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The Origin Of Apitherapy
Apitherapy, or ‘bee therapy’, is the medicinal use of products made by honey bees. The term is derived from the Latin word apis which means ‘bee’. Bee venom, honey, pollen and propolis are products derived from the honey bee.
- The roots of apitherapy can be traced back to more than 6000 years in ancient Egypt.1
- The Greeks and Romans also used bee products for medicinal purposes.1
- Hippocrates (460–370 BC), Aristotle (384–332 BC) and Galen (130–200 AD), prescribed the use of honey and bee venom as a cure for baldness.1
- In the year 1888, Austrian physician Phillip Terc initiated the modern study of bee venom when he published his article on “Report about a Peculiar Connection between the Bee Stings and Rheumatism”.
- The late Charles Mraz, a beekeeper from Vermont, popularized bee venom therapy over the past 60 years in the United States.
Honey bee venom is increasing in popularity as a promising therapy. Honey bee venom is produced in the abdomen of the worker bees. This venom is injected by the honey bee via its stinger. In apitherapy, bee venom is administered by needle or an actual bee sting.
How Does Apitherapy Work?
- Bee venom contains powerful anti-inflammatory substances, including adolapin and melittin.
- Mellitin is responsible for increasing the production of the steroid hormone cortisol and is said to be a hundred times more powerful than hydrocortisone.
- For this reason, bee venom is used in the treatment for conditions involving inflammation such as tendonitis, osteoarthritis, bursitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
What You Can Expect
Of all the different types of apitherapy, bee venom therapy is the most complex. Bee venom therapy needs to given by a trained practitioner. An allergy test is also required before beginning a course of treatment.
At a normal session, the bee venom is administered, either by needle or by bee sting close to the joint, muscle or other body part that needs treatment. The degree of discomfort experienced depends on how well you respond to the pain. Whether you receive bee venom by an injection or sting, you may feel some local discomfort—itching, soreness, inflammation or stiffness. If the practitioner is using actual bees to introduce the venom, the stingers will be removed from the skin shortly after the venom is administered.
For a less complicated condition, such as tendonitis, two to three sessions consisting of two to four stings per session would suffice. For a complex condition, such as multiple sclerosis, up to 3 sessions per week may be required for a period of six months or more.
For other forms of apitherapy, you do not have to consult a practitioner.
Royal jelly and bee pollen are available in over-the-counter (OTC) formulations such as powder, creams, capsules and lotions for topical or oral use. Propolis and honey could be easily found at your nearby health-food store.
Health Benefits Of Apitherapy
Clinical trials have proven the health benefits of bee venom. Because bee venom exhibits anti-inflammatory properties, it is commonly used to treat health conditions such as arthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, chronic back pain and neck pain. Bee venom also contains powerful enzymes that can break through scar tissue. Hence, some apitherapist use bee venom to flatten scars and lighten them.
Some benefits of bee venom therapy are as listed below.
1. Alleviates Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis And Osteoarthritis
Injections of a water-soluble bee venom formulation or Bee Venom Acupuncture (BVA), into specific acupuncture points may be more effective. In 2002, a study conducted in rats found that honey bee venom suppressed the erosion of joint cartilage and arthritic inflammation. In the year 2005, a review of 15 animal studies concerning the use of BVA for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis concluded that anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relieving) effects of BVA were effective in treating arthritis.2, 3, 4
2. Used For Desensitizing Patients With Bee Allergy
Bee venom therapy has demonstrated effectiveness in treating bee allergy and provides 98 to 99 percent protection from systemic reactions to bee stings. Studies also indicate that once immunotherapy is discontinued, the risk of systemic intervention over a five to ten year period is about 5 to 15 percent. FDA has approved bee venom therapy for the treatment of severe bee sting allergies.5, 6, 7, 8
3. Prevention And Treatment Of Cancer
Melittin present in bee venom was found to demonstrate anti-cancer activity. Melittin activates the production of cytokines, which improves immune function by destroying cancer cells. A review of studies evaluating the therapeutic use of apitherapy in treating cancer—in the year2006—found that bee venom has anti-cancer properties, specifically through the release of enzymes such as phospholipase (PLA2). These properties may prove beneficial in the treatment of prostate and breast cancer.9, 10
4. Treatment For Tendonitis And Bursitis
Recurring pressure and inflammation in the small sacs present in the elbow, knee and shoulder–called bursa–cause a condition called bursitis. Arthritis may also cause inflammation of bursa. Similar to the treatment for arthritis, the anti-inflammatory properties of bee venom may help treat bursitis and inflamed tendons (tendonitis).
How To Choose A Practitioner
There is no licensing body or an organization which grants credentials to apitherapists. Some physicians may themselves perform bee venom therapy. Some physicians may work alongside beekeepers who provide the bees and administer the stings under supervision. Getting a referral from a trusted healthcare practitioner, relative or friend is the best way to find an apitherapist.
- Professional supervision is advisable when you are on honey bee venom therapy.
- Health shakes may contain bee pollen or other bee products. Be sure to check the contents of the drink before consuming it. It may cause dangerous reaction if you are allergic to it.
- Avoid apitherapy if you have hypertension, tuberculosis, diabetes and heart disease.
- Hellner M, Winter D, von Georgi R, Münstedt K. Apitherapy: usage and experience in german beekeepers. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2008 Dec;5(4):475-9. doi: 10.1093/ecam/nem052. Epub 2007 Jun 30. PubMed PMID: 18955222; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2586305.
- Kwon YB, Lee HJ, Han JH, et al. The water-soluble fraction of bee venom produces antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects on rheumatoid arthritis in rats. Life Sci. 2002 May 31;71(2):191-204.
- Lee JD, Park HJ, Chae Y, Lim S. An Overview of Bee Venom Acupuncture in the Treatment of Arthritis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2005 Mar;2(1):79-84.
- Kang SS, Pak SC, Choi SH. The effect of whole bee venom on arthritis. Am J Clin Med. 2002;30(1):73-80.
- de Jong NW, Vermeulen AM, de Groot H. Allergy to bumblebee venom. III. Immunotherapy follow-up study (safety and efficacy) in patients with occupational bumblebee-venom anaphylaxis. Allergy 1999;54:980-4.
- Li JT, Yunginger JW. Management of insect sting hypersensitivity. Mayo Clinic Proc. 1992;67:188-94.
- Golden DB, Kagey-Sobotka A, Lichtenstein LM. Survey of patients after discontinuing venom immunotherapy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2000;105(2 Pt 1):385-90.
- Hebel SK, ed. Drug Facts and Comparisons. 52nd ed. St. Louis: Facts and Comparisons, 1998.
- Bomalaski JS, Ford T, Hudson AP, Clark MA. Phospholipase A2-activating Protein induces the synthesis of IL-1 and TNF in human monocytes. J Immunol. 1995;154:4027-31.
- Son DJ, Lee JW, Lee YH, et al. Therapeutic applications of anti-arthritis, pain-releasing, and anti-cancer effects of bee venom and its constituent compounds. Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Aug;115(2):246-70. Epub 2007 May 6.