Another organ has been hiding in your belly all along

This week, as you dream up ways to improve yourself in 2017, give yourself a pat on the back: You've already made a significant change this year, from deep within your belly.

You technically gained an organ.

Irish researchers have confirmed that the mesentery — a fold of membrane that connects the intestine to the abdomen — is its own continuous organ, and not a series of fragmented parts like experts had previously thought.

The discovery could create a new field of "mesenteric" science and may help doctors better understand and treat abdominal diseases, said Calvin Coffey, a professor of surgery at University of Limerick's Graduate Entry Medical School.

"We are now saying we have an organ in the body which hasn't been acknowledged as such to date," he said in a news release.

Coffey published his peer-reviewed findings in the November issue of The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology, a top medical journal on the digestive system.

Did you know that your skin is your biggest organ? Here are the country's biggest skin concerns by state:

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Skin Concern By State

Alabama

Skin Concern: Rosacea 

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Alaska

Skin Concern: Age Spots

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Arizona

Skin Concern: Aging skin

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Arkansas 

Skin Concern: Age Spots

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California

Skin Concern: Oily Skin

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Colorado

Skin Concern: Aging Skin

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Connecticut 

Skin Concern: Dry Skin

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Delaware

Skin Concern: Age Spots

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Florida

Skin Concern: Aging Skin

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Georgia

Skin Concern: Enlarged pores

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Hawaii

Skin Concern: Enlarged pores

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Idaho

Skin Concern: Age Spots

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Illinois 

Skin Concern: Oily Skin

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Indiana

Skin Concern: Age Spots

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Iowa

Skin Concern: Dry Skin

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Kansas 

Skin Concern: Acne

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Kentucky

Skin Concern: Age Spots

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Louisiana

Skin Concern: Enlarged pores

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Maine

Skin Concern: Rosacea 

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Maryland

Skin Concern: Enlarged pores

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Massachusetts

Skin Concern: Rosacea

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Michigan

Skin Concern: Rosacea

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Minnesota

Skin Concern: Rosacea

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Mississippi

Skin Concern: Oily skin

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Missouri

Skin Concern: Age spots

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Montana

Skin Concern: Rosacea

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Nebraska

Skin Concern: Dry skin

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Nevada

Skin Concern: Dark circles under eyes

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New Hampshire

Skin Concern: Rosacea

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New Jersey

Skin Concern: Dark circles under eyes

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New Mexico

Skin Concern: Age spots

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New York

Skin Concern: Acne

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North Carolina

Skin Concern: Rosacea

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North Dakota

Skin Concern: Enlarged pores

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Ohio

Skin Concern: Rosacea

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Oklahoma

Skin Concern: Age spots

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Oregon

Skin Concern: Rosacea

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Pennsylvania

Skin Concern: Dry skin

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Rhode Island

Skin Concern: Enlarged pores

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South Carolina

Skin Concern: Age spots

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South Dakota

Skin Concern: Enlarged pores

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Tennessee

Skin Concern: Age spots

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Texas

Skin Concern: Oily skin

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Utah

Skin Concern: Acne

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Vermont

Skin Concern: Enlarged pores

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Virginia

Skin Concern: Age spots

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Washington

Skin Concern: Rosacea

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West Virginia

Skin Concern: Dry skin

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Wisconsin

Skin Concern: Age spots

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Wyoming

Skin Concern: Dry skin

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Mashable was unable to reach Coffey for comment by the time of publication.

An organ is considered to be a self-contained body part that serves a specific vital function. The heart, for instance, is a muscular organ that pumps blood through our blood vessels.

Researchers say they still don't quite understand the mesentery's key functions, beyond the obvious role as a connective layer.

One of the world's earliest depictions of the mesentery was produced by the Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci. While his drawing and subsequent medical illustrations showed the mesentery as a continuous structure, in the past century scientists came to believe it was a series of broken-up pieces, and thus less medically significant.

In 2012, Coffey and his colleagues first showed through microscopic analyses that the fold of membrane was, in fact, a single connected structure.

Over the last four years, the team continued to collect evidence confirming the mesentery's classification as an organ, which culminated with the November paper.

The research prompted the publishers of Gray's Anatomy, one of the world's best-known medical textbooks, to update the entry for mesentery.

Elsevier, which publishes both Gray's Anatomy and The Lancet journal, included the reclassification of mesentery in its 41st edition of Gray's, which came out September 2015, Mashable confirmed.

Coffey said that better understanding and further scientific study of the mesentery could result in less invasive abdominal surgeries, fewer complications and faster patient recovery.

"When we approach it like every other organ...we can categorize abdominal disease in terms of this organ," he said in the news release.

"This is relevant universally as it affects all of us," he added. "Up to now there was no such field as mesenteric science."

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