The idea of imbibing blood conjures up images of savagery, pagan rites, and uncivilized people living long ago who believed that drinking blood would heal their diseases and make them strong.
Now, creepy though it seems at first pass, medical science has shown that there may be something to the idea of "consuming" blood to strengthen yourself. But fortunately, you don’t need to slay a dragon or become a vampire to reap the benefits — it’s your own blood that does the healing, and you can inject it rather than drink it to enjoy the effects.
Two new treatments, called "platelet-rich plasma" (PRP) and "autologous conditioned plasma" (ACP), use a patient’s own blood to heal injured tissue by injecting the blood directly into the site of the injury. Doctors for major sports teams have been experimenting with ACP and PRP as an alternative to surgery to expedite the healing of injuries such as torn ligaments and tendonitis. In the recent Super Bowl, for instance, two players from the Pittsburgh Steelers had PRP treatments before the big game — a game that otherwise they probably couldn’t have participated in. Steelers receiver Hines Ward had ACP for a sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee, while all-pro safety Troy Polamalu underwent the procedure for a strained calf. Also to date, a major-league pitcher and at least at least 20 pro soccer players have been healed using these techniques.
The principle centers on the fact that blood naturally rushes to an injury in order to heal it. The PRP process begins by drawing a small amount of blood from the patient, and then processing the blood in a high-speed centrifuge in order to separate out red-blood cells from platelets. Since the platelets release proteins and have exceptional healing qualities, the physician then injects about a teaspoon or so of the platelet-rich substance into the patient’s damaged area in order to "kick-start" the body’s own healing process.
According to Dr. Scott Rodeo, the physician for the New York Giants, the platelets build a platform upon which new tissue can form while at the same time, they "turn on cells" chemically so that the cells begin the healing process. Dr. Rodeo warns that much more research is needed before ACP and PRP become widely available. "We don’t know, for instance, should we do more than one injection? We don’t know the best timing for an injection — the healing cascades are different between day one, day three and day five," he said. Currently, only a few clinics in the US offer the treatments, but the preliminary results certainly seem promising.
For instance, in one study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, 15 patients received a PRP treatment for tennis elbow and reaped a 60 percent improvement, compared to five control patients who experienced only a 16 percent improvement after receiving just a pain-killer without PRP. Dr. Michael Gerhardt, a team physician for major league soccer, estimates that those players to whom he gives PRP therapy reduce their recovery time by 25-30 percent.
The procedure certainly isn’t foolproof. The failure rate currently is between 20 to 40 percent and according to Dr. Nick Shamie of UCLA, in his work on spinal fusion patients, he found that PRP didn’t do a thing to regenerate bone. Nevertheless, other studies using PRP to heal rotator cuff injuries, sprained ligaments, and fractures have yielded impressive results, and certainly there’s enough evidence that the procedure does work often enough in treating soft-tissue injuries to recommend it over the traditional drugs and surgery route.
The injection takes only 20 minutes, leaves no scar, and just about eliminates the risk of infection. Compare that to orthopedic surgery, which can involve months of healing, ugly scars, and enough chance of infection that you have to take antibiotics to protect yourself…and then suffer the effects of those drugs. Plus, PRP costs five to seven times less than surgery. Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections, which also commonly get prescribed for injuries, come with a potpourri of potential systemic side effects, unlike platelet treatments.
As PRP researcher and advocate Dr. Allan Mishra of Stanford Medical Center says, "It’s a better option for problems that don’t have a great solution — it’s nonsurgical and uses the body’s own cells to help it heal. I think it’s fair to say that platelet-rich plasma has the potential to revolutionize not just sports medicine but all of orthopedics. It needs a lot more study, but we are obligated to pursue this."
And there you have it — voices from mainstream medicine touting what the natural healers have been saying for centuries–the body has its own innate wisdom and is its own best healer. Or as they say in Transylvania: "Dracula knows best."
Jenny Thompson is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Through HSI, she and her team uncover important health information and expose ridiculous health misinformation, most notably through the HSI e-Alert.
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