Can hundreds of leeches, several of them placed inside the vagina, cure pre-cancerous uterine fibroids by cauterization, increase you chance of getting pregnant, facilitate breastfeeding, promote milk production, give you more energy and better skin, more regular periods, and longer and more intense orgasms? Or is this just another bullshit alternative medicine “treatment” without any published scientific evidence whatsoever that, no pun intended, parasitizes on real science that support leech treatment for a certain limited range conditions?
What are leeches?
Leeches are a group of annelid worms and some of their members, like Hirudo medicinalis, feast on the blood of its victims, including humans. In ancient times, leeches were used in a primitive pseudomedical context resembling bloodletting. The evils that caused a particular disease was thought to reside in the blood and if you got rid of a lot of the blood, you would get rid of the evils. Today, we know that such fake “treatments” are likely to be very dangerous and could kill the patient and so bloodletting is no longer practices.
Why are leeches used in modern medicine?
However, modern medicine has found an unlikely use of leeches. Some medical procedures, particularly related to reconstructive surgeries, benefit from bleeding in order to reduce swelling and prevent clotting because the saliva of leeches contain both anticoagulants. The core protein that performs this function is called hirudin and can now be mass-produced through genetic engineering whereby a corresponding DNA sequence is put into a vector which is then introduced microorganisms that are then grown in fermenters and the subsequent protein is then isolated.
What is the background story of the woman who put leeches in her vagina?
Nina Evans is a woman from the United Kingdom who was diagnosed with uterine myoma (also know as a fibroids) likely around the year 2010. Her doctors claimed that she needed a radical hysterectomy. Evans, who wanted to get another child, refused and instead opted for an untested procedure involving putting leeches up the vagina. The mainstream medical treatment today is to use focused ultrasound to kill the cells in the fibrous growth while the patient is inside an MRI machine so that the doctors can get a live feed and follow the procedure in real-time. Since we do not know the precise year, it is unclear if this treatment was available at the time.
The story is mostly covered by lower tier newspapers in the United Kingdom.
Why did Evans embrace leeches in the vagina?
Like many proponents of alternative medicine, it was not due to published peer-reviewed scientific research:
‘I chose leeches because I was born in Lithuania and leech therapy is used for a whole range of illnesses, she said.
‘They’re considered a general cure for all, and I knew from experience, having had leech treatment before, that it gave you more energy and a more positive outlook.
In other words, she became a believer because of alleged cultural immersion, the belief that it is a miracle treatment that cures everything and the anecdotal evidence that she experienced “more energy” and “positive outlook” after being “treated” with it before.
Right about now, gigantic skeptical sirens should be going off: her description is classic quackery. Also note that there is no reference to mainstream medicine or published research whatsoever.
What happened? Did she get pregnant?
Yes, but only after several, several months:
After eight months of having her blood sucked, Nina was amazed to find she was pregnant with her son Noel at the age of 45.
The treatment took eight months to work? That does not sound like an effective treatment and the time it took sounds more like she got pregnant due to trying for a very long time. It is also important to keep in mind that diagnoses are never 100% perfect and some medical problems undergo spontaneous remission. Furthermore, some of the news items talk about a medical treatment not involving surgery, so it is unclear if she had any science-based medicine treatment in conjunction with the leeches. It is often typical for proponents of alternative medicine to use both scientific medicine and quackery, and then when the get better, they attribute it all to the fake “treatments”. Without additional detail, it is hard to know exactly what happened, but her argument seems like a textbook case of the fallacy post hoc, whereby B follows A in time (in this cause it is not even a good temporal association), and the person says that A must have caused B.
What did Evans think happened?
Evans thinks she knows the mechanism by which the leeches in the vagina “treatment” worked:
‘Over a period of one month I started having more energy, my complexion cleared and I hoped the leeches were also helping to cauterize or cut the blood flow to the fibroid,’ she said.
So she allegedly experienced improvements in continuous and subjective measures that are very sensitive to placebo effects: more energy and better complexion. What is worse, she thinks this is because the leeches “cauterize the blood flow” to the fibroids. This is another classic pseudoscientific technique known as abusing scientific language. Cauterization means that you burn tissue in order to alleviate e. g. bleeding. So how does Evans think that leeches that suck blood from her can use fire? As if that was not absurd enough, she seems to think that leeches “cut” blood flow, but what they do is promote bleeding. So tissues bleed more, not less. This reveals a staggering ignorance of the basic biology of leeches.
More bizarre claims: better orgasms and milk production
Evans claims not only that she got pregnant thanks to the leeches, but that it also helped her in more…intimate situations:
Whatsmore [sic], Nina, who is originally from Lithuania, claims the treatment also gave her better, prolonged orgasms as well as helping her increase her breast milk production.
‘Within seven days I noticed a difference. I was feeling better, had more energy and over the next couple of months my periods became more accurate.’
She said: ‘I also noticed my orgasms were longer and more intense some of the best I have ever had after each internal leech therapy.
As with many fake alternative “treatments”, the claimed benefits becomes even more elaborate: better orgasms, longer orgasms, more breast milk, and more regular periods. Again, subjective and continuous measures that are sensitive to placebo effects. Why would vaginal bleeding give you more breast milk? What is the mechanisms? She does not say, and probably cannot say. Balderdash.
Yes she is not done. Here is how she describes her work:
Nina is now one of the top female pioneers in modern leech therapy and helped the British Association of Hirudotherapy gain government recognition as a valid complimentary therapy organisation.
She said: “I am so committed to leech therapy that I am researching as many modern ways to use leeches.
“I am an educated woman, I travel the world teaching people how to use leech therapy and it may sound crazy but I am convinced the leeches have helped give my reproductive system a re-boot, taking it back to my 20s.”
Setting aside the hilarious irony that the news papers claim she helped her association become a “valid complimentary therapy organization” in the eyes of the U. K. government (which probably refers to getting her organization on the list of “professional associations” list for The General Regulatory Council for Complementary Therapies), it reeks of the standard “I have done by research” claim that, when laid bare, involves attending “Google University” by doing a lot of internet searches, reading blogs and so on without any actual research done.
So where is the evidence? Turns out, there is none!
So what is the scientific evidence that supports her claims? Turns out, there is none whatsoever. Searching Pub Med for leech conception, leech pregnancy or leech orgasm reveals no relevant clinical trials. There were also no Cochrane reviews on these topics and she has no published papers to her name in journals that are accessible via Pub Med.
So there is no solid scientific foundation for her claims about leeches, conception and orgasms.
Evans even subject her six-year-old child to leeches for non-medical issues
Like many promoters of quack “treatments”, Evans lets her obsession impact loves ones:
‘I know that without leeches I would not have been given the chance to have my son Noel at 45 and that is just the start of what they can do. I even use them on my six-year-old to treat bumps and bruises,’ she said.
‘Leeches are a natural fertility treatment and if my son gets sick with something that leeches are known for helping cure, I use them on him.
‘When he has a fall like toddlers and little boys do and he gets a bump, I immediately put a leech on and the bruising and swelling is much less than without the treatment. ‘
Believe it or not, she claims to subject her child to leech parasitism for almost anything: any bruise, bump or illness. If she wants to put leeches on herself because of her deluded beliefs that it facilitates pregnancy or gives you better orgasms, no one can stop her. But immediately forcing her fake “treatments” on her son for just about anything, including mild nuisances, is beyond the pale.
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