Bee sting therapy, known as a part of apitherapy (the use of beehive products), is the use of bee venom to treat certain health conditions. Bee venom is full of enzymes, peptides and biogenic amines, and the substance has at least 18 chemical compounds with pharmaceutical properties.
While bee sting therapy was traditionally applied through the use of live bees, modern technology has found ways to extract the venom and incorporate it into creams, ointments and injections. Bee sting therapy is still considered most effective, however, when venom is administered directly from the bee itself.
How does bee sting therapy work?
This therapy should never been undertaken without direct supervision from a physician. The risk of a life-threatening allergic-reaction to bee venom is considered to be unacceptably high for an individual to attempt treatment without proper precautions and supervision.
Discovery Health indicates bee sting therapy works because venom of bees contains melittin, a powerful anti-inflammatory substance said to be 100 times more potent than hydrocortisone. Melittin activates the body’s adrenal glands, stimulating natural healing processes.
Another compound in bee venom, adolapin, is considered to be a potent painkiller, and combined, these two substances can:
- Boost energy levels.
- Decrease pain.
- Improve vision.
- Improve coordination.
- Improve touch sensitivity.
- Improve mobility.
- Decrease inflammation.
The trick is to administer enough bee venom to achieve such results without causing a dangerous reaction in the patient. For some individuals, even one bee sting can trigger anaphylactic shock.
While severe allergic response should be avoided at all costs, practitioners do look for patients to develop some pain, irritation, itching and swelling with administration of the venom. The more intense the response, the faster the recovery—as long as anaphylactic shock is avoided.
Bee sting therapy is applied from head to toes, depending on what maladies are being treated, and while it does create a stinging sensation, experts indicate the response usually lasts under a minute.
What conditions can be treated with bee sting therapy?
There have been no large-scale scientific studies done on bee sting therapy, though many smaller projects have investigated the merits of this therapy.
There are currently 50 licensed physicians in the United States actively promoting this therapy, though as many as 10,000 people—apitherapists, beekeepers, and acupuncturists—are thought to offer treatment.
The most mainstream use of bee sting therapy is to treat multiple sclerosis (MS), though other conditions are said to benefit from it. Because thousands of MS sufferers are reporting positive results from bee stings, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., has begun a one-year preliminary study of bee venom to treat this condition.
“From where I sit, most bee venom therapy treatment is done on arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and relieving numbness in an arm or leg,” Ross Hauser, a doctor at the Caring Medical & Rehabilitation Service in Oak Park, Illinois, told WebMD. Hauser conducted his own research study following 51 MS patients and found 58 percent had a very positive response and got significantly better. Thirty percent had no benefit, and one patient got worse.