When I was a kid, I was incredibly jealous of my friends who had their tonsils removed. They got to miss some school and eat ice cream for several days straight — which, let’s face it, is pretty much every child’s dream diet.
And if that’s not enough, most of them also got get-well gifts in the form of awesome toys.
Me? I got to hear all about it.
Well, today I’m glad I still have my tonsils because the latest research shows those infection-prone bumps in the back of your throat may actually have an important role to play after all: They can make T-cells.
Those are the immune system cells your body needs to fight off cancers and autoimmune diseases. They’re called T-cells because until now, researchers believed they all developed in the thymus — an organ in the chest.
Now, I guess, that “T” could stand for “tonsils” as well, since scientists at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center have discovered the cells in five different stages of development there.
That alone is big news, since this is the first time T-cells were spotted in the tonsils. But the bigger news here is that four of the five groups of T-cells they found had the capacity to turn into the so-called “natural killer” cells the body needs to fight cancer.
So maybe the tonsils aren’t so useless after all — and this isn’t the first study to make the case against pulling them out.
One small study found that kids who were candidates for tonsil removal but didn’t actually get them removed had fewer doctor visits than those who did have them plucked — a strong hint that there is indeed an immune system benefit to keeping them in place.
Another study found that people without tonsils fidget less — which might sound like a benefit at first. But a little fidgeting is good for us. The small and barely noticed movements we make throughout the day actually burn calories.
In other words, losing your tonsils could cause you to gain weight.
The team behind the latest study says the next step is to see how many T-cells are made in the tonsils vs. the thymus.
The study I’d like to see next, however, is whether or not people without tonsils are more prone to cancer and autoimmune diseases, or if they have a harder time fighting those conditions when they do strike.