Bite healthy from the leech
Leeches take some getting used to - but healthy, especially their saliva, which they release into the body when they are sucked. It contains over 30 substances that are said to help with joint pain, boils or tendonitis.
The leech has a healing effect because of its saliva, which it injects into the patient's body while biting: This contains more than 30 different substances that have a healing effect. Some of them have been researched, such as hirudin, which can also be produced synthetically and prevents blood clotting, or histamine, which dilates the vessels. Other substances relieve pain, have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects.
The bitten person usually does not notice the actual bite. At the beginning of the suction phase, you usually feel a slight burning sensation, comparable to touching a nettle. If the saliva starts to work after a few minutes, the pain disappears.
The leech sucks around 10 to 20 milliliters of blood in 30 to 90 minutes. After he has finished drinking, he falls off by himself. The wound then bleeds, sometimes up to 12 hours. Typically, the patient loses half a deciliter of blood per leech bite wound. People with hemophilia or blood thinners are therefore not allowed to use leeches.
The bite wound can then be seen for a while - similar to an insect bite - but should heal after two to three weeks. A slight itching sensation can be felt for two to three days. The leeches used are killed. If you let the leeches suckle in different people, the risk of communicable diseases would be too great, says Dominique Kähler Schweizer, who sells leeches in Switzerland. With her, the animals are frozen after therapy. Since the breeding leeches used differ from native leeches, they must not be exposed in water.
The best known of the approximately 300 leech species is the «Hirudo medicinalis». Leeches live up to 30 years. They can survive on a blood meal for a good two years. The animals were once widespread in Switzerland, but have been greatly reduced due to their excessive use and are now under protection. The medical leeches come from farms in Germany or are caught wild in Turkey. In Switzerland, they are available in selected pharmacies and are sterile.
Use against arthrosis or boils
Leeches therapy is thousands of years old. In Russia, the therapy has continued to this day and is also used in larger hospitals.
In Switzerland, so-called hirudotherapy is experiencing a renaissance, especially among naturopaths. At the hospitals, on the other hand, the vascular specialists asked by “Puls” are highly skeptical of the “medieval method”. Leeches are only used regularly in plastic surgery. For example in the case of replantations - e.g. of a severed finger that was sewn back on - where they loosen the jammed blood.
There are already studies that show that leeches have a good effect on osteoarthritis, such as in the knee or thumb. According to Dominique Kähler Schweizer, a doctor and leech therapist, leeches can relieve pain in some people for several months. With boils, abscesses and large bruises, there is hardly a more efficient method than leeches - these would heal much faster if leeches were placed on them.
Leeches could also relieve the pain of tennis arms or tendonitis. Naturopaths also offer leeches as a treatment for varicose veins, spider veins, tinnitus, headaches or back pain. Here, however, the effect is more of a "pounding," says Naturopath professor Reinhard Saller, than that the effect is supported by studies.