PM on November 28, 2007

SCDB, let's see if I can be more clear: you're wrong in every way on this topic. Fertile ejaculation is certainly possible without a prostate; a normal orgasm is not only possible but usual after total prostatectomy, unless the nerves running adjacent to the fibrous capsule of the organ are cut during the procedure; the blood supply to the penis comes via the dorsal arteries of the penis, which do not course through the prostate; and orgasm is not triggered by a pituitary hormone.

Sexual maturity requires testosterone, which is secreted by the testicles in response to pituitary hormones; and a normal orgasm requires sexual maturity; so in that sense you could say the pituitary gland is indirectly responsible for orgasms. (In the same sense, the food you eat is required as nourishment for your cells in order to live and not die, and you need living cells to have an orgasm, so therefore the food you eat is responsible for your orgasms.) Once someone has matured, the hormonal influences are less important.

It's actually pretty technically difficult to spare the nerves during prostatectomy - it takes some surgical skill - and a lot of urologists now practicing don't know how to do it, were never trained to do it, or can't perform that procedure reliably. I wonder if you didn't get your explanation from one of those urologists.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:22 PM on November 28, 2007 [8 favorites]

"Since when were wisdom teeth or nipples an organ?"

Male nipples, if you include the milk-producing tissue, are both an organ and a totally unnecessary one.

Wisdom teeth, not so much.
posted by klangklangston at 5:30 PM on November 28, 2007

@cmiller: Any male who enjoys receptive anal sex would argue pretty vehemently that the prostate is useful.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:00 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ikkyu2: Fair enough.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:20 PM on November 28, 2007

Actually, recent research shows that male nipples were/are useful as pacifiers. And, if there is enough estrogen, men can potentially lactate.

Actually, I'm not from Boston
posted by acoutu at 6:30 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I say the tonsils and appendix tie, as they both act as petri dishes too often overgrown.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:39 PM on November 28, 2007

I second CrayDrygu on the effectiveness of a single testicle or ovary. In fact, you can pretty much lose one of anything you have two of (except maybe a lung) without serious long-term ill effects. However, as bones are considered organs, I will nominate the last segment of the coccyx as the body's most useless organ (OK, I really agree it's the appendix, but I hate to see anyone running unopposed).
posted by ubiquity at 7:01 PM on November 28, 2007

Something even more obscure, and possibly not-critical:

The left atrial appendage.
posted by docpops at 7:21 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

It'd have to be the appendix or the male nipple, for me.

Also, /chatfilter
posted by Effigy2000 at 7:28 PM on November 28, 2007

Hair. Is hair considered an organ? Or part of the skin (which clearly is necessary)?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:36 PM on November 28, 2007

Rediculously good answers. Thanks everyone.
posted by JaySunSee at 3:47 AM on November 29, 2007

It's 6 am and my spelling is "ridiculously" bad.
posted by JaySunSee at 3:50 AM on November 29, 2007

ubiquity: I wouldn't let anybody near my coccyx. There are nerves very close to there! Spinal nerves! (like the ones that control bladder, bowel and other stimulation down there).

I don't think removing one piece of skin would count, cause don't they say that skin is the largest organ? Thus it is one whole bundle. I'll keep mine, thank you very much.

If we're counting a single bone as an appendage, I would offer up the tip of one of my smaller toes.

I definitely wouldn't part with a kidney. I've seen 'em fail, so it's nice to have a backup. Dialysis sucks.

If we're talking internal organs, appendix or gall bladder, cause you can get them out laparoscopically. Hysterectomies are far too involved for my taste.
posted by nursegracer at 8:23 AM on November 29, 2007

Male nipples are by no means necessarily useless; if you are a male who has some problem with your nipples, a female looking at you as a potential sex partner would do well to choose someone else because of the strong possibility you could pass that on to your daughters (their potential daughters if they have sex with you), making that daughter less attractive and desirable, and possibly less able to nurse.

Whether this is reflected in women's visceral reactions to bare-chested males, I don't know.
posted by jamjam at 8:41 AM on November 29, 2007

From the article Razzle Bathbone linked:


"Lactiferous ducts form well before testosterone causes sex differentiation in a fetus. Men have mammary tissue that can be stimulated to produce milk."

Just because we don't use it that way doesn't make it useless, ala ikkyu2's argument about a woman's uterus above.

It is important to consider if we were to take a useless organ away from a person (even their genes somehow), would it immediately affect their ability to attract a mate? That can be most important of all. It doesn't matter if you have Superman's genes if you don't pass them on.
posted by Monday at 3:17 PM on November 29, 2007

Strangely enough, I have known several men in my life who lactate. So I always knew that about us. That we could, and all.
posted by humannaire at 1:36 PM on January 13, 2008

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