Hollywood actor Demi Moore recently admitted that she covered herself in blood-sucking leeches to keep her skin looking fresh and young. It is the secret of her glowing skin and beauty, she said. Weeks after Demi Moore publicly admitted to her undergoing leech therapy, the Department of Ayush (under the Health Ministry, Government of India) has decided to standardize and market leech therapy. There are many such ancient medicines systems often referred to as alternative medicines, herbal medicines, nature cure, holistic healing, etc., practiced in India and other Asian countries, and now in practice and demand in many other countries.
Leech therapy is an ancient technique in Unani medicine system. According to news reports, a high-level meeting of Unani medicine experts finalized the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) specifying rules that are to be followed by all leech therapists practicing in India.
The meeting attended by experts from National Institute of Unani Medicine (Bangalore), Research Institute of Unani Medicine (Srinagar), Aligarh and Kashmir University’s department of zoology, also finalized training modules to popularize leech therapy in four national Unani colleges at Bangalore, Aligarh, Delhi and Hyderabad. The Director of Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine, Mohammed Khalid Siddiqui, who chaired the meeting, said leech therapy had proved to be a highly effective technique against arthritis, sinusitis, migraine, hypertension and frostbite.
Experts say over 100 bioactive substances present in the saliva of the leech helps improve disease conditions through extraction of impure blood from human body (leech bites, hangs on the body and sucks blood). The meeting finalized treatment protocol and teaching models for Unani students interested in specializing in leech therapy. The technique had already gained tremendous acceptance among people in Jammu & Kashmir, coastal Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. Many people from other countries, including celebrities like Demi Moore, also endorse leech therapy. As such, the Council is planning to document the system of leech therapy and provide standard guidelines for all leech therapists. It also had plans to send the SOP to the Union Health Ministry for notifying.
“At present there are no defined procedures. Therefore, there is always the risk of quacks. To bring a regulation we are publishing a compilation for all leech therapists. We have also finished carrying out clinical trials to study the effect of leech therapy on various diseases”, he said.
The application of medicinal leeches, Hirudo medicinalis, for clearing poison was in fashion in Egypt around 2500 years ago. In 2004, use of blood sucking leeches was approved by the USFDA as a tool for healing skin grafts. The general indications for leech therapy are Inflammatory Reactions, Heart Diseases, Rheumatic Diseases, Tendovaginitis and Tendinitis, Venous Disease and Varicose Veins, Arthrosis, Arthritis, Muscle Tension, Antidyscratic therapy ( blood purification and regeneration) of toxicoses and mental, illnesses, Thrombosis and embolism, Passive congestions and spastic conditions, Vertebrogenic Pain Syndromes, Transudates and exudates.