Leech Therapy Not Okayed by Health Ministry Yet

Leech Therapy Not Okayed by Health Ministry YetLeech Therapy Not Okayed by Health Ministry Yet

The health ministry so far has not certified any center for leech breeding and distribution for the purpose of medical treatment,” said Mahmoud Khodadoust, deputy health minister for traditional medicine. “Necessary standards should be developed in this area first,” he said.

Leech therapy is the use of leeches in the treatment of medical conditions. It is one of the therapies used in Iranian traditional medicine. But regulations and standards have not been determined yet and neither the health ministry nor the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken a stand in this field of therapy.

Both traditional and modern fields of medicine caution that “any leech is not medicinal.” Before using leeches, their health should be determined and they should be free of diseases otherwise infection may be transmitted to humans as they are in direct contact with human blood during therapy, IRNA quoted Khodadoust as saying.  

Leeches should be produced in hygienic conditions and without microbial and viral contamination. Their distribution should meet sanitary standards and like medicines, should be from drugstores and prescribed by a traditional medicine physician; but since these modalities are not ready yet, prescription of leeches for medicinal use is not possible.

 License Needed

At present, leeches are being used in some plastic surgeries (removing hematoma) and for skin problems and “we are not sure whether they are disease-free.” While some centers claim they have license from the Iran Fisheries Organization, “it is not enough. If the leeches are used for medical purposes, the health ministry should issue the license.”

In some western countries, leech therapy takes place with the approval of the Food and Drug Administration. “But in Iran, the health ministry has not certified leech therapy so far.”

The country’s fisheries organization has determined regulations for leech breeding and some centers across the country are culturing them. But the regulations have not been evaluated and confirmed by the health ministry, he added.

Medicinal leeches have been found to secrete saliva containing 60 different proteins. These achieve a wide variety of goals useful to the leech as it feeds, helping to keep the blood in liquid form and increasing blood flow in the affected area. Several of these secreted proteins serve as anticoagulants, platelet aggregation inhibitors and vasodilators. It is also thought that the saliva contains an anesthetic, as leech bites are generally not painful.

 Toxic Leeches

Khodadoust warned about toxic leeches and their harmful effects to health. “Leeches are not toxic by nature. The ‘toxic leech’ is infected by microbe or virus (usually they become infected in farms) so it can be pathogenic.

In the case of using unsanitary and infected leeches, some problems including skin irritation, hives (with itching and inflammation) may occur. Infected leeches can also cause other problems like coagulation disorders. As leech salvia contains anticoagulant, it may not be suitable for everyone.

In addition, as leech feed from blood which contains CO2, it can improve blood quality and circulation.