HEALTH TALK: Believe It or Not

Dr. Victor Emanuel MD

I may as well tell you straight off that this article is rated ‘ss’ for Strong Stomachs; if you don’t have one, don’t read it, otherwise everything in it is going to come back up. But considering that most of us probably eat and drink too much anyway, including those whose weight is already too much, maybe bringing some back up wouldn’t be so bad, after all.

It’s interesting how they say ‘once a man twice a child,’ because what I’ll be dealing with are topics that used to be treatments, at least some of them, hundreds and even thousands of years ago. But we all went into the era of turning up our noses at them and only wanted the most modern big country medicine. Now, we’re back, because we are realizing again the benefits of these off the wall treatments and how they work. So here goes.

Medicinal leeches (Hirudo medicinalis) have regained respect. These small slimy, blood- sucking animals that live in fresh water had been used for thousands of years, sucking blood of people in the hope of curing numerous ailments. The practice was considered an alternative to bloodletting (draining blood) and amputation. Today leeches are still used worldwide to heal wounds and restore circulation in blocked blood vessels, veins in particular. In fact, they are classified as bona fide medical devices which have, in fact, been commercially bred and marketed for a century and a half in France and other places.

Before antibiotics were developed, draining blood from the body was like the prescription for scores of serious illness. It worked sometimes, but not always. Infections caused by the bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus – or Staph for short – can seriously affect the blood, bones and lungs, the latter causing pneumonia. In recent years some Staph strains have learned to resist virtually everything we throw at them. (By the way, Staph lives harmlessly on the skin and in the nose of most people).

So, when our new – fanged antibiotics fail, time to call in the leeches.

You see, Staph thrives on iron compounds, scavenging it from animals (and humans) it infects, and it needs the iron to grow during infection. It prefers the kind of iron found in the heme molecule (think of hemoglobin or Hb) in the red blood cells that carry oxygen.

Bloodletting appears to starve Staph and slow its growth. Less blood, less heme, less Staph. Cool, huh? Of course, even in early days, only a small amount of blood would be drained; can’t bleed a person to death. So even now, leeches are used in a controlled manner to drain enough blood to control infections and unblock veins.

Maggots eat dead skin tissue, whether it’s on an animal in the bush or a living human being. In the early 20th century, maggots were used to treat human bone and tissue infections.

Welcome to Maggot Therapy. It involves larvae called Phaenica sericata. Larvae are the young forms. They are disinfected before use, so they won’t make an infection worse. They are placed on a wound twice a week and left there for 48 to 72 hours. They only eat the dead tissue we call slough, leaving healthy tissue intact. The process is called debridement.

The maggot larvae are thought to secret substances that fight infection.

In what is called Maggot Debridement Therapy, maggots are used to help clean up wounds, deep wounds, before surgery. It is found that it significantly decreases infection post-surgery, as opposed to when they are not used. With maggots, wound closure does not fall apart. Some folks with chronic, dirty ulcers that don’t seem to be getting anywhere with endless dressings may want to think about this and ask their surgeon about it. The only side effect is pain at the site, but this can easily be dealt with.

Most of us are either afraid of lizards or don’t even notice that they are around – in large numbers too. But what if I told you that a certain lizard, one we call
Gila monster, can be of great assistance to many of you who suffer from Diabetes, particularly Type II or Adult Onset Diabetes?

It’s true, people. From the saliva of this lizard is developed a drug called Exenatide which not only prevents the weight gain common in Diabetes, but it also helps to preserve insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, thus keeping your blood sugar under control. It also helps the body feel full after a meal. Only drawback is that it is given by injection twice a day.

In the intestine of humans is a chemical called GLP-1, the role of which is to help preserve insulin producing cells naturally and to assist the body’s tissues not to be resistant to insulin.

This Exenatide is a synthetic GLP-1 manufactured from the saliva of the Gila monster lizard. There is also a tablet called LAF237 which is developed from it. It prevents the action of an enzyme which breaks down GPL-1. So the more GPL-1, the more insulin there is in your body and the better it works. GLP-1 drugs are now widely used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Who would have imagined that the spit of a lizard would have medicinal use against an important disease like diabetes?

The worms that we try so desperately to treat in our children, even when we’re not sure they are there, have been around for 3 million years, and guess what? One third of the world’s population are carrying them with no problem at all.

As it turns out, they protect many of us in third world countries from developing certain diseases which are common in rich countries.

These diseases are called auto- immune diseases.

The immune system is that system in your body which fights against diseases, but sometimes it gets out of control and actually attacks the body to cause diseases.

Among these are Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which include ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease which cause, among other things, ulcers in the intestines, pain, and bleeding.

There is a worm called Trichuris suis, a whipworm found in the intestine of pigs (swine). It is called a whipworm because of the tail which can give you a serious lash. Just kidding, it’s too small to do that.

Taking a solution containing live worm eggs can help IBD. Not only that, but Lupus (SLE), Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Psoriasis. Of course, we’re looking into some others.

Now taking a solution containing thousands of eggs every two weeks will do wonders for IBD.

Pig whipworm causes no adverse effects in humans, because it is not recognized as foreign.

Quite simply, they secrete a substance that calms an overactive immune system. So auto- immune diseases are not manifested. Again, that is why many of these diseases are not known in many Third World Countries. Sanitation is poor, worms thrive, and they protect us. See? We always look for the worst in people and God’s creatures, but He put them all here for reasons. We just don’t always know those reasons.

Who would have thought that leeches, maggots, worms and lizards could be of such benefit to us humans? Next time you see or talk about these creatures of the Animal KINGDOM, do it with nuff respect and reverence.

See you next week.

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  1. November 10, 2014

    To Dr Emanuel .

    Hello and good evening my people. Thanks Dr Emanuel for this very informative article and I remember my mother told me about the use of Leeches. I would like to know if you are a medical Doctor with a specialty in Oriential Medicine. Thanks.

  2. conscious
    November 8, 2014

    As a child i learned about the maggots from my grand mother sister who had a leg with a deep scar. For many years i watched when she came by. Eventually she told the injury would not cure then the doctor put some “worms in a cloth and put it on the sore to eat the old flesh”.
    I also know of the leeches when they had injury that was not open but swollen with blood “san kia” they would put leeches on that area to drain out the blood. I also saw my grand father used a razor blade to cut open a swollen area took something like a small glass rinse it with alcohol, heat it up and turned it over on that area. I was and is still fascinated.

  3. Anonymous
    November 8, 2014

    Doc, just wondering whether you got to know this at med school or growing up with your granny or some elderly person. And I really remembering hearing about leeches but in a different forum

  4. Ideal
    November 8, 2014

    Dr, would you believe that here in Toronto Cda the LEECHES
    are used by some local Chinese Doctorts..I could not believe it until recently. I remember these being used in Dominica, I hope it is still being used as our grandparents used to swear of the good benefits of the use..Thanks for this article

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