The Benefits of Leech Therapy and its Effects

Yes, leeches can be thought of as slimy and unattractive creatures, but ugly or not, they do serve a lot of medical purposes when it comes to us, humans.

Since ancient times, leeches were used to treat many illnesses and disease through bloodletting, a method where blood was drawn out in the hope that removing impure blood would heal the body. Believe it or not, leech therapy is sometimes the best alternative in treating illnesses, and even surpasses pharmacological treatments. Because of its healing effects to the human body, this traditional method of curing diseases is still thriving today.

Leeches shown during treatment

Leeches shown during treatment of
varied conditions


The Benefits of Leech Therapy

There are more than 600 species of leeches that have been identified, but only 15 of the species are used medically, so they are given a class of their own. They are classified as Hirudo Medicinalis or medicinal leeches.

Leech therapy has been used and is still in use for many diseases of the body. They are used to treat arthritis and other inflammatory processes. It is perfect for those with vascular (arterial and venous diseases), heart (ischemic diseases and hypertension), and lung problems (bronchitis and bronchial asthma). The medicinal leeches can also help in patients with pneumonia. The GI or gastrointestinal tract can also benefit from leech therapy, especially those who suffer from hepatitis, stomach ulcers, and pancreatitis, among others. Likewise, individuals with problems in their genitourinary system and gynecological disorders will also benefit greatly from leech therapy. Skin diseases like psoriasis, herpes, and eczema can also be treated with leech therapy. Other problems known to benefit from leech therapy are the eyes (example is glaucoma) and the brain (for infantile cerebral palsy).

But how exactly do leeches treat these many illnesses and diseases?

Leeches shown during treatment

Leeches shown during treatment of
varied conditions

Anticoagulating Effects of Leeches

The leech’s saliva contains enzymes and compounds that act as an anticoagulation agent. The most prominent of these anticoagulation agents is hirudin, which binds itself to thrombins, thus, effectively inhibiting coagulation of the blood.

Another compound that prevents coagulation is calin. This, on the other hand, works as an anticoagulant by prohibiting the von Willebrand factor to bind itself to collagen, and it is also an effective inhibitor of platelet aggregation caused by collagen.

The saliva of the leeches also contains Factor Xa inhibitor which also blocks the action of the coagulation factor Xa.

Clot Dissolving Effects of Leeches

The action of destabilase is to break up any fibrins that have formed. It also has a thrombolytic effect, which can also dissolve clots of blood that have formed.

Blood expelled after different treatments

Blood expelled after different treatments


Anti-inflammatory Effects of Leeches

Bdellins is a compound in the leech’s saliva that acts as an anti-inflammatory agent by inhibiting trypsin as well as plasmin. It also inhibits the action of the acrosin. Another anti-inflammatory agent is the eglins.

Vasodilating Effects of Leeches

There are three compounds in the leeches’ saliva that act as a vasodilator agent, and they are the histamine-like substances, the acetylcholine, and the carboxypeptidase A inhibitors. All these act to widen the vessels, thus, causing inflow of blood to the site.

Bacteriostatic and Anesthetic Effects of Leeches

The saliva of leeches also contains anesthetic substances which deaden pain on the site and also bacteria-inhibiting substances which inhibit the growth of bacteria.

Overall Effects to the Human Body

Medicinal leech grown to 13cm after treatment

Medicinal leech grown to 13cm
after treatment

Once the leeches attach themselves to the skin of the patient and start sucking blood, the saliva enters the puncture site and along with it the enzymes and compounds responsible for all these positive effects. Working together, they act to cure the disease present in the individual. Because of anticoagulation agents, the blood becomes thinner, allowing it to flow freely through the vessels. The anti-clotting agents also dissolve clots found in the vessels, eliminating the risk of them traveling to other parts of the body and blocking an artery or vein. The vasodilating agents help widen the vessel walls by dilating them, and this causes the blood to flow unimpeded, too.

Patients who suffer from pain and inflammation will feel relief from the anti-inflammatory and anesthetic effects of the leech's saliva.

In the long run, leech therapy also helps to normalize the blood pressure of hypertensive individuals as well as lessen their risk of suffering from stroke and heart attacks. Blood circulation is also improved with leech therapy and it helps with the healing process of wounds, as well as wounds and lesions caused by diabetes. There is also a noticeable boost in the immune system's function due to bacteriostatic agents.

Contraindication to Leech Therapy

Leech therapy is contraindicated to patients with HIV and AIDS. It is also not recommended to patients who are on immunosuppressive drugs. Leech therapy puts these patients at risk for bacterial sepsis, thus, worsening their conditions.