Most of us don’t relish the idea of being stung by a flying insect, however for many people it is the comfort and relief they have sought for their chronic pain. It might surprise you to know that thousands of people worldwide and in the United States look forward to being stung.
Many types of venoms are being studied for their anti-inflammatory properties and for their healing effects. Clinical trials and international studies are being done on various types of venom from frog to snake. The most widely used and extensively researched is bee venom. Honeybees are highly prized for many of the properties that show up in its venom. NASA scientists have studied bees navigational systems and communication protocols and now many major universities, organizations, and medical institutions are studying the venom produced by our stinging friends. Organizations such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society are funding studies due to the favorable reports they are receiving from MS sufferers, but continue to say they cannot recommend bee stings because of the “absence of clinical studies”. The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America is also funding research.
All medical knowledge has not been put to the test of our Western medical trials. Many modalities such as acupuncture and botanical remedies have a long history of valuable medicinal use and are starting to gain more recognition as more trials are done. Politics, special interests, and many other factors have hampered the progress of alternative medicine studies and in the meantime many doctors are not using medicine with decades of safe and effective treatment while waiting on the OK. On the other hand many physicians are willing to treat patients with medicine they consider safe and effective even without the “approval”. By the way, many of our pharmaceuticals (drugs) are used off label for conditions that have not been studied for the particular disease. The world scientific literature contains more than 1500 articles on bee venom. The Russian and French equivalents of the N.I.H. have been involved in clinical studies of honeybee venom, and in the U.S., the Army has looked extensively at the chemical compounds in bee venom. In China, entire hospitals are devoted to the use and research of bee products in health and disease. In Europe, BVT has enjoyed popularity for arthritic and chronic pain conditions and it is considered mainstream treatment.
Various studies have shown that bee venom contains at least 18 active substances such as adolapin and melittin. These are potent chemicals with great anti-inflammatory properties that exceed steroids. Adolpin is an effective pain killer and anti-inflammatory. Another property MDCP may be 100 times more potent than hydrocortisone. Melittin also stimulates the body’s own production of cortisol which decreases inflammation and gives energy to the body. This is part of the reason why many patients’ who are treated with injections feel a boost of overall energy and libido. New studies show that melittin has the power to block the expression of inflammatory genes, much like COX-2 inhibitor drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. It effectively reduces inflammation by inhibiting the critical DNA binding activity of NF-kB, which directly controls a number of genes involved in immune reactions.
Because of the anti-inflammatory properties of the venom it is used in various conditions that improve by decreasing inflammation. Some conditions include: arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cataracts, tendonitis, bursitis, infections, auto-immune disorders, scar tissue, cardiovascular, pulmonary, gastrointestinal, and other chronic pain conditions. One condition that has good supporting scientific data is for the treatment of post-herpetic neuralgia.
The injections are administered two to three times a week for two or three weeks. Simple conditions may only require two or three sessions where serious conditions may require a longer duration of treatment. Your doctor can help you determine the frequency by your response to the treatment. The treatment may be followed by local discomfort, inflammation, stiffness and soreness or itching. The discomfort is usually for only a short duration and many conditions improve quickly.
A bee farm is known as an “apiary” and using the products made by the honeybee for healing purposes is known as “apitherapy”. Bee pollen, propolic, royal jelly, beeswax, honey, and venom are used for therapeutic purposes. THIS IS NOT NEW MEDICINE! The exact place and origin of apitherapy is not clear however, ancient Egypt, Greece and China documented its use. Chinese physicians of 4000 years ago used apitherapy (130 AD). The Roman physician Galen prescribed BVT (bee venom therapy) and Carlemagne was reported to have used bee stings to alleviate arthritic symptoms. Hippocrates “the father of modern medicine” wrote of using it to treat joint pain and arthritis and described it as a “strange and mysterious medicine”. The Athenian lawmaker Sonon, (530 BC) found apiaries so vital to Greek society that laws was written to protect them. Even honey has been clearly documented in several religious texts including the Veda (Hindu scripture) and the Bible (Molan, 1999).
Along the lines of spirituality, the venom collection does not kill the bees. They are administered a mild electric shock to collect the venom.
Some patients may have allergic reactions to been venom and testing should be done prior to administration of the bee venom. Some patients administer live bee stings to themselves, however apitherapy carries the risk of serious allergic reactions so I recommend injections be given in a physician’s office where the patient can be carefully monitored. An allergy is not necessarily contraindicated; in fact the only FDA approved use is for desensitization. From a medical view point apitherapy is considered to be an experimental approach. From my viewpoint, it is a therapy that properly used can help many patients with their chronic conditions.