Leech therapy has been used as an efficient treatment for many diseases and disorders for hundreds of years now. Today, leech therapy also known as hirudotherapy is making a comeback in conventional medicine.
However, this specific therapy is applied only for specific health issues where it was scientifically proven that the therapy can help. It’s been 12 years since the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved the use of leeches for healing and prevention.
The Health Benefits of Leech Therapy
According to historical records, leech therapy was especially popular 3500 years ago. At this time, the therapy became popular worldwide. This trend continued and reached the highest level in the beginning of the 19th century when leeches were labeled as endangered species due to their use for medicinal purposes.
In the beginning of the 20th century the popularity dropped all of a sudden because it didn’t match the requirements of modern medicine.
However in the 1960s, leech therapy found its way back and many doctors started using it during surgical procedures and in cases of arthritis, migraines and vascular diseases. Medicinal leeches or Hirudo medicinalis are the leeches that are part of this therapy today.
This specific type of leeches has the ability to produce saliva that comes with more than 55 different types of proteins. Thanks to this process, the leeches are able to maintain the best liquidity of human blood and boost blood circulation in the area where they are used.
We have made a short list of cases where leech therapy is applied today.
1. Cardiovascular Diseases
This term refers to a group of disorders that have impact on the work of the cardiovascular system especially on the arteries, veins and heart.
Hirudotherapy or medical leech therapy is often applied as an additional treatment or replacement for cardiovascular problems because the leeches’ saliva should be able to boost blood circulation and enhance hyperalgesia or improved pain sensitivity in connective tissues.
A scientific study conducted 5 years ago and revealed in the popular Alternative Medicine Review has shown that external leeching enhanced walking ability, eased pain and swelling and eliminated the discoloration in phlebitis patients (a health problem in which blood clotting occurs in the deep vein located on the legs). Researchers have used between four and six leeches directly to the affected area.
The saliva produced by leeches is very efficient in treating cardiovascular diseases and disorders because it comes with natural blood thinners and these thinners can prevent and heal blood clotting.
2. Reconstructive Surgical Procedures and Microsurgery
Not every surgery is finished without side effects. In some cases people may experience bleeding that comes from small blood vessels. In case this is occurrence is not handled properly, tissue cells may die.
According to a huge number of physicians medicinal leech therapy is able to keep the tissues healthy during and after surgery.
When the surgical procedure begins, leech therapy acts by letting leeches absorb the drainage of blood that appears as a result of the work of surgeons. The saliva provides blood thinning effects which lower the chances of developing venous congestion a frequent problem related to reconstructive surgery and traumatic injuries that lead to cellular death, slowed down blood flow and edema.
The majority of people are worried about possible wounds that come in the form of letter Y caused by leech bite. However, doctors claim that even though these wounds appear in almost every case, they will eventually heal and won’t leave any mark to the skin.
Finally, leeches should be able to boost blood circulation after surgery. A scientific study revealed in the Journal of Plastic Surgery has confirmed that leeches can help with this task after surgery.
Eight years ago, More than 13% of deaths in the world were contributed to cancer. This is definitely shocking information, but what is even worse is that these figures are constantly growing each year.
Scientists believe that the mixture of numerous protease inhibitors, anticoagulants and other elements found in leech saliva should be able to replace cancer drugs.
A study has found that their saliva contains a compound called ghilanten which may prevent the emergence of prostate cancer, lung cancer, melanoma and breast cancer.
The salivary glands of leeches used for medicinal purposes also come with a peptide known as hirudin. This peptide provides great blood anticoagulant effects and may have anti-cancer properties too.
A scientific research revealed in the famous European Patent has shown that a synthetically-made hirudin injection has the ability to block the emergence of different tumor cells like those found in leukemia, lymphoma, sarcoma, pulmonary carcinoma, colorectal cancer and bladder cancer.
In addition, a study conducted 12 years ago has confirmed that thanks to hirudin leeches can block the growth of tumor and its spreading in the organs and blood.
4. Diabetes Issues
Diabetes is another serious medical condition that affects millions of people around the world. The number of people dealing with this disease is growing year by year and it is believed that it will reach 370 million patients 15 years from today.
We must point out that there are no studies focused on the effects of leech therapy in treating diabetes patients. However, this therapy may be very effective in dealing with diabetes issues and complications like high levels of blood lipids, coronary atherosclerosis, hypertension, hyperglycemia, inflammation, oxidative stress, adhesion disorders and coagulation components.
Medicinal leech saliva may prevent blood clotting associated with diabetes due to its ability to bind thrombin, an enzyme in the plasma that causes the clotting of blood.
The International Wound Journal has released a research that suggests that leech therapy was able to protect the foot of a woman suffering from diabetes. If it wasn’t for this therapy, the leg would have been removed.
People suffering from diabetes may experience improper blood flow to their legs and arms due to gangrene. Gangrene must be managed by boosting blood circulation and reducing the levels of lipids in the blood and controlling blood pressure.
Numerous therapies used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine are based on leeches as a way to boost blood flow throughout the body in order to ease coagulation issues.
5. Infectious Diseases
Unfortunately, infectious diseases are on the rise too and this is the reason why the sale of antibiotics is going up every year. Even though these drugs can be effective, they also come with certain disadvantages. Namely, they have made many people resistant to antimicrobial agents. This is where leeches come into play because they can treat such infections.
The Chemotherapy magazine has revealed a scientific research which showed that leeches have extract that comes with destabilize, a protein believed to provide strong antibacterial effects that combat bacterial strains.
Thanks to these antibacterial effects, people are able to eliminate the cellular elements of these strains found in bacterial infections.
A scientific study conducted 13 years ago has indicated that leeches include antimicrobial and neuro-signaling peptides that block and ease infections caused by bacteria and enhance the response of endangered cells.
Individuals dealing with osteoarthritis concentrated in the knees have confirmed that they felt much better one day after using leech therapy. Their testimonies were part of a study revealed in the popular Journal of Research in Ayurveda.
The study lasted for a few weeks and during this period; scientists have concluded that the stiffness and pain related to osteoarthritis was reducing with each leech therapy.
In the end, all the symptoms and signs linked to this disease like tenderness, stiffness and pain were radically decreased.
The scientists were convinced that leech therapy can serve as an efficient treatment for the symptoms of osteoarthritis that appears in the knees.
7. Ear Issues
Leeches were already used for tinnitus treatments, chronic and acute otitis (ear inflammation) and rapid hearing loss with great success. In cases like this, healers usually use two leeches put right behind the ear and on the jaw next to the ear. The entire treatment lasts for 4 days and requires three treatments a day.
8. Oral Health
There are some people who claim that by applying leeches on the tongue people can reduce swelling of the tongue related to some serious health complications like airway blockage. Leeches have also been used in cases of abscess inflammation and gum diseases.
Leech Therapy – Safety Measures
Even though leech therapy has proven to be very efficient in many different cases, we should always be cautious. Many doctors warn their patients that leech therapy can actually lead to infections although the number of such side effects is very low.
On the other hand, there are no documented cases of diseases spread through leech therapy, but there are certain strains that are resistant to specific kinds of antibiotics like penicillin and they can significantly increase the chances of experiencing an infection.
Tissue damages, blisters and itching are some other symptoms linked to leech therapy. Even though the bites by leeches tend to heal the area fast, there are cases when they leave marks on the skin. Make sure to consult your doctor before conducting leech therapy and always use professional help during this procedure.
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