This week the NZ Herald is running a series on “alternative relaxation and therapies”. They promise:
Tuesday: Greek leech therapy
Wednesday: Korean jimjjilbang
Thursday: Indian ayurveda
Friday: Thai yoga massage
Saturday: Japanese ganbanyoku
So starting with the little suckers… Lincoln Tan tells us all about leech therapy and introduces ‘Dr’ Medhi Jaffari
who says medical leeches can treat problems ranging from arthritis, diabetes, endometriosis, hepatitis and high blood pressure to bronchitis.
He even claims to treat cancer on his website.
I agree with Mr Jaffari. Leeches are amazing. Their saliva contains a cocktail of medicinally useful bioactive molecules (1) from a natural anaesthetic, antibacterial compounds, anti-inflammatory agents and anticoagulants. No wonder the medicinal leech is currently being used in a narrow range of well-defined and scientifically-grounded clinical applications, including reconstructive surgery and trauma cases (2). But not cancer. Or hepatitis.
So I’ve written a letter to the editor:
It is disappointing to see the Herald running a series on alternative therapies this week. I wouldn’t object if the series did not stray into presenting the therapies as medical treatments, but in the very first installment we had Mr Medhi Jaffari presenting the use of leeches as treatment for an array of diseases, including bronchitis and hepatitis. It was also surprising, given the media’s usual requirement for balance, that no mention was made of the risks of leech therapy which can include infection and excessive bleeding. Today, the medicinal leech is used in reconstructive surgery and trauma cases, with the leeches considered as biohazardous waste and destroyed after use. I hope this is also the case in Mr Jaffari’s North Shore clinic, so as not to run any risks of spreading blood-borne infections like HIV and hepatitis between his clients.
Leaving leeches behind, Wednesday’s installment moved on to the Korean jjimjilbang. Lincoln Tan started off well but then couldn’t resist imbuing his article with reason-defying hocum (heated baths circulating magnetic waves?) and that old chestnut of “flushing out toxins”. I wait with bated breathe for the installment on Ayurveda.
As Tim Minchin so eloquently put it, what do you call alternative medicine that works? Medicine.
Somehow I doubt it will be the only one I write this week!