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.
Treating Vascular Disease
It is in the leeches saliva that has been known to cure or prevent diseases. Their saliva has over 100 bioactive substances that are very beneficial. One such component is hirudin, which acts as an anticoagulation agent. Calin is another component that also inhibits blood coagulation. A component that dissolves fibrin clots as well as inhibits the formation of thrombus is the destabilase. Leech saliva also contains a Factor Xa inhibitor, and this compound restrains the coagulating effect of the coagulation Factor Xa. It also has hyaluronidase that enhances the viscosity of the interstitial fluid. For vasodilating effect, it has acetylcholine and histamine-like substances as well as carboxypeptidase A inhibitors. These three can increase blood flow by dilating constricted vessels. These are just some of the very useful components in leech saliva.
Those mentioned above all work together to decrease the viscosity of the blood, making its consistency thinner so as to promote better blood flow. Blood that has a thick consistency makes it prone to clot formation as well as increases the blood pressure of an individual. These clots can travel to different parts of the body and block a vessel, which could then cause a stroke or heart attack. Thick blood poses a risk that the distal extremities, especially the tips of the fingers and toes, will not receive adequate oxygenated blood and the nutrients they need. Therefore, the anticoagulation component in leeches saliva is vital as it naturally makes the blood thinner and works to inhibit platelet coagulation.
Patients with cardiovascular disease undergo leech therapy on different areas of their body than, lets say, patients with peripheral vascular disease. In each case leeches will promote better blood flow to the region.
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. A physician would usually prescribe the use of leeches when a person suffered a stroke or heart attack. Also, Hirudin stimulates segmental reflex mechanisms and this contributes to the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.
Treating Alopecia and Baldness
How can Leech Therapy Help People With Alopecia?
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.
People suffering alopecia caused by fungal infections or dandruff can also benefit through the antibacterial component in the leeches saliva, which helps combat fungal infections.
Leech Treatment for Arthritis
There are approximately 600 species of leeches known worldwide and only 15 species are considered as medicinal leeches and used for arthritis and other treatments.
The arthritic joint is first cleansed before medicinal leeches are placed on specific areas relating to the problem. This is a simple and natural process and feels similar to experiencing a mosquito bite as leeches release a natural anesthetic. 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.
Medicinal leeches remain attached to the patient for approximately one hour [times can vary] before they automatically disengage. Through the entire process, patients feel relaxed. The area is then cleansed and dressed.
All cases are individual, but on average, medicinal leech therapy is usually repeated if necessary every 6 to 8 months. Improvement in joint pain and inflammation will be noticed the following day after Therapy. Not only is it a safe way to treat arthritis, but it has been a universal treatment for centuries.
Therapeutic Benefits for Diabetics
One of the most important substances recognised in leech salivary glands is Hirudin, a substance that suppresses the blood clotting mechanism. If you remember, it was mentioned earlier that 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.
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 Ear and Hearing Problems
Leech therapy can help cure the three most common ear and hearing problems - Sudden Hearing Loss, Tinnitus and Otitis Media.
How can Leech Therapy Help Ear and Hearing Problems
People suffering from the above mentioned ailments can greatly benefit from leech therapy, particularly when the ear and hearing problem is caused by an infection or a vascular problem.
Firstly, leeches secrete an anesthetic enzyme to desensitize the area and will then release beneficial enzymes and components into the bloodstream which will work to prevent the coagulation of blood and dissolve blood clots. Blood vessels will be dilated by the enzymes, bringing good circulation. Antibacterial enzymes will also be released to kill the bacteria that are causing the ear problem; these anti-bacterial agents will also boost the immune system and fight off further infection.
It has been found that leech therapy is very beneficial to women who are suffering from 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.
Another important compound in leech’s saliva is the anti-inflammatory enzymes, which aid in the reduction of inflammation. Once inflammation subsides, blood can flow freely into vessels, which are further dilated by the vasodilator agents in leech’s saliva.
Treating Eye Diseases
Prevent Progress of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a condition that occurs when there is too much production of vitreous humor or when there’s a very slow reabsorption of vitreous humor. Vitreous humor is a transparent, jelly-like substance that gives nourishment to the eyes. Too much of it however, can be problematic, where the intra-ocular pressure can increase, causing compression of the eye structures. This causes gradual blurring of vision and slow but certain loss of sight.
Leech Therapy can assist in the progression of this disease. 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 [an inflammation of the choroid and retina of the eye], conjunctivitis [inflammation of the conjunctiva of one or both eyes], Keratitis [a condition in which the eye's cornea, the front part of the eye, becomes inflamed] and schleritis [a serious inflammatory disease that affects the white outer coating of the eye, known as the sclera] 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.
Hirudotherapy also has a rejuvenating effect, where a feeling of vitality and renewed energy is felt by the patient. This is mainly due to relief from pain in certain treated conditions, as well as cleansing of the blood. There are no real explanations, but rather observations that over the centuries, Leech Therapy has indeed been used as a cure for many eye diseases.
Treating Gum Diseases
Gum diseases are one of the most common problems suffered by all ages, especially if strict dental hygiene is not followed.
Leeches are known to produce many beneficial enzymes and have been used for many years to effectively treat gum disease and promote healing. Anticoagulation agents increase blood flow in the gums, helping to flush away toxins and allow delivery of nutrients to the affected area. These anticoagulation agents also work wonders in dissolving blood clots that can form in the gums.
Other beneficial components are anti-inflammatory agents, which decrease swelling and inflammation of the gums. The saliva of the leech also contains antibacterial components that assist in reducing bacterial growth.
The liver is a very important organ, not only does it function to filter toxins from our body, but it also produces important enzymes, acts as a storage area for vitamins and nutrients and helps maintain balance.
Leech therapy has been used in the treatment of many illnesses for thousands of years.
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
Leech Therapy for Hypertensive Patients
It’s known through various studies that the saliva of leeches contains many beneficial enzymes that can help lower 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.
These enzymes prevent blood from becoming thick, thereby promoting better blood circulation not only in the heart but to other parts of the body and can be used with current antihypertensive medications.
Treat Infantile Cerebral Palsy
Our brains, although enclosed in a very thick skull, is still a very fragile organ. It can be damaged very easily even if we are still in the womb, such as in the case of infantile cerebral palsy.
How can Leech Therapy Help Individuals With Infantile Cerebral Palsy?
One of the unpleasant side effects of medications used in patients with infantile cerebral palsy is vascular complications where an individual can suffer swelling and bleeding. Vascular complications compromise health, which can lead to more difficulties. Swelling can also reduce blood flow to the brain and although the brain disorder is not progressive, further injury can result from complications, which may cause possible degeneration of healthy brain cells.
Using medications in conjunction with leech therapy can greatly reduce the risk of vascular complications.
There are many enzymes in leech saliva that are very beneficial to the human body.
Anticoagulation enzymes are known to help blood flow freely to the brain, preventing thickening, which can lead to blood clots. If there are blood clots already present in the body, enzymes from the leech’s saliva will help dissolve them so blood can flow freely.
Another enzyme in the leech's saliva is a histamine-like enzyme, which helps dilate the vessels, promoting good blood flow to the brain. Swelling in the brain is also reduced by anti-inflammatory agents, which are again found in the leech’s saliva.
Antibacterial agents in the saliva of the leech can eliminate harmful bacteria, therefore boosting the immune system and helping it ward off further infection.
Treating Kidney Diseases
Leech Therapy and Kidney Diseases
It has been found that leech therapy can significantly help individuals to have healthier kidneys.
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¿½s 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 body.
If there is any inflammation of the kidneys that impedes its filtering action, leech therapy can prove to be beneficial through the anti-inflammatory compounds in the leechï¿½s saliva. Other benefits of leech therapy include the antibacterial effect that helps kidneys fight off infection.
Pain is somewhat relieved when circulation to the particularly painful area is improved and the same principle holds true with migraines and this is where leeches come im handy.
There is a theory that suggests migraines are caused by tiny blood clots that are formed in the heart, which then travel to the brain and these blood clots disrupt the flow of blood to the brain and thus cause the typical symptoms of migraine like the one-sided head-ache, photophobia, and nausea.
As you may already know, there is a substance found in leeches called Hirudin. This substance is an anticoagulant, causing blood to become more diluted, thus allowing it to flow easier and faster. Hirudin can dissolve those little clots that have formed by converting fibrinogen to fibrin.
It's also known that leeches can increase the circulation in the body, even on the head, because its sucks just enough blood to get the blood stream flowing. Leeches can also cause vasodilation, meaning the vessels are widened, thus lowering the pressure on the walls of these vessels, improving blood flow.
Good blood circulation is vital! In a painful area, it's absolutely necessary, especially in places like the brain and using leeches instead of medications for migraines is healthier. For one thing, medications can have serious side effects unlike leeches which, if handled properly, are relatively safe and have no prolonged adverse effects.
Treating Skin Diseases
The skin is the body's primary line of defense against infection. There are three common layers to the skin - Epidermis, Dermis and Hypodermis, composed of skin cells, capillaries, sweat glands, and hair follicles.
Common skin diseases often occur in the two uppermost layers, the epidermis and the dermis. Uncomplicated skin diseases are easily cured because the skin generally sheds after a couple of days, but more complicated skin diseases are rooted at the hypodermis level and these are more difficult to cure. Some skin diseases are rendered incurable and only subject to remission and exacerbation; that is, they remain idle on occasions and flare up from time to time.
Hirudotherapy for Alopecia
Alopecia is more commonly known as baldness. We are not talking about the normal age-related baldness, but the gradual and radical hair loss due to a fungal infection or dandruff.
One of the advantages of Hirudotherapy is improvement of blood circulation. Bald spots in your head have less hair density because they have less blood circulation compared to other parts. The proliferation of fungi in the area can be one of the factors that cause the reduced blood flow.
Leech therapy is not generally associated with treating alopecia, but is very effective nonetheless. Blood circulation improves as a result and the body's natural defense against fungal infection can once again be delivered to the affected areas, thereby promoting healing.
Hirudotherapy to Treat Boils
Boils are infections deep in the skin. A boil begins as a red area and gradually becomes tender and firm. An 'eye' forms at the center and contains yellow fluid called pus, which is composed of white blood cells, dead bacteria and proteins.
During leech therapy, leeches are placed directly over the eye of the boil, so they can feed directly on the pus and at the same time, other leeches will be placed around the area to rid the body of pooled blood. This is important, because pooled blood causes pressure, leading to tenderness and will relieve the patient of pain.
Hirudotherapy to Treat Shingles
Shingles [Herpes Zoster] is a viral skin disease in adults and occurs due to reactivation in adulthood of dormant viral matter leftover from a bout of chickenpox in childhood. Although lifelong immunity to chickenpox is commonly spoken about, the viruses that cause it may lie dormant for years in sensory nerve cells, reactivating themselves and causing an attack of shingles at times when the immune system is weak, resulting in inflammation, pain, and a rash of small skin blisters.
The skin manifestation of herpes zoster is not serious, but the pain caused by the inflammation of the underlying nerve can be severe, lasting for weeks.
Treatment for Shingles is designed merely to limit the severity and duration of pain because there are usually post infection complications like neuralgia [chronic severe pain around a nerve path]. Leeches saliva contains a substance that has analgesic [pain killing] effects. Pain relief is known to be more powerful and longer lasting than general pain relieving tablets.
Hirudotherapy for Psoriasis
There are many skin diseases that can be treated with Hirudotherapy and one disease worth mentioning is Psoriasis.
Psoriasis is a common skin condition that occurs when the skin cells replace themselves too quickly. There are many different types, but the most common is chronic plaque psoriasis.
Treating Patients with Skin Grafts
Medicinal leeches have long been used in the treatment of illnesses and diseases, and they have also been used in the healing process of skin grafts.
Leech therapy has been used for many years, studies were done and it has been found, tested, and proven that leech therapy can really aid in the healing process of skin grafts.
How does Leech Therapy Promote Healing and Recovery of Patients who have Undergone Skin Grafting?
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).
If these two detrimental complications are present in a skin graft, there will be marked venous congestion, which slows down the healing process of the skin graft. When the skin graft receives poor circulation, the site becomes cyanotic [a condition in which the skin and mucous membranes take on a bluish colour because there is not enough oxygen in the blood], then it hardens and cools until the transplanted tissue dies. Now, because of the hirudin and the Factor Xa inhibitor present in the leech’s saliva, these processes are inhibited. Since there is a vasodilator component in their saliva too, venous congestion is further reduced, promoting good blood flow into the skin graft. After continuous medicinal leech therapy, the skin graft will soon turn warm and pinkish, a good sign that there is an adequate blood supply.
Frequency of Leech Therapy in Patients with Skin Grafts
Medicinal Leeches suck on the area for up to an hour or more, where they can consume one to two teaspoons of blood. Two days after leech therapy, the skin graft site will show a noticeable increased blood supply to the area.
The frequency of leech therapy in patients with skin replants is about four days to five days, while the frequency in patients whose skin grafts became compromised is about six to ten days.
Treating Sport Injuries
Leech therapy is extremely beneficial in the healing process of sport injuries due to enzymes found in leech saliva, which are known to reduce pain, inflammation and dissolving blood clots.
Enzymes found in leech saliva dilate vessels and work together with other enzymes to flush out toxins and promote healthy circulation to accelerate the healing process, as well as containing antibacterial enzymes that help prevent and eliminate the production of bacteria.
Leech therapy diminishes inflammation, swelling and pain of an injured area, leading to an accelerated normal function.
During therapy, leeches also inject an anesthetic enzyme which deadens the pain, as well as an antibacterial enzyme, which destroys the bacteria present, preventing further infection of the site, all of which work together to speed up the healing process of sport injuries.
Duration of leech therapy is dependent upon the severity of the sport injury. Likewise, the frequency of the sessions and the number of leeches used in the treatment also vary per individual.
Treating Venous Disease
Leech therapy has been proven to help patients suffering from venous diseases. It can help reduce the pain and the swelling felt from varicose veins, and can help dissolve blood clots that have formed. But leech therapy is not effective for patients whose venous disease is caused by insufficient valves and inadequate vessel dilation.
The saliva of leeches is known to contain beneficial enzymes. They have anticoagulation properties that help prevent blood from coagulating or thickening. Aside from this, there is also an enzyme that breaks up formed blood clots which can occlude the veins. These two properties function to make the blood thin so that it flows freely in the veins. To further aid in this function, another enzyme acts as a vasodilator to allow better flow of blood.
Leech’s saliva also has antibacterial properties, which helps individuals who have open sores complicated by venous disease.
Leech therapy is best used in conjunction with compression stockings, weight management, diet, and exercise.