Leeches And Arthritis Pain; Old Facts And New Insights

Leeches have been used for centuries, particularly in Europe, for the treatment of chronic conditions and for arthritis pain. A group of researchers under Dr. Gustav J. Dobos from the University of Essen (Kliniken Essen-Mitte) in Germany published a paper in the Nov. 4, 2003 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine (Ann Intern Med 2003;139:724-730,781-783) about the use of leeches in osteoarthritis, and particularly with knee arthritis.

In a randomized trial that lasted 91 days the researchers applied 4 to 6 leeches once to the knees of one group of 24 patients and used conventional diclofenac gel topical applications twice daily in a matched control group. On average the leeches fell off after 70 minutes. A simple pain score (Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) visual analog scale pain scores) was used to quantitate the pain that the patients experienced in both groups. I have tabulated the results after 7 days of therapy and included the relative improvement in the pain score here, based on their data.

Leeches And Arthritis Pain; Old Facts And New Insights

Leeches And Arthritis Pain; Old Facts And New Insights

According to Dr. Dobos there are powerful anti-inflammatories and hyaluronidase in the saliva of the leeches that have not been defined further. Now that these initial investigations have shown a more than 3-fold beneficial effect of the leeches versus conventional anti-inflammatory therapy for osteoarthritis, it is the intention of the group to define the active pharmaceutical ingredient from the leeches further.

Relief from osteoarthritis knee pain using leeches or diclofenac
Arthritis therapy: WOMAC
pain scores improved…
Relative improvement
of pain score:
leeches (applied
from 19
to 52
diclofenac gel
(twice per day for 28 days)
from 42
to 52

Apart from pain control other beneficial effects such as improvements in ranges of motion, swelling and inflammation were also noted, again more so in the group treated with leeches. However, leeches have the disadvantage that they puncture the skin and that they can transmit infections (from Aeromonas hydrophila). It is hoped that in future medication can be developed from this line of work that can be taken in pill form without the dangers of applying leeches.

Here is a link to a review of osteoarthritis from the Net Health Book.

Last edited October 26, 2014


Allergies, Asthma And Diabetes All Helped By Fish Oil

Cod liver oil was what your grandmother told you to take. It turns out she was right as two studies from Manchester/England and Boston/US have shown. The common denominator are omega-3-fatty acids, which are found in fish oil, cod liver oil, mackerel, salmon and other fish, generally speaking all sea food that feasts on plankton.

1. A prospective study with a cohort of 1100 children from before their birth until their 5th birthday, which will be next year, is being conducted in Manchester/England.

A smaller pilot study with 37 children (4-year-olds from this cohort) was recently analyzed as reported in Denver by Dr. Clare Murray, a pediatric lung specialist from the University of Manchester. The investigators have done detailed diet analyses with the help of the parents. They found that children with severe asthma were taking in a lot less omega-3-fatty acids than a healthy control group. Further analysis showed that the asthmatic group took in a lot of the inflammation provoking omega-6-fatty acids, whereas the control group had a much better balance between these two unsaturated fatty acids. Apparently it is the ratio between omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids that determines whether the prostaglandin metabolism is switched versus pro-inflammatory (ratio more than 3 to 1) or versus anti-inflammatory (ratio 3 to1 or less). This article can be found in the Medical Post, Vol39, No.17 (page 19), April 29, 2003.

2. Another study is mentioned on the same page of the Medical Post: Dr. Frank Hu from the Harvard School of Public Health is the lead author of a study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. 5103 female nurses with established type 2 diabetes have been followed for about 18 years and their medical histories, life styles and eating habits were updated every two years.

Allergies, Asthma And Diabetes All Helped By Fish Oil

Allergies, Asthma And Diabetes All Helped By Fish Oil

In the beginning of the study every patient was free of heart disease and cancer. The big surprise was that eating fish 5 times per week diminished the risk for developing heart disease by 65%. Even the women in the study who ate fish once or twice per week had 40% less heart disease than those who did not eat fish. In addition, fish eaters survived those who were not fish eaters much better (lower mortality). Controls of women without diabetes who ate fish five times per week had also a reduction of heart disease by 35% compared to non fish eating controls. Dr. Hu stated that it is the omega-3 fatty acids in fish that are the active ingredient. They are known to reduce irregular heart beats (arrhythmias) that can lead to sudden death. Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce blood fat levels (triglycerides), clot formation and improve blood vessel function. He also noted that both genders have the same benefit (no difference between male and female), just that the study was done on female nurses.

Comments: For your information the table below shows what foods contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in our food
Type of unsaturated fatty acid: Foods that contain this type of unsaturated fatty acid:
omega-3 fatty acid flaxseed oil, walnuts, macadamia nuts, fishoil, canola oil, mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna and most cold water fish
omega-6-fatty acid corn oil, cotton seed oil, grape seed oil, safflower oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil

In the past 50 years the food industry has changed the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in many common foods to the point that the ratios are now 12 to 1 and up to 25 to 1. It is cheaper to produce these foods in that manner as they often have a longer shelve life. Read food labels. Inform yourself about omega-3 fatty acids. Take 2 capsules of a high strength, molecularly distilled (to remove PCB’s, mercury and other heavy metals) fish oil once per day and include more fish in your meals. Avoid deep fried foods, as they contain omega-6 fatty acids.

Here are some links explaining this more:

Link about balanced nutrition.

More details about fat and fatty acids.

Last edited October 26, 2014


A Slipped Disc…Do Surgery

In the Dec.31, 2002 edition of the Medical Post a report of the recent North American Spine Society’s annual meeting in Montreal was entitled: “Aggressive approach to slipped discs needed”. A ground breaking study from England was presented that will change the attitude of many physicians about “slipped discs”.

Discs in the lower back do not really “slip”. The disc can bulge, protrude or herniate. In the center of the disc is a more liquid part (nucleus pulposus), which can leak out when the fibrotic shell of the disc tears.

This occurs commonly with aging and also with obesity. Dr. Keith Greenfield from the University of Bristol presented data together with the Walton Neurosurgery Centre in Liverpool showing that the borderline cases (“bulging discs”)that previously were treated without surgery do much better when early surgery is done (discectomy). This is a shift for many European countries and Commonwealth countries including Canada. In the US back surgeons always had a higher surgical rate as MRI scans have been used much earlier as the standard and the hidden minor disc protrusions and bulging discs are visualized earlier. Dr. Greenfield’s study involves 88 patients who belong into the group of patients who are borderline cases between those who definitely need surgery because of a sciatic nerve compression and those who do not need surgery (normal MRI scan). Clinically the “slipped disc” group (with disc bulges) has moderate back pain and some pain that radiates into the leg.

A Slipped Disc...Do Surgery

A Slipped Disc…Do Surgery

They have moderate disabilities with problems of walking, sitting, travelling and standing. The investigators treated half of the patients with microdiscectomy and the other half with conservative treatment (physiotherapy etc.). One year after the surgery a large percentage of them had returned to work and are feeling fine. The control group is quite the opposite: a large percentage of them has slipped into total disability that makes it impossible for them to return to work. Many have entered into chronic pain syndromes that might keep them disabled for a long time. The study is ongoing and the group will report about the two year follow-up point in Vancouver/B.C./Canada in May 2003 at a conference of the International Society for the Study of the Lumbar Spine. For now it seems that microdiscectomy is the treatment of choice in the bordrline cases of disc bulges and mild disc protrusions.

Comments: The rate of back surgery in the US has been 10 times that in England. Perhaps it is time that back surgery is being standardized and MRI scans are done routinely in every more significant back case to find out what’s going on earlier in the course of back pain. The direction medicine is going is that back pain that persists for more than 1 month likely should be MRI scanned. In case of a positive finding (bulge, protrusion or disc herniation), this study suggests that doing a microdiscectomy would be the new standard of therapy. Early mobilisation is the other key, which sports medicine physicians have been aware of and used for the last decade. If it’s good for athletes, it is likely good for the public at large.

Other link: Low back pain.

Last edited December 10, 2012


Vertebroplasty And Kyphoplasty: Are These Procedures Safe?

These two orthopedic spinal reconstruction pocedures have become popular in the past few years. “Vertebroplasty” means doing a repair job on a damaged vertebral bone (spinal column bone). Originally this was developed for end stage cancer patients who had a single bone metastasis that led to a collapse of this vertebral bone. The difference in a good outcome of this procedure can mean the difference between being bedridden until death or walking and being active.

In a recent review of THE BACK LETTER (Vol.12, 12, Dec. 2002, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins), which critically reviews the literature regarding back pain and treatments, this procedure, even if successful, has not been researched long enough to be considered “standard therapy”. Many investigators report a success rate of 95% for compression fractures in patients with osteoporosis. But the FDA has warned that the bone cement that it used in this type of spinal surgery has never been properly investigaed for this application in non-cancer patients.

Nevertheless the technique of vertebroplasty has been clinically so impressive that those with severe kyphosis in the spine also wanted surgery. Kyphosis is a roundback in the mid spine area (thoracic spine) that can significantly interfere with normal posture, breathing action and cardiovascular functioning. Kyphoplasty is the procedure of repairing the curvature of the kyphosis, which consists usually of a series of several vertebral bodies with wedge shaped compression fractures in the thoracic spine. Often these patients are older and have osteoporosis.

Vertebroplasty And Kyphoplasty...Are These Procedures Safe...

Vertebroplasty And Kyphoplasty…Are These Procedures Safe…

THE BACK LETTER warns that the verdict on longterm follow-ups is not out. It may take a long time, even 10 to 15 years before this will become available as proper controlled studies have never been done. As the FDA link show, there can be serious life threatening complications from the procedure itself (spinal cord compression, respiratory arrest and death etc.). However, the longterm complications have not been reported properly as there is no longterm trial going on where the investigators would specifically concentrate on finding complications and untoward side-effects.

A well-designed multicenter trial regarding vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty is badly needed to answer these safety questions. Apparently efforts are on their way to attempt to do this.

Here is a link to my chapter on osteoporosis:

Last edited December 10, 2012

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