The animal kingdom is full of creepy, slimy, nasty-looking creatures – and many of them can save your life. Doctors are incorporating nature’s weirdest animals in unorthodox treatments drawn from ancient healing methods, Eastern medicines and medical testing, developing new ways to heal patients.
Learn more about how your least-favorite animals are curing illnesses below.
You read that correctly – flies’ hatched eggs hold powerful healing properties. Before the invention of penicillin and other antibiotics, maggots cleaned wounds and cured gangrene, eating away dead flesh and leaving behind healthy skin ready to heal itself.
On World’s Weirdest, Dr. David Armstrong uses maggots to save the foot of a man with diabetes. “We have nothing better to actually clean up a wound than larvae, than maggots,” says Dr. Armstrong. Under his care, the maggots worked on the man’s foot in danger of amputation, removing only the infected tissue to facilitate healing.
Myth has it that beekeepers rarely suffer from joint pain. Accodring to Chris Kleronomos of the Comprehensive Pain Center in Salem, Oregon, this isn’t just coincidence. An estimated 65,000 people use bee sting therapy in the U.S. to treat conditions like chronic pain and multiple sclerosis. While other bee-related remedies like honey and wax can help with healing, the venom is the most potent, releasing a powerful inflammation reducer.
Kleronomos specializes in bee venom therapy, treating sufferers of chronic pain by exposing them to bee stings. For many patients, the stings work – and their mild irritation and swelling is far preferable to other side effects of more heavy-duty pain meds.
3. Intestinal worms
Thanks to the growth of sanitation, the industrialized world has largely eliminated humans’ exposure to helminths. However, not every medical expert believes this hyper-sanitation is a good thing. One in five Americans suffer from autoimmune disorders, and Dr. Joel Weinstock believes intestinal worms are the key to remedying diseases like Crohn’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Type I diabetes.
His hunch that parasites can help the human body may be supported by science. In one clinical study, 21 out of 29 Crohn’s patients actually experienced remission when taking whipworm eggs. Additionally, while the practice is illegal in the U.S, Dr. Jorge Llamas treats patients in Mexico suffering from asthma with hookworms, the larvae traveling through the lungs and body and potentially boosting patients’ immune systems.
The newest trend in pedicures may involve some fish-to-foot contact. Yvonne Le’s Day Spa in Arlington, Virginia is one such practice that uses minnows known as Garra Rufa to exfoliate patients’ dry skin. The tiny, toothless carp don’t eat human skin, but rather mimic foraging for algae by gnawing on and peeling off patients’ skin. Then, the fish lather their feet with a saliva believed to contain healing enzymes, leaving skin soft and smooth
Banned in several US states for sanitation concerns, the minnow pedicure is growing in popularity in countries including Japan, France and England. And in Turkey, the native country of the Garra Rufa, psoriasis sufferers visit the selenium-rich pools of the minnows for natural full-body exfoliating.
Leeches, known for their use in ancient healing methods, aren’t just a relic of medieval times. The blood-sucking worms are growing in popularity in contemporary medicine for their remarkable powers, able to produce a secretion that stops blood from clotting.
Dr. Harry Hoyen practices at Cleveland’s MetroHealth Medical Center, one of over a thousand hospitals in the world that use leeches. He uses leeches to aid with finger reattachment surguries, letting leeches suck the blood of wounded fingers until the veins heal.
It’s an undisputed fact that snakebites can kill. However, doctors are working to derive medicines from deadly venom to treat other serious medical conditions. One such physician is Dr. Sean Bush, a snake bite specialist who develops and tests anti-venoms, or medications derived from snakes’ poisonous secretions. “Snake venom is being used in lots of conditions and mainly big conditions that affect us like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, pain,” he says. “Venom can be used for almost all the major scourges on our health.”
From medicine derived from Malayan pit viper venom used to break up stoke-causing blood clots to diabetes drugs containing toxins from beaded lizards, the dangerous powers of venom are being harnessed to save lives. The venom of the banana spider may even hold the cure for erectile dysfunction.
Learn all about the natural world’s grossest healing methods on an all-new World’s Weirdest tonight at 9P.