Leeches, a medical marvel in Tokyo.

Dr. Asenoff my doctor while I lived in Tokyo is a medical marvel himself still practicing at 95 years of age…I was very happy to find an English speaking doctor and one that was so worried about my health, especially my gout


However one day as I was getting yet another steroid shot to relieve the swelling from my monthly gout attack I noticed in his window a site that belonged in a scene from medieval ancient medicine, when doctors applied the worms to patients to ”cure” just about every condition and yes when the Druids danced by the light of the moon. But there they were, leeches in a Mason jar near stethoscopes, electronic devices and bottles of modern miracle drugs like Viagra and Prilosec.

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I asked him about the leeches and he told me that Japanese often apply leeches to their arms in the belief that their health will improve when their body produces a fresh supply of blood in response to the few ounces painlessly lost to the leeches. My doctor was using them to reduce swelling in some cases.

Leeches in modern medicine? A horrifying thought. I am sure in American medical school, nothing is taught about the use of leeches. All I remember about that visit to the doctor is that leeches are one of the most shocking examples of the cultural differences I found in Asia.

Well, I shouldn’t say too much about the cultural divide when even Demi Moore made a public declaration that she uses leeches to keep herself “looking fresh and feeling healthy.” While I don’t endorse the personal use of leeches Demi is a great case history and it seems that leeches in her case are medical marvels.

Today doctors actually do use leeches, as well as maggots, with great success. Surgeons, for instance, use medical leeches to remove blood from the site of skin grafts or reattached parts and to relieve congestion in the blood vessels.

The leeches used for medical purposes are a European variety called Hirudo Medicinalis and are raised on special leech farms. Sounds like science fiction or just fiction doesn’t it?

The Hirudo leech works some additional magic by secreting a chemical in its saliva that acts as an anti-coagulant to prevent blood clotting…hirudotherapy.