Quick, point to your mesentery.
If you aren’t quite sure where it is, or what it is, you are not alone. However, this piece of your digestive tract is getting a lot of attention lately, as some doctors think it should be classified as an organ – right up there with your heart, lungs, and liver (and I am sure you know where those all are).
Let’s start with the basics. The mesentery is located in your abdomen and is responsible for holding your intestines in place, among other functions. “It’s actually a folded piece of the peritoneum or abdominal lining,” says Douglas Adler, MD, a Professor in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the University of Utah School of Medicine. “It connects the intestines to the abdominal wall.”
Now what we know what and where the mesentery is let’s take a look at whether or not it fits the definition of an organ. According to Adler, it’s all in how you look at it. “An organ can be defined as a group or structures of tissues that work together to perform a common function,” he says. “Some might say that this makes the mesentery an organ, some might say not.”
If you wanted to classify the mesentery as an organ you could say it is a structure performing the task of keeping the intestines in place. It also protects the organs inside the abdomen. However, you could (and many do) instead classify it as connective tissue.
Regardless of how the mesentery is classified it is an important part of the human body and integral to the health of the intestines and gastrointestinal tract. While parts of the mesentery may be removed due to illness or injury, removing the entire mesentery is not possible. And when something goes wrong with the mesentery it can cause problems for the whole system. “A variety of problems can develop in the mesentery,” says Adler. “Some of these include clotting in blood vessels, twisting or kinking of the mesentery, interruption of blood flow to the mesentery, and swelling of lymph nodes associated with the mesentery. Tumors of the mesentery are rare but do occur.”
In the end, Adler says, classification of the mesentery all comes down to semantics, and the argument will likely go on for years. “There will always be talk between the ‘lumpers’ and the ‘splitters’ he says. “But the debate doesn’t affect its role in your body or how it is treated by doctors.”