Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Gruesome, medieval and utterly bizarre... but leeches freed me from awful migraines

The result below could be due to a placebo effect.  She arrived ready to believe and admits that her migraines were intermittent

Migraines are miserable with bells on – actually, the idea of listening to the sound of a bell with a migraine brings me out in a sweat. When I am suffering with one, I can’t even stand the sound of my sheets rustling.

Apart from the intense throbbing, all-encompassing pain in my head, I also feel extremely nauseous and sensitive to light. I feel as if I am a vampire – a small sliver of daylight and POOF: I will spontaneously combust.

Some find there are triggers: hormonal cycles, stress, red wine. But mine hit me without rhyme or reason.

Which is why I decided to give leech therapy, or hirudotherapy – to give the treatment its correct medical term – a go.

As a believer in alternative medicine, I wanted to try something natural and holistic that didn’t involve days spent downing industrial-strength analgesics.

And before you put me and Demi in a box marked ‘Complete loons’, it seems modern medicine is also looking to this rather medieval practice as a solution for a host of ailments.

In the 1980s, leeches began to be used by reconstructive plastic surgeons needing to remove stagnant blood from reattached limbs, to stave off gangrene.

But now there are numerous studies into medical uses for leeches. One found that a single session of leeching – the medical application of bloodsucking leeches – can significantly reduce knee pain caused by arthritis for at least two months.

Researchers from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany claimed improvement levels were comparable to those achieved with daily moderate doses of painkillers such as ibuprofen. And before you say you’d probably rather pop a pill, consider the damage regularly taking painkillers can do to the stomach.

Bloodletting was discredited at the end of the 19th Century as doctors felt it left patients weak and prone to infection, but it has had a recent resurgence, with a wave of celebrities trying it.

Another clinical trial at the university is investigating whether nerve pain caused by shingles could also be remedied by leeching.

The secret is in the leeches’ saliva: it apparently contains a large number of analgesic, anaesthetic, and blood-thinning compounds that tackle pain and inflammation, say the researchers.

Google led me to Alicja, a Russian/Polish hirudotherapist with ten years’ experience. She is based in Las Vegas and New York but she has clients from all around the world.

Her passion for natural medicine goes back to her childhood in 1960s Poland, where leeches were used as a popular ‘country healing method’ to cure various health problems.

Back then, Kolyszko reminisces, leeches were sold at many pharmacies. Her grandmother would bring one home whenever any family member got sick, pop it on for an hour, and everything would be better.

These aren’t your common-or- garden leeches (there are more than 700 species that live wild in freshwater and marine environments – one once attached itself to my buttock while I was bathing in the Mekong river in Cambodia).

Medicinal leeches are specially cultivated in a sterile environment. The largest leech farm in the world – Biopharm in Hendy, South Wales – was established in 1812, moving to its current base in 1984.

Just before it bit into me, I could feel its cold and slimy body against my temple. But once it actually did, I was relieved that it felt like no more than a mild sting – the leech secretes an anaesthetic that numbs the skin, otherwise the pain would be unbearable. Botox is a million times worse.

Once Alicja is sure the leech has got to work, then it’s time for the next one, and the one after that, until you have four attached to you. You can definitely feel them working – it is a mild tugging sensation.

I know this sounds extraordinary, but I felt incredibly relaxed. The treatment takes about 40 minutes, until the leech is full and falls off, leaving a mark in the shape of a peace sign. They swell to about four times their normal size, as they become gorged with blood.

To get the most out of hirudotherapy, you need about three sessions within weeks of each other. I have not had a migraine since that first session. More than that, I feel rejuvenated.

Leeches really are miracle workers. I am a total convert.


People whose parents live a long life are 25% less likely to get cancer

This is consistent with there being a general syndrome of biological fitness

People whose parents who live to a ripe old age are more likely to live longer themselves, and are less prone to cancer and other common diseases associated with ageing.

Those whose mothers live beyond the age of 91 or fathers live past 97 are 24 per cent less likely to get cancer, say researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School.

They discovered that overall mortality rates dropped by up to 19 per cent for each decade that at least one of the parents lived past the age of 65.

For those whose mothers lived beyond 85, mortality rates were 40 per cent lower, reports The Journals of Gerontology: Series A.

The figure was a little lower (14 per cent) for fathers, possibly because of adverse lifestyle factors such as smoking, which may have been more common in the fathers.

The research saw nearly 10,000 people questioned. The participants were based in America, and were followed up over 18 years, from 1992 to 2010.

They were interviewed every two years, with questions including the ages of their parents and when they died. In 2010, the participants were in their seventies.

Professor William Henley, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: 'Previous studies have shown that the children of centenarians tend to live longer with less heart disease, but this is the first robust evidence that the children of longer-lived parents are also less likely to get cancer.

'We also found that they are less prone to diabetes or suffering a stroke.

'These protective effects are passed on from parents who live beyond 65 - far younger than shown in previous studies, which have looked at those over the age of 80.

'Obviously children of older parents are not immune to contracting cancer or any other diseases of ageing, but our evidence shows that rates are lower.

'We also found that this inherited resistance to age-related diseases gets stronger the older their parents lived.'

Ambarish Dutta, from the Asian Institute of Public Health at the Ravenshaw University in India, said: 'Interestingly from a nature versus nurture perspective, we found no evidence that these health advantages are passed on from parents-in-law.

'Despite being likely to share the same environment and lifestyle in their married lives, spouses had no health benefit from their parents-in-law reaching a ripe old age.

'If the findings resulted from cultural or lifestyle factors, you might expect these effects to extend to husbands and wives in at least some cases, but there was no impact whatsoever.'


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