The therapeutic effect of hirudotherapy is composed of several factors.
Hirudotherapy often makes use of the acupuncture points. Just as acupuncture uses a needle to bring more blood to the area, the action of the leeches likewise brings more blood to the area for healing. Leeches remove blood which prompts the liver to produce new, fresh blood.
When leeches bite, they create a tunnel to the lymphatic system remove toxins from the lymph system. This can be a profoundly effective means of systemic detoxification.
The creatures also deposit their saliva which contains a range of biologically active – healing – substances.
The main effects of the medicinal leech on the body include:
- decreased blood clotting
- thrombolytic (clot destruction)
- antiischemic (improving blood supply to tissues and organs)
- antihypoxia (improved blood supply oxygen to the tissues and organs)
- hypertensive (normotensive)
- draining the blood and lymph system of toxins and blood clots
- restoration of the microcirculation
- recovery of neuromuscular impulse transmission
- restoration of vascular permeability
- bacteriostatic (death of microorganisms, causing inflammation)
While the following isn’t a complete list, the Hirudo Medicinalis is a small manufacturing factory of bioactive substances:
- Hirudin – Inhibits blood coagulant (binds to thrombin)
- Hyaluronidase – Lowers viscosity of hyaluronan (increasing tissue permeability); increases interstitial viscosity; antibiotic
- Apyrase – Inhibits host platelet aggregation
- Collagenase – Enzymes that break the peptide bonds in collagen
- Proteases – Enzymes for debridement of wounds and burns
- Lipolytic enzymes – Breakdown of lipids; involves the hydrolysis of triglycerides
- Destabilase – Dissolves fibrin (thrombolytic effects)
- Bdellines – Anti-inflammatory; inhibits trypsin, plasmin, acrosin
- Eglines – Anti-inflammatory; inhibit the activity of alpha-chymotrypsin, chymase, substilisin, elastase, cathepsin G
- Calin – inhibits blood coagulation (blocks the binding of van Willebrand factor to collagen). Inhibits collagen-mediated platelet aggregation
- Tryptase inhibitor – Inhibits proteolytic enzymes of host mast cells
- Factor Xa inhibitor — Inhibits the activity of coagulation factor Xa by forming equimolar complexes
- Acetylcholine – Vasodilator
- Carboxypeptidase A inhibitors – Increases the inflow of blood at the bite
Leeches are pre-adapted to human physiology. The secretions from their saliva cross the entire spectrum of physiology: blood clotting, digestion, connective tissue, disease, pain, inhibition of enzymes, anti-inflammation.
There is a defined protocol for treating different diseases and conditions with leaches. The areas where the leaches are placed, the number of leeches used, and the number of sessions varies depending upon the condition being treated.
One leech will withdraw approximately one teaspoon of blood. For the next 12-48 hours, the site will discharge – it depends upon the person – up to about 16 tablespoons.
The application of a leech can take one minute, or twenty. Once the leech is attached, it will likely remain safely in place until fully distended. It will drop off usually within 30-60 minutes.