Apitherapy, also known as bee venom therapy, is the use of beehive products, including honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom in the treatment of health conditions. Bee venom is considered a rich source of enzymes, peptides and biogenic amines. It is a colorless clear liquid characterized by a sweet taste. Bee venom is soluble in water and insoluble in alcohol and ammonium sulfate. When bee venom comes in contact with air it forms grayish-white crystals.
Report about a Peculiar Connection Between the Beestings and Rheumatism, published by the physician Phillip Terc, sparked the modern use of bee venom to alleviate physical illnesses in 1888. More recently, Charles Mraz popularized bee venom therapy as a treatment for many autoimmune disorders until his death in 1997.
Depending on the disease that is being treated, bee venom can be used in a cream, liniment, ointment or injection form. Bee venom solutions are also used in Europe and China with electroporesis or ultrasonophoresis.
The most common conditions treated with apitherapy are multiple sclerosis and arthritis, but the condition that has the most scientific evidence supporting the use of apitherapy is post-herpetic neuralgia (herpes zoster pain).
Bee venom is hemorrhagic (causes bleeding) unlike snake venom, which causes blood to clot. Bee venom contains 18 different compounds that all possess pharmaceutical properties. These compounds include, but are not limited to, apamine, melittin, phospholipase, and hyaluronidase. These compounds have the ability to block or inhibit the nervous system, stimulate the heart and stimulate the adrenal glands. The other compounds that comprise bee venom include formic acid, hydrochloric acid, ortho-phosphoric acid, mineral substances and volatile organic acids. Also present are some antibiotics, phospholipase A, as well as two amino acids rich in sulfur methionine and cystine. Sulfur is believed to be the main element in inducing the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands and in protecting the body from infections.
The mechanism by which all the components of bee venom might work together to alleviate symptoms is unknown. Contact with bee venom produces a complex cascade of reactions in the human body. Homeopaths theorize that bee sting therapy stresses the body's immune system, thus getting it to come back stronger.
Available research supporting the efficacy of bee venom therapy is currently very sparse. A 2005 study by Wesselius et al. found that bee sting therapy did not successfully alleviate symptoms of multiple sclerosis. However, the American Apitherapy Society pointed out serious flaws in the design of this trial.
Bee venom therapy is practiced by healthcare providers and apitherapists who follow certain treatment protocols. The therapy starts with the determination of whether the patient is allergic to the venom by administering a small amount of venom intradermally. If no allergic reaction develops, the therapy is continued with the administration of one or two injections. The therapy is carried out every other day by gradually increasing the number of bee stings or injections. The length of treatment is determined by the condition that is being treated.
Traditionally, live bees that were stimulated to sting the affected area, trigger points or acupuncture points were used in bee venom therapy. Depending on the disease that is being treated, bee venom can be used in a cream, liniment, ointment or injection form. However, bee venom is thought to be most effective when is comes directly from a live bee during the late spring to early fall season. This season provides the bee with a good pollen source, allowing the bee to provide more potent venom. While venom from a live bee is the most potent source of venom, the injectable form of venom is most commonly used. A qualified health professional typically injects a venom solution prepared from pure bee venom intradermally, just between the skin layers, or subcutaneously, under the skin, to imitate the effect of a bee sting.
The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.