Referencing a new study that was published in Scientific Reports, researchers have discovered a new organ which has been dubbed the interstitium. The interstitium is not a mass of cells in close proximity like your heart or liver, but instead is the fluid-filled space between organs. It also includes the skin and the “submucosae of all visceral organs”. By designating it as an organ, scientists are saying it is a unique structure performing a specialized task, like your lungs.
According to scientists, the total volume of the interstitium is 10 liters, suddenly making it the body's biggest organ if it is accepted by the scientific community. To give you an idea of what the interstitium is, it is where tattoo ink stays and where excess water is held in your body. This area of the body was previously believed to be dense connective tissue, but is truly interconnected compartments filled with fluid.
One interesting benefit the interstitium provides is that of a shock absorber for your organs. Your organs routinely stretch and compress in daily function, and the interstitium helps to cushion and protect them.
Other experts have questioned this discovery, saying that the interstitium has always been there and it isn't a new organ. If it is accepted by scientists and doctors, the interstitium would be regarded as the body's 80th organ.
Regardless of if researchers accept this discovery, it represents a shift in the way that medical professionals look at the body: instead of seeing it as separate parts, distinct from one another, it is an interconnected ecosystem and that could lead to changes in medicines and research.
Just like how the circulatory system transfers nutrients all over your body, and how bacteria in your gut can influence your mood and well-being, doctors are starting to see the body as a big whole rather than just parts.
The recognition of the interstitium also has medical implications: the fluid around the organs is where cancer cells first penetrate and spread throughout the body. This is also where cancer cells and toxins gain access to the lymphatic system, which researchers hypothesize could affect the immune system. Some cancers such as melanoma, breast, lung, and gastrointestinal tumors sometimes spread through the lymphatic system rather than the bloodstream, and researching the interstitium could help explain how.
Another interesting feature of the interstitium is this: the cells lining the fluid and fibrous tissue are unique – and in fact they most closely resemble collagen cells. These cells probably respond to mechanical forces in the event of a wound or injury, and probably assist in the process of wound healing and scar formation.
Have you heard of auto-immune disorders? This is where your own body attacks itself and causes damage to it's own organs and tissues. Researchers have theorized that the cells in the lining of the interstitium may contribute to the development of auto-immune conditions that involve scarring of the organs. These types of auto-immune diseases include scleroderma and inflammatory bowel disease. They could also potentially have a role in the formation of keloids that form underneath the surface of your skin.
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Stephen Novak is a personal trainer who usually works out of a gym near his home in California. His hobbies include cycling, cooking, kayaking, and even the occasionally game of Counter Strike when he gets a chance! You can find Stephen at his official website, Ultimate Core Health. Have a great day!
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