Scalpel? Check. Forceps? Check. Leeches?

Wait... leeches?


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.