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(05.08.2010) Representations from ancient India testify to the use of leech therapy 500 years before our era. 300 years later, the Greeks described bloodsucking medicine in Europe and so it went on from the Middle Ages to the modern era. The method reached its climax in the 18th century, when the wasteful use of leeches is said to have resulted in fatalities and was called "vampirism". Initially revived by representatives of naturopathy as a method of classic drainage procedures in the 20th century, plastic surgery in particular now makes use of the useful blood suckers. What is it about this bloody method that doesn't seem to be replaceable for millennia?
The leech: A blood-sucking ringworm
The course of treatment: Painless and bloody
Effect of leech therapy
Leech therapy indications
Leech therapy contraindications
Leeches as throw-away products
The leech (scientific Hirudo) is a European annelid worm that at best leaves the native fresh water in a natural environment to lay eggs in the ground. It is grown for medicinal purposes in so-called leech farms close to nature. Usually. A leech starves up to eight months before it is sold to naturopaths and doctors.
The genus Hirudo medicinalis, which is preferred in medicine, is about 2-4 cm long and loves the blood of humans and animals alike. The leech uses three jaws with sharp teeth as biting and suction tools. After a bite, it leaves a wound in the form of a three-pointed star, which can also remain as a scar.
1-12 leeches are placed for treatment. For this purpose, each animal is placed head-first in a laboratory tube and placed on the desired skin area of the patient. Since the hirudo is quite sensitive to smell, the evaporation of alcohol and medication as well as the application of fragrances and perfumes should be avoided so that it does not knock out the meal. The bite is not very painful and the rhythmic blood sucking is hardly noticeable. After 10 to 40 minutes and 5-8 ml of blood, the leeches are full and simply fall off. The bleeding, however, continues to seep up to 20 hours, which is a significant part of the effect of leech treatment. As with a gentle bloodletting, 30-50ml of blood are lost.
The active ingredients: The healing mixture is produced in the neck glands. The reason for the long bleeding of the wound and the healing effects are numerous active substances in the leeches saliva, which the animal produces in the neck glands and secretes during sucking. For example, the hirudin it contains has an anticoagulant and antithrombotic effect, the eglines inhibit inflammation, and the histamine relieves local vascular cramps. Blood loss has a decongestant, anti-inflammatory and blood-thinning effect (corresponding to bloodletting), metabolic waste and body toxins are removed, the lymph flow is accelerated. In the meantime, the known active ingredients are also produced using genetic engineering.
The fields of application: leech therapy in naturopathy and university medicine: the ability of the saliva mixture, especially Making blood flow better also explains the most common uses of leech therapy.
In naturopathy, leeches are used particularly in cases of fullness, stasis and pain. These include high blood pressure, tinnitus, thrombosis, varicose veins, phlebitis and hemorrhoids as well as joint and soft tissue rheumatism, acute gout attack and acute glaucoma. But therapy is also helpful for chronic inflammation of the sinuses (inflammation of the sinuses) or the middle ear (otitis media). For the treatment of other chronic diseases, naturopaths and naturopathic doctors use the effect of the bloodsuckers as a change of mind to stimulate the self-healing powers by increasing the body's ability to react.
In evidence-based medicine, the use of leeches is largely limited to plastic surgery, where worm saliva is supposed to optimize wound healing after transplantation of fingers, ears or skin and to prevent rejection of the new tissue.
Contraindications: Caution with blood clotting disorders: Due to its mode of action, should blood clotting be impaired by medication or liver disease, a few days before and after surgery, with existing diabetes mellitus, arterial occlusive disease (PAD) and skin infections in the area of the treatment area due to expected complications Leech therapy must be avoided.
The downer: leeches as throw-away products: With the achievements of modern medicine and their hygiene standards, leech therapy temporarily disappeared from the scene, not least because it was suspected of spreading diseases. Today, each leech is used only once and then immediately killed in alcohol. Until a few years ago, Germany's most important leech farmer ZAUG took the therapist back to honor the medical performance of the animals. Isolate from the still "virgin" conspecifics, the leeches were offered an appropriate living space for the retirement period. ZAUG closed its pension pond in 2006 after the return of the leeches was officially prohibited.
Incidentally, imported leeches are used in addition to bred ones. The latter are kept in quarantine for at least 32 weeks before being deployed. (Dipl.Päd. Jeanette Viñals Stein, alternative practitioner)
Study on the efficacy of leech therapy for joint arthrosis by the Carl and Veronica Carstens Foundation (Nature & Medicine)