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The Benefits of Leech Therapy and its Effects

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Dhanwanthara Ayurveda Therapy Centre has recently started its RAKTMOKSHAN (bloodletting) DEPARTMENT where many chronic diseases are managed with Leech Therapy. This typically serves as an adjuvant therapy where many patients have benefitted with these little miracles given by the nature to serve mankind.

The Most Amazing Healing

Leeches have been used for medical purposes since ancient times. The first description of leech therapy was found in the text of Sushruta Samhita (dating 800 B.C.) written by Sushruta, who was also considered the father of plastic surgery. The Greeks and Romans were considered to have used them for medicinal purposes over 4,000 years ago.Toward the beginning of the 19th century, a “leech mania” swept through Europe and America, as leeching became incorporated into the practice of bloodletting. Bloodletting procedures, including leeching, became the most common medical procedure throughout the early modern period. By the early 19th century, many patients regularly submitted to Leech Therapy practices as a means of preventing or treating infection and diseases.

The species of leech most commonly used for this purpose is the European medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis, and Hirudo Michaelsen.  At Dhanwanthara Ayurveda Therapy Centre we are using the Hirudo Medicinalis species. Leeches cannot be imported into Malaysia due to bio-security restrictions, therefore breeding initiatives were taken initially with collaboration with University Malaya, where we are now breeding them successfully in clinical captivity in Terengganu.

Leech Anatomy and Geographic Distribution

Leeche TherapyLeeches are common throughout the world. They are most often found in freshwater ponds, ditches, and lakes, but about a third of the more than 650 species of leeches live in saltwater. Only a few leech species are bloodsuckers. Most eat decaying bodies, snails, or amphibian eggs. Others attach themselves to the open wounds of fish or amphibians. Leeches are nocturnal and tend to stay in shady areas of water during the day. They feed until they are gorged, then drop off. Their bodies are segmented, and they have 32 “brains.”

Leeches that suck blood inject many different chemical compounds into the prey’s bloodstream. These include anaesthetics, which make the bite painless, and anti-inflammatory agents. The latter has led to leeches being used to treat the inflammation of the knee and other joints caused by osteoarthritis.

Oddly, leeches are in danger in some areas of the world. Partly because of over-harvesting in the 1800s, but also because the wetlands where leeches live are being drained and the food they commonly eat (amphibians and their eggs) are also endangered, the medicinal leech has come under the protection of the endangered species laws of several European countries.

There are more than 600 species of leeches that have been identified, but only 15 of the species are used medically, so they are given a class of their own. They are classified as Hirudo Medicinalis or medicinal leeches.

Yes, leeches can be thought of as slimy and unattractive creatures, but ugly or not, they do serve a lot of medical purposes when it comes to us, humans. 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.

In Ayurveda, Leech Therapy is practice under blood-letting, because of its healing effects to the human body, this traditional method of curing diseases is still thriving today.

Surgeons who do plastic and reconstructive surgery find leeches valuable when regrafting amputated appendages. Once found beneficial for the amount of blood they could withdraw, leeches are used now for the anticlotting agent hirudin, contained in their saliva, which keeps blood flowing freely during these procedures.


In June 2004, the FDA cleared the first application for leeches to be used in modern medicine as medical devices.

Leech therapy is used to manage arthritis and other inflammatory processes. It is perfect for those with vascular (arterial and venous diseases), heart (ischemic diseases and hypertension), and lung problems (bronchitis and bronchial asthma). The medicinal leeches can also help in patients with pneumonia. The GI or gastrointestinal tract can also benefit from leech therapy, especially those who suffer from hepatitis, stomach ulcers, and pancreatitis, among others. Likewise, individuals with problems in their genitourinary system and gynaecological disorders will also benefit greatly from leech therapy. Skin diseases like psoriasis, herpes, and eczema can also be treated with leech therapy. Other problems known to benefit from leech therapy are the eyes ( an example is glaucoma) and the brain (for infantile cerebral palsy).

Each leech can hold at least 15 to 20 ml of blood. After a number of therapeutic days, a patient will notice a marked improvement in his overall function.

How exactly do leeches treat these many illnesses and diseases?
The Science Behind Leech Therapy

⦁ Anticoagulating Effects of Leeches

The leech’s saliva contains enzymes and compounds that act as an anticoagulation agent. The most prominent of these anticoagulation agents is hirudin, which binds itself to thrombin, thus, effectively inhibiting coagulation of the blood. Another compound that prevents coagulation is calin. This, on the other hand, works as an anticoagulant by prohibiting the von Willebrand factor to bind itself to collagen, and it is also an effective inhibitor of platelet aggregation caused by collagen. The saliva of the leeches also contains Factor Xa inhibitor which also blocks the action of the coagulation factor Xa.

⦁ Clot Dissolving Effects of Leeches

The action of destabilising is to break up any fibrins that have formed. It also has a thrombolytic effect, which can also dissolve clots of blood that have formed.

⦁ Anti-inflammatory Effects of Leeches

Bdellins is a compound in the leech’s saliva that acts as an anti-inflammatory agent by inhibiting trypsin as well as plasmin. It also inhibits the action of the acrosin. Another anti-inflammatory agent is the eglins.

⦁ Vasodilating Effects of Leeches

There are three compounds in the leeches’ saliva that act as a vasodilator agent, and they are the histamine-like substances, the acetylcholine, and the carboxypeptidase A inhibitors. All these act to widen the vessels, thus, causing an inflow of blood to the site.

⦁ Bacteriostatic and Anesthetic Effects of Leeches

The saliva of leeches also contains anaesthetic substances which deaden pain on the site and also bacteria-inhibiting substances which inhibit the growth of bacteria.

Overall Effects to the Human Body

Once the leeches attach themselves to the skin of the patient and start sucking blood, the saliva enters the puncture site and along with it the enzymes and compounds responsible for all these positive effects. Working together, they act to cure the disease present in the individual. Because of anticoagulation agents, the blood becomes thinner, allowing it to flow freely through the vessels. The anti-clotting agents also dissolve clots found in the vessels, eliminating the risk of them travelling to other parts of the body and blocking an artery or vein. The vasodilating agents help widen the vessel walls by dilating them, and this causes the blood to flow unimpeded, too.

Patients who suffer from pain and inflammation will feel relief from the anti-inflammatory and anaesthetic effects of the leech’s saliva.

In the long run, leech therapy also helps to normalize the blood pressure of hypertensive individuals as well as lessen their risk of suffering from stroke and heart attacks. Blood circulation is also improved with leech therapy and it helps with the healing process of wounds, as well as wounds and lesions caused by diabetes. There is also a noticeable boost in the immune system’s function due to bacteriostatic agents.

Contraindication to Leech Therapy

Leech therapy is contraindicated in patients with HIV and AIDS and or for those who are on immunosuppressive medication as their immune system is already compromised and could be exposed to the risk for bacterial sepsis thus worsening their conditions.

At Dhanwanthara Ayurveda Therapy Centre, we offer Leech Therapy for multiple ailments as an Adjuvant Therapy. As Leech Therapy is a part of the Panchakarma treatment that falls under Rakthamokshana. Dhanwanthara Ayurveda Therapy Centre adapts the modern leech therapy system which differs from the ancient practice. We do not use wild leeches; instead, we use medicinal leeches grown at special bio-labs in strict quarantine. In addition to that, we DO NOT reuse or recycle leeches.

This fact completely excludes the chance of infecting a patient. Leech Therapy is an art of healing with medicinal leeches, which promotes thorough detoxification, rejuvenation and non-invasive blood circulation and purification.

For further information, please either call 016-9979360,  or email to info@ayurvedadhanwanthara.com