Complementary medicine methods have a long history, but modern medicine has just recently focused on their possible modes of action. Medicinal leech therapy or hirudotherapy, an old technique, has been studied by many researchers for possible effects on various diseases such as inflammatory diseases, osteoarthritis, and after different surgeries. Medicinal leech therapy (MLT) or hirudotherapy is a kind of complementary and integrative treatment method applied with blood-sucking leeches. One or more leeches are attached to the skin of problematic area and the purpose is to gain potential utilities of leech saliva that is secreted while the leeches are feeding.
Leech therapy involves an initial bite, which is usually painless (it’s thought that leech saliva contains a mild anesthetic); an attachment period lasting 20 to 45 minutes, during which the leech sucks between 5 and 15 mL of blood; and a postattachment period, during which the site continues to bleed.4, 7 The final stage provides the primary therapeutic benefit; it’s caused by components in the leech’s saliva, including hirudin, a protein anticoagulant that inhibits thrombin in the clotting process, as well as histamine-like substances that induce vasodilation.
BENEFITS OF LEECH THERAPY
- Treating Cardiovascular Disease
Since the early days of the 20th century, people have been using leeches to treat cardiovascular diseases because of the Hirudin enzyme in the leeches saliva, a substance which has systemic anticoagulative effects.
- Treating Alopecia and Baldness
Leech therapy is known to increase blood circulation, therefore when therapy is applied to thinning or bald areas, the increase of blood circulation helps enhance the concentration and delivery of nutrients that assist in making hair follicles strong, thereby assisting in the promotion of hair growth.
- Treating Arthritis
The Leech has a natural process that removes infected blood and at the same time, releases therapeutic components and enzymes from its saliva, allowing these components and enzymes to work their wonders in reducing inflammation and pain in the joint.
- Treating Diabetes
Diabetes patients have viscous [thick] blood, which creates a higher risk of developing blood clots. Development and dislodgment of clots into the general circulation poses serious threats to anyone and can cause instant death, so the suppression of blood clotting is essential which is done by hirudin. Hirudin also has a blood diluting effect, so apart from preventing blood clots; it also thins the blood, allowing the blood to circulate more easily, relieving pressure on the heart and blood vessels.
- Treating Endometriosis
The saliva in leeches is rich with enzymes that can prevent coagulation of blood which leads to blood clots. Once these enzymes have dissolved the blood clots and restored a normal flow of blood into the uterus, toxins are flushed away.
- Prevent Progress of Glaucoma
The use of leeches to lessen the rate of blood flow to the eye lessens the production of vitreous humor and thus lessens the pressure inside the eye. Leech therapy can therefore help patients with glaucoma if this procedure is done in regular and frequent intervals and in conjunction with medicines that Ophthalmologists [medical eye specialists] prescribe to lessen the production of vitreous humor and lower the overall blood pressure in the area.
- Preventing Eye Inflammation
Another area where leech therapy can be beneficial is eye inflammation. Chorioretinitis, conjunctivitis, Keratitis are just some of eye inflammation disorders. During Leech Therapy, blood is sucked out, thereby reducing inflammation. This leads to a reduction in pressure and lessens post-inflammatory complications.
- Treating Hepatitis
A healthy blood supply is needed to fight off infection and inflammation in the liver and beneficial enzymes found in the saliva of leeches include anti-inflammatory enzymes which help reduce swelling as well as histamine-like enzymes that act to vasodilate the blood vessels, further enhancing blood flow. There are also antibacterial components in leech saliva that help fight disease.
- Treating High Blood Pressure
Anticoagulation enzymes found in leech’s saliva reduce coagulation tendencies of the blood, thus, promoting good blood flow to the body, as well as another enzyme that dissolves blood clots, so not only does it break up the blood clots, but it also prevents clots from traveling to other parts of the body, causing a noticeable reduction in both the systolic and diastolic pressures.
- Treating Kidney Disease
Since kidneys can be damaged by the effects of diabetes, one of which is an increase in the viscosity of the blood, the enzymes found in leechï saliva (particularly the anticoagulation enzymes) can help prevent coagulation of the blood or thickening of the blood’s consistency. Another important enzyme that reduces the stress on the filtering function of the kidneys is the enzymes that help dissolve blood clots. To promote good blood flow or circulation, blood vessels are dilated by the histamine-like enzymes. All these enzymes work together to help the kidneys receive good blood circulation, thus, aiding the kidney to properly filter toxins and waste materials from the bod
- Treating Patients with Skin Grafts
As soon as the leeches attach themselves to the skin graft site, they begin to suck blood. While sucking, they also release a component called hirudin from their saliva. This component is very important in the inhibition of platelet aggregation (the process where the platelets clump or stick together) and coagulation cascade (a series of processes that ends with fibrin clot formation).
It makes some people squeamish to imagine leeches being used as a modern medical treatment. But more and more research is showing that there’s a reason why leeches were relied upon for centuries as an essential part of medical care. As we continue to find out more about the special properties in leech saliva, it may very well be that the treatment has even more practical use than we would have ever thought possible.