leeches

  1. Wriggling away infection

    Letting maggots crawl across your flesh might sound like something out of "Fear Factor" -- but if the latest research is any indication, you might find it taking place at your doctor's office instead of on television.

    Maggots, as it turns out, are proving to be highly effective at treating diabetic wounds that won't heal -- the types of wounds that affect up to a third of all diabetics and often result in disability and even amputation.

    Researchers in Hawaii placed the fly larvae onto the skin of 27 diabetics who had been battling non-healing wounds for as long as five years. In 21 of the cases, the maggots did the trick, according to the research presented at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Chicago.

    One patient was suffering from gangrene in a leg so severe that doctors had recommended amputation. But after a few months of maggot therapy, he was back on his feet -- both of them.

    The secret is in the secretions: Maggot goo has the ability to boost the immune system, stimulate the growth of blood cells, and even fight infection -- including infections that are resistant to antibiotics.

    Even better, the maggots only seem to have a taste for diseased flesh -- and once it's gone, they stop eating.

    I realize a study of 27 patients is incredibly small -- too small to prove anything in most cases. But we don't exactly need much research to prove the health benefits of these critters: They were used for literally thousands of years, right up until modern times.

    They only fell out of favor when antibiotics hit the scene -- but with those meds now being overused to the brink of uselessness, maggots might start making an appearance in your own doctor's office one of these days.

    P.S. Maggots aren't the only creepy-crawlies worming their way into mainstream medical care: As I told you earlier this year, leeches are becoming essential equipment in emergency rooms, saving both life and limb in cases of severe trauma. Read more here.

  2. Leeches in the emergency room

    Scalpel? Check. Forceps? Check. Leeches?

    Wait... leeches?

    Check!

    You might not think of bloodsuckers as a staple of the modern operating room... but some of the nation's best surgeons now keep them alongside the most common tools in modern medicine.

    And a recent report in the Baltimore Sun finds that they're being counted on to literally save life and limb.

    Leeches come equipped with their own natural anticoagulant, which stops the formation of clots so they can suck up blood to their little leechy heart's content.

    But doctors have found that the same anticoagulant can also keep blood flowing to and from badly damaged areas--including reattached fingers and toes and skin flaps.

    That might sound a little creepy... and plenty gross... but doctors say it can mean the difference between saving a digit and losing it. Leeches can also help prevent the complications that can lead to additional risky surgeries in trauma patients.

    And while there are no hard numbers to show how often these relics of the Middle Ages are used in today's operating rooms, more than 100 doctors turned up for a recent seminar on the use of leeches.

    The host of the seminar, BioTherapeutics, Education and Research Foundation director Dr. Ronald A. Sherman, told the Sun that it was the biggest audience he's ever had.

    But you don't need to be on the verge of losing a finger or toe to benefit from leeches--because researchers have found another way the creatures can play a major role in modern medicine: pain relief.

    Leeches secrete a powerful painkiller, which is why you don't feel the hundreds of tiny teeth they use to dig in and drink up. And now, researchers believe that painkiller could work as an anesthesia or even help people cope with arthritis pain.

    Of course, I don't recommend experimenting with that at home.

    But don't be too surprised to see Leechynol on the shelf of your local pharmacy one of these days.

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