Bee Venom Therapy

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Bees are invaluable members of the ecosystem. The sustainability of many of the foods we eat is directly dependent upon the pollination provided by these incredibly productive insects. The prospect of being stung by a bumble bee or a European honey bee is quite another story. We avoid being in close proximity to bees and hives because of this very concern. Some people are understandably fearful of the pain associated with stings. A much smaller segment of the population has yet another reason to fret: allergic reactions to bee venom. There are however certain individuals who seek out bees for the express purpose of getting stung repeatedly.

Apitherapy is a term used to describe the therapeutic use of bee products. It may seem counterintuitive that bee venom could, should or would be used in any healing capacity. However, there is a chemical basis for this traditional form of treatment. A summary in the current issue of Apitherapy Review explains that bee venom possesses �a strong influence on the nervous and circulatory systems�. The author of the piece, Prof. Roch Domerego, goes on to summarize a host of other documented benefits that include anti-inflammatory activity and immune system support. (1,2,3)

There are many anecdotal reports of dramatic healing via apitherapy. A letter published in the November issue of Natural Health magazine is one of the most recent, publicized cases of bee venom success. In it, the wife of a multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferer explains that her husband has been using bee venom therapy (BVT) �to decrease the frequency, strength, and duration of his (MS) flare ups, and to increase his energy levels�. This letter to the editor piqued my interest. I wondered what scientific evidence exists that supports the use of medical apitherapy. Here�s what I found:

Both osteo and rheumatoid arthritis appear to be somewhat responsive to bee sting therapy. A study from June 2008 determined that a combination of apitherapy and conventional medication lead to statistically better outcomes in a group of 50 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Greater declines in pain, stiffness and swelling were among the benefits noted. There was also a significant drop in the �relapse rate� in those using bee venom (12% vs 32%). A 4 week trial in patients with osteoarthritis used �pain relief scores and computerized infrared thermography� as a means of evaluating the success rate of apitherapy.

In this case the bee venom prevailed over a course of �traditional needle acupuncture�. In addition, a March 2005 review in the journal Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine examined the results of 15 trials focusing on bee venom acupuncture (BVA) and arthritis. The conclusion was that more research was certainly called for but that �it is highly likely that the effectiveness of BVA for arthritis is a promising area of future research�. (4,5,6)

Administering bee venom to well established acupoints (relevant acupuncture locations) may be partially responsible for the success of these therapies. A study in an animal model discovered that injecting bee venom into therapeutic acupoints resulted in greater pain reduction as opposed to the same treatment given in �non-acupoint� injection sites. Furthermore, an April 2008 meta-analysis in the Journal of Pain investigated the efficacy of bee venom acupuncture in conditions such as �arthritis, pain and rheumatoid diseases�. A total of 11 randomized clinical trials was the basis for the review. The authors concluded that the �results provide suggestive evidence for the effectiveness of BVA in treating musculoskeletal pain�. (6,7,8)

The newest human study available on apitherapy involves its use in managing low back pain. A total of 150 patients with �chronic lumbar muscle strain� participated in the trial. Half were provided with routine acupuncture, while the remainder was treated with diluted bee venom in the same acupoint locations. All of the patients received a total of 30 sessions of the respective acupuncture modalities. Six months later, both groups were analyzed to establish treatment outcomes:

The bee therapy group (78 participants in all) reported 49 cured patients, 27 improvements and 2 �ineffective� results. This is a �cured rate� of 63%.

The conventional acupuncture group (72 cases) yielded 29 cures, 40 improvements and 3 �infective� results. This equals a �cured rate� of 40%. (9)

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Author: Alan Berk
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