Since the time of ancient Egypt, leeches have been used in medicine to treat nervous system abnormalities, dental problems, skin diseases, and infections.
Today, they’re mostly used in plastic surgery and microsurgery. This is because leeches secrete peptides and proteins that work to prevent blood clots and improves circulation. These secretions are also known as anticoagulants. This keeps blood flowing to wounds to help them heal.
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. Currently, leech therapy is seeing a revival due to its simple and inexpensive means of preventing complications.
Leech Therapy History
From 2500 years ago Leech has been used in medicine in India, Greece, Iran, Rome and then in Europe. In the nineteenth century leech therapy was used as a treatment for headache, fever, infectious wounds, and so on.
Leech therapy is known as one of the traditional Iranian herbs and has a long history of curing diseases in Iran. Abu Salina wrote about his use of leech therapy in the treatment of many diseases in his book ‘’Ghanun’’, which, after translating his book, leech therapy and leechology was widely used in the West.
How Does Leech Therapy Work?
Medicinal leeches have three jaws with tiny rows of teeth.
They pierce a person’s skin with their teeth and insert anticoagulants through their saliva. The leeches are then allowed to extract blood, for 20 to 45 minutes at a time, from the person undergoing treatment. This equates to a relatively small amount of blood, up to 15 milliliters per leech. When the leech attaches to a site, it releases three important substances into the area whilst drawing the clotted blood away. Some leeches are poisonous and may be dangerous. Consequently, this should be done by an expert.
These substances are:
- A local anaesthetic (to reduce pain)
- A local vasodilator (to improve blood supply)
- Hirudin and calin (which prevent further clotting)
What Are The Health Benefits Of Leech Therapy?
There are several situations in which leech therapy may be used.
People who may benefit include those who risk limb amputation due to the side effects of diabetes, those who have been diagnosed with heart disease, and those who are undergoing cosmetic surgery in which they risk the loss of some of their soft tissue. The therapy has also been recommended to treat blood clots and varicose veins. Also, it helps to treat:
- Circulatory disorders and cardiovascular disease
- Varicose veins
- Skin problems
Clinical trials suggest that leech therapy is an appropriate treatment for the common joint disease osteoarthritis. The anti-inflammatory and anesthetic properties in the leech’s saliva reduce pain and tenderness at the site of the affected joint.
Who Should Avoid Leech Therapy?
People with anemia, blood clotting conditions, or compromised arteries are not candidates for leech therapy. Children under the age of 18 years old and women who are pregnant are also usually advised to avoid it.