Bloodletting, in one form or another, has been around for thousands of years, and until 2004 when the FDA approved Medical Leech Therapy, it was frowned upon in the west. The thought of leeches sucking your blood may send shivers up your spine, but before you cast judgment on a thousand-year-old therapy backed by plenty of good science, hear me out!
Thousands of years ago, Ayurvedic texts described the use of leeches and other bloodletting techniques as a way to cleanse the blood. Leech therapy has been used ever since and, today, it is growing in popularity.
Originally, the technique was called raktamokshana, and it is still considered one of the five most powerful Ayurvedic detoxification techniques. While many bloodletting techniques were employed, such as venous puncture with cow horns, gourd puncture, thorn drainage and scraping of skin, the most common was leeches. (1) The puncture techniques using thorns, gourds, and horns are not too far off from the techniques used today during blood donation.
The Difference between Medical Leech Therapy and Donating Blood
While donating blood may be a requirement for optimal health and longevity for many people, as I will discuss below, medical leech therapy may offer an added benefit specifically for the lymphatic system.
Leech saliva has been found to deliver many health-promoting bio-chemicals, including a variety of bioactive peptides and proteins responsible for anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulation effects, analgesic factors to minimize discomfort, antiplatelet agents to thin the toxic blood, direct factor Xa inhibitors to prevent clotting, as well as antibacterial agents. (3)
Medical leech therapy is called Hirudotherapy, named after a species of leech called Hirudo medicinalis. One of the primary chemicals leeches secrete is called hirustan. This chemical is responsible for the regulation of blood pressure, inflammation, swelling and coagulation of the blood, and lymph flow. (4)
After leech therapy, there is slight bleeding and a oozing or sweating of lymphatic fluid.
Patients with phlebitis (vein inflammation) who received topical leeching exhibited better walking ability, less pain, and minor leg swelling, along with near-normal leg skin color. Many therapists used leeches for the healing of hypertension, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, arthritis, and dermatitis. (3) Modern medical leech therapy has been studied and used for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, infections, dental concerns, post-plastic surgery, arthritis, hemorrhoids, hearing loss, tinnitus and pain relief. (3,4) Ayurvedic leech therapy use throughout the ages was indicated for most of the now-approved medical usages. (5,6,7,8)
Who Should Consider Donating Blood?
Some of you may be in need of losing some excess blood and have no idea how beneficial regular blood donation can be for you. While iron deficiency is a real health concern, on the other end of the spectrum, there are rising incidences of iron insufficiency or excess iron in the blood.
One major benefit of donating blood is that it lowers the stored iron (ferritin) and the iron content in the blood. Even high-normal levels of iron in the blood can cause numerous health concerns. (9) Iron is easily oxidized and can increase free radical damage, much like how rust can erode the metal of a car.
High iron and high ferritin have been linked to increased risk of diabetes, cognitive decline, numerous cancers, obesity, as well as heart, liver, nervous system, reproductive and hormonal concerns. (9,10,11,12,13,14,15)
High iron has been linked to the following symptoms: (16)
- Joint pain
- Bronze or gray skin color
- Irregular heart beat
- Abdominal pain
- Heart flutters
- Brain fog, poor memory
Donating blood on a regular basis is one of the best ways to remove any potentially damaging iron from your blood, and it could save the life of another person!
Studies show that postmenopausal women have greater cancer risk after the stop of menstruation, suggesting that when they stop eliminating excess iron monthly, there is an increased degenerative process. (13) Many experts suggest that the menstrual cycle of women, which efficiently removes excess iron from the blood, may be linked to the longer life expectancy of women compared to men. (16)
Men with high iron stores have been shown to have more than two times the risk of getting diabetes, and men who regularly donate blood are shown to have a decreased risk of diabetes with age. (16) A possible risk factor for colon cancer could be the consumption of red meat, which is high in iron. (17) One study showed that regular blood donors saw a 23% decrease in cancers across the board. (18)
Get the Correct Iron Blood Test
Serum ferritin is the most important test to ask for when it comes to testing iron, but it is not commonly performed.
Ferritin is the stored form of iron. If this number is high, even if the serum iron or blood iron is normal, you are still at risk because the stored iron can still do damage. The goal for ferritin levels is 20-80ng/mL, but below 20 indicates chronic iron deficiency. (16)
If your levels are above 100ng/mL, consider donating blood and reducing the amount of high-iron foods you consume. Also, avoid excess amounts of vitamin C, which helps iron absorb into the blood.
Serum iron, which is the amount of iron circulating in the blood, should be between 60-170 mcg/dL.
TBIC or total iron binding capacity, which measures the ability to carry or transport iron, should be between 240-450mcg/dL.
Chelation is the process of removing heavy metals from the bloodstream by means of a chelate: a food or nutritional agent that attaches and removes heavy metals from the body. I recommend doing an oral chelation regimen once per year for one month. This can be performed with Chelation Support, found in the LifeSpa online store. Whenever using herbal chelators, always supplement with a highly absorbable mineral supplement to ensure mineral replenishment, as any chelator will also pull minerals from the body.
The most effective natural chelators are:
- Chlorella – chelates lead
- Cilantro – chelates mercury
- Garlic – chelates lead, cadmium and mercury
- Alpha lipoic acid – chelates copper, cadmium, arsenic, mercury
- EDTA – chelates lead, mercury, cadmium, aluminum
- Shilajit – chelates cadmium and lead
A Hair Analysis Test is an inexpensive way to measure long-term heavy metal accumulation.