Can leeches?those little sharp-toothed worms that live on the blood of mammals?relieve arthritis pain? It sounds like a throwback to the Middle Ages when bleeding a patient was considered good medicine. Yet, according to a team of Russian researchers, the European medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis, offers a cheap, natural therapy for arthritis sufferers.
Researchers from Kazan State Medical University in Russia applied leeches 5 times to the painful trigger zones in the muscles surrounding the joints of study participants. As they noted in an abstract presented at the annual European Congress of Rheumatology held in London in June 2002, patients showed improvements that included a decrease in or disappearance of muscle pain and a reduction in early-morning stiffness.
Leech saliva contains substances that anesthetize a wound area, dilate the blood vessels to increase blood flow, and prevent the blood from clotting. Laboratory tests showed blood changes in the treated patients that included a reduction in an inflammation-related compound known as C-reactive protein and a change in blood clotting factors, including a longer coagulation time.