Monday, October 24, 2011

I Want to Suck Your Blood! (in a good way)

In honor of Halloween coming up, I figured that this week I will spotlight "creepy crawly" critters and their ability to help us heal.  Enjoy!

There's been a lot of interest in vampires lately.

I wonder if this is due to the fact that real blood suckers are being revived again in medical practices.  In 2004, the FDA approved the use of leeches as medicinal devices but, leeches have actually been used in medicine long before this.  

My favorite author, Diana Gabaldon, is the one that showed me the benefits of leeches.  Before that, my only experience with the creatures was when I was very young (5 or 6 years old).  My mother had one on her leg, although I'm not sure how she got it, and all I remember was her absolutely losing control, she was completely upset and panicked.  

So when I read in Outlander, a book taking place in the 18th century, about a women applying leeches to the swelling on a man's face after he got punched, I was confused.  How is that going to help anything?  Luckily, the woman explained why she was doing it.  It turns out that leeches are useful when a bruise is new and the blood is still flowing under the skin.  They will take care of the excess blood and bring down the swelling.  She warned that as with anything, there's such a thing as overuse.  Leeches are only good for new/fresh bruises.  If you put them on an old bruise, they will just take the new healthy blood.  I think one of the coolest parts in the scene is that when the leeches are full, they just fall off all by themselves.
People would keep leeches in decorative urns with holes in the top to allow the leeches to breathe.  Seems like an easy, free way to deal with swelling and bruises.  Besides, the urn looks really nice!
As far as their use in hospitals, one article at mentions:
"Leeches are already widely used in American hospitals, and companies that raised and sold them here before 1976 were allowed to continue doing so. However, the medical device law passed that year required newcomers to the field to seek approval."
Evidently, medicinal leeches cost about $8 each and are non-returnable, in case you are interested in checking them out. Otherwise, next time you go to the hospital, ask if they use leeches there, you might be surprised!


  1. My mom just informed me that it was a slug not a leech that was attached to her, which makes more sense since leeches live in fresh water and we were at my house (with no water around) when this occurred. Well I guess that means that I only have positive experiences/memories with leeches. Now slugs on the other hand...

  2. One of my favorite posts yet! I am very impressed you could get Outlander into your blog somehow. And isn't it funny how you have vivid memories that turn out wrong? Makes ya wonder how any autobiography can be considered non-fiction!

  3. So if you lived near a fresh water source that contains leeches, you can just get free ones? Are these leeches that you can buy for $8 specially trained or do they just breed them in these companies?

  4. Good point Veronica! Maybe at the time I didn't know the difference between leeches and slugs and so they were interchangeable in my memory. But it does make me feel like autobiographies are probably embellished, even it it's not intentional.

    Matt, I suppose you can just pick leeches up out of fresh water and use them, I'd have to do some more research to see if there's anything you need to look out for. As for training, the leeches don't need to be trained, it's just what they do. So you're paying the $8 for leeches that are being monitored through the FDA. You could check into it and see. Maybe start a side business selling leeches you find.


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