Ichthyotherapy ("Doctor Fish")
Ichthyotherapy, or "Fish Therapy," is the use of certain species of fish (most famously Garra rufa) to treat wounds and exfoliative skin conditions like psoriasis. Fish are also used currently for pedicures and massage therapy.
This page describes the following issues:
Garra ruffa and Cyprinion macrostomus are the two most common “Doctor Fish” used to treat skin conditions. They normally inhabit waterways in the Tigris-Euphrates basin in Western Asia, but their wild populations are in decline. Now, most of them live and breed in the outdoor pools of some Turkish spas, where they feed on the skin of patients with psoriasis.
These fish only consume the dry, scaly of skin, leaving behind the younger skin cells. This skin-feeding behavior fully manifests only under conditions where the food supply is somewhat scarce and unpredictable.
Doctor fish spa resorts are located in countries around the globe. These treatment centers are meant to alleviate symptoms, but some patients have experienced complete remission of their psoriasis after repeated treatments. Several U.S. states and Canadian provinces have banned ichthyotherapy parlors as unsanitary, since the doctor fish, which feed on one person afrer another, cannot be sanitized and are too expensive to throw away after treatment.
Clinical Practice of Ichthyotherapy
Fish therapy is spreading rapidly throughout the world, especially Asia. Many local and visiting customers visit salons and “Doctor Fish baths.” Ichythyotherapy has even become a party treat at birthdays, anniversaries, and other celebrations.
Only a few centers exist in Europe and North America, where public health authorities have closed many salons due to concerns about the potential for the spread of communicable diseases due to customers sharing the same fish.
Thus far, clinical outcomes of ichthyotherapy for psoriasis look very good; but there are no controlled scientific studies as yet.
The BTER Foundation is currently organizing clinical studies. If you would like to participate in a study (as a collaborating researcher or as a subject), please contact us.
Related Topics, Links and References
Note that these and other references will soon be available to members, through our virtual library service. You may also visit our more extensive References and Clinical Studies page for ichthyotherapy here.
We direct our readers to the following sites for more information:
- M. Grassberger & W. Hoch: Ichthyotherapy as Alternative Treatment for Patients with Psoriasis: A Pilot Study.
We are in the process of assembling a searchable database of ichthyotherapists. Anyone with interest, knowledge or experience with ichthyotherapy is encouraged to contact the Foundation to help assemble and/or join this referral list.