Cardiovascular disease has long been a main indication for leech therapy. The prominent doctor Nickolay I. Pirogov of Russia was among the first in modern history to treat heart disease with leeches in the 1800s. Good results have been seen even in cases of sclerotic changes in blood vessel walls.
Atherosclerosis is when the blood vessel walls become thicker and harder due to “thick” and sticky blood. The artery walls – particularly at the “Y” junctions around the heart, neck, and large arteries of the legs – are scarred as a result of the turbulent process of thick and sticky blood moving through them. Then Nature lays down cholesterol as a repair mechanism and the arteries narrow. This is a chronic vascular disease.
Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease; it is a symptom. If the artery walls were not “nicked” by the blood moving through them, cholesterol would not be called upon.
Blood actually thickens as it slows down – think of a blood clot as an extreme case. When the heart fills with blood after contraction, slower-moving red blood cells cling together more easily. This makes the blood more viscous – more thick and sticky. When the heart squeezes to make the next contraction, the blood flows faster and becomes less viscous. So blood viscosity fluctuates with each heartbeat. Blood viscosity determines how hard our heart has to work, and how much injury “thick” and therefore abrasive blood cells can inflect on artery walls. Cholesterol is merely the body’s response to protect injuries areas from further abrasion.
Having more viscous blood can be likened to the phrase, “death by 1000 cuts.” Blood gets thick as a result of the modern lifestyle and diet factors which are driving up rates of chronic disease. For example, high triglycerides increase viscosity. Triglycerides – a measure of fats in the bloodstream – respond quickly to a meal, particularly one with a lot of fat, sugar, or alcohol. (When we eat, calories are released. Excess calories are converted into triglycerides which are stored in the fat cells and used to supply energy when required. High levels of triglycerides are directly linked with dietary imbalances in most of the cases.) An elevated triglyceride level is a strong risk factor for heart attack among middle-aged and elderly men, a stronger risk factor than total cholesterol alone.
The Edinburgh Artery Study of the 1990s observed 4860 men for five years and found that 20 percent of men with highest viscosity had 55 percent of the major cardiovascular events. Only 4 percent of those with low viscosity had any significant cardiovascular event.
It is well established that pre-menopausal women have fewer cardiovascular events. The monthly blood loss has a very significant effect on blood viscosity because her blood contains perhaps 80 percent more new, young blood cells. Younger red blood cells are less likely to clump together.
With this brief understanding of the hazards of viscous blood, you can begin to see why leech therapy has long been a strong defense against heart disease.
The hirudin in the leech saliva opposes the process of blood clotting. Hirudin is a polypeptide, which has highly potent antiprotease activity with a strict specificity for thrombin, meaning it is able to inactivate fibrin-bound thrombin. Other factors can also stabilize the blood clotting system, produce a beneficial effect on the vascular wall, and improve microcirculation which leads to improved blood circulation and oxygen supply of all internal organs. The enzymes leeches deposit with their saliva prevent blood from becoming thick, thereby promoting better blood circulation not only in the heart but to other parts of the body.
Leeches prompt some blood loss and thus prompt the body to make new blood cells which are more flexible than older blood cells.
There are about 90 miles of veins in the body, and hirudotherapy can clean them and make them stronger and more flexible.
Hypertension – high blood pressure – is a measurement of the force against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood through your body. You are more likely to be told your blood pressure is too high as you get older. This is because your blood vessels become stiffer as you age. When that happens, your blood pressure goes up. High blood pressure increases your chance of having a stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease, and early death.
In the treatment of hypertension with leeches, the effect is twofold. First, there is a decrease in the volume of blood circulating in the bloodstream and that directly lessens the pressure along blood vessel walls.
Second, the bio-active agents in the saliva exert significant hypotensive (pressure reducing) effects.
With hirudotherapy, it is often possible to reduce the dose of prescription drugs, and sometimes end their use.
For treating hypertension, the leeches are generally placed on body parts like upper back, neck, and chest.
Varicose veins are unattractive, but the disease can give rise to the dangerously threatening complication of thrombophlebitis. Surgery is a common treatment, but often the varicose veins return. People have become to understand the value of hirudotherapy as a very effective treatment.
Hirudotherapy does not preclude other treatments, but the use of leeches for varicose veins dramatically reduces the need for surgery, post surgical complications, and the downtime of recovery.