Various forms of apitherapy have been used by many cultures since ancient times.
Apitherapy or Bee Sting Therapy has existed for thousands of years and originated from Ancient Egypt, Greece and China.
The honeybee has played a major role in human lives. In documents dating back to 4000 years we can find reference to the use of honey. Honey was extensively used in ancient Egypt. They described bees making propolis, a gummy material from trees, on vases and ornaments. They also used honey to embalm their dead.
The use of honey has been clearly documented in several religious texts including the Veda (Hindu scriptures), the Bible and the Koran speaks about the medicinal properties of the liquid (“liquor”) produced by bees.
Even Hippocrates, the great Greek physician renowned as the “father of medicine,” used bee venom to treat joint pain and arthritis. Ancient Greek athletes used honey to boost their energy levels. Ancient Roman soldiers used honey to boost their energy levels for battle and to heal wounds received in battle.
The Roman scholar, Pliny, has written about healing properties of propolis in his book, claiming that it reduces swelling, soothes pain, and heals sores.
The cultivation of the hive has been written about as early as 800 BC.
Charlemagne (742-814 AD) is said to have been treated with bee stings. In 1888, Austrian physician Phillip Terc advocated the deliberate use of bee stings as a treatment for rheumatism.
Bee venom therapy is the part of apitherapy which utilizes bee venom in the treatment of health conditions. . Bee venom comes from the stingers of honey bees who use it in defense of the bee colony. Apitherapy is the use of beehive products, including honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly, bee venom.
It has been used since ancient times to treat arthritis, rheumatism, back pain, skin diseases and in this modern age as an alternative therapy to treat multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease and chronic fatigue syndrome
Bee venom is a rich source of enzymes, peptides and biogenic amines. There are at least 18 active components in the venom which have some pharmaceutical properties. The effect mechanism of the venom is not entirely known yet. Scientists believe it can modify the way the immune system functions in the body and contribute to increased cortisol production.
How is it promoted for use?
Practitioners claim bee venom contains an anti-inflammatory agent that relieves chronic pain and can be used to treat various diseases, including several types of arthritis, neurological problems such as multiple sclerosis, lower back pain, and migraine headaches, and skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and herpes.
Others claim that raw honey is an energy-building source containing minerals and B complex vitamins. Proponents claim it has antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor properties.
Proponents claim bee pollen contains many nutrients required by the human body and that it has five to seven times more protein than beef. Pieces of honeycomb containing pollen are known to be effective for treating allergies.
Ingesting bee pollen is also claimed to increase endurance, energy, and overall performance. Some people believe some of the active ingredients in bee products may have possible anti-cancer effects.
Some early studies have also looked at possible anticancer properties of honey. A study from Japan found that solutions containing honey had some effect against bladder cancer cells in the laboratory and against bladder tumors in mice. No studies have been reported in humans in the medical literature.
Traditionally, bee venom was administered with live bees by stimulating them to sting in the affected area, trigger points or acupuncture points. Depending on the nature of the disease, the standardized venom can be used in a cream, liniment, ointment or injection form.
Bee venom is most effective when it comes directly from the live bee during the late spring to early fall season when bees have a good pollen source to produce potent venom. Their venom during the winter period is less potent.
Next to the effect of a live bee, injectible venom solution is considered to be a standard method to administer bee venom. Venom solution is prepared from pure bee venom (Apis Venenum Purum) and is a homeopathic preparation.
It is administered intradermally just between the skin layers or subcutaneously under the skin to imitate the effect of a bee sting. Each injection is equivalent to or is less than the average dry venom sac content of a honey bee. Bee venom is also used topically in creams, liniments and ointments. The application of venom solution with electro-phoresis or ultra-sonophoresis is practiced in Europe and China.
In general, 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 within a certain time, the therapy is continued with the administration of one to two bee stings or injections.
The therapy is carried out every other day (three times a week) by gradually increasing the number of bee stings or injections. The length of the therapy is determined by the nature and severity of the condition.
There is discomfort associated with the administration of bee venom including pain, itching, swelling, inflammation and redness. Symptoms like redness, swelling and itching are desired effects of the therapy showing the response of the patient to the venom. The more severe the reaction, but not anaphylaxis, the faster the recovery.
Venom therapy represents just one form of apitherapy. Other bee products have potent healing properties as well.
Here’s the rundown:
HONEY: With its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and immune-stimulating properties, honey can help treat third- and fourth-degree burns when applied topically, according to extensive clinical research. It also relieves coughs and the flu when eaten. Be sure, however, to use raw honey and not pasteurized and, thus, inert varieties. When honey is applied to an open wound its properties merge with bodily fluids and together they create a hydrogen peroxide effect. This is one of the reasons that honey is so wonderful as an antiseptic and antibacterial.
POLLEN: Pollen contains all the essential amino acids as well as disease-fighting antioxidants. It helps regulate appetite, reduce allergies, and increase energy. The fresher the pollen, the better, so try to buy local, non-pasteurized pollen. Mix one gram into food and drinks.
PROPOLIS: Bees make propolis from tree resin and use it as an antiseptic “glue” to seal the hive and protect it from infections. Often taken in tablets or tinctures, propolis has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, making it a good choice for treating colds, the flu, wounds, yeast infections, hemorrhoids, and fungal infections. New research has come out showing it has strong anti-tumor activity as well.
ROYAL JELLY: This is the food of the queen bees, who live for up to five years, compared to the four to six weeks of a worker bee. Secreted from the man-dibular glands of the worker bee, this elixir promotes youthfulness, fertility, and rejuvenation.
It also helps build and maintain bone, blood, skin, and brain cells. All women older than 40 should be taking 3,000 mg a day.
The downside: Royal jelly costs more than other beehive products because it’s the most difficult to collect. You can also buy fresh royal jelly, though it’s more perishable.
What is the evidence?
Most research on bee venom has focused on the use of immunotherapy to prevent allergic reactions to bee stings. However, several animal and laboratory studies have looked at the anti-cancer effects of some ingredients of bee products, such as propolis and melittin.
Propolis is a natural compound made by honeybees to coat the inside of their hives. Some of its ingredients have shown antioxidant and anti-tumor properties in early laboratory and animal studies, but it has not been tested in people.
Melittin is a main component of bee venom. It is thought to kill cells it contacts by breaking them open. It also appears to have anti-inflammatory properties. According to some researchers, melittin shows activity against cancer cells grown in laboratory dishes. Scientists in Australia have changed the structure of the melittin molecule by removing the part that causes allergic reactions in some patients, keeping its cell-killing ability, and combining the molecule with an antibody to target cancer cells. Using this approach, they have been able to show some anti-cancer activity in studies using mice. Studies in people have not been reported in the available medical literature.
Apitherapy continues to be a popular form of alternative therapy. Studies on the use of bee products or their components to treat various conditions have appeared in the medical literature for at least the past 70 years.
Is bee-venom therapy dangerous?
The benefits of this therapy are still uncertain, but the dangers are clear.
Approximately 2 percent of people have allergic reactions to stings from bees and wasps. A severe reaction after just only three or four bee stings is extremely rare, but the danger grows with the number of stings. (Beekeepers and their families in particular are likely to be highly sensitive to bee venom).
Anaphylactic reactions which can be life threatening are also reported from bee venom, but they are rare.
A person who’s having a severe reaction to a bee sting may develop hives on the skin and swelling around the eyes, lips, throat, and tongue. He or she may vomit, slur spoken words, show signs of mental confusion, and even struggle to breathe. Soon the person may lose consciousness. These are signs of anaphylactic shock, a condition that can be fatal if not treated quickly. If you notice these signs, call 911 right away.
Anyone undergoing bee-venom therapy should have a bee sting kit handy. The kit includes a syringe and a dose of epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), a drug that can save your life if you go into anaphylactic shock. It’s also a good idea for a beginner get a single “test sting” on the knee or forearm before undergoing a full bee barrage. But remember, the fact that your body tolerated the first 49 stings doesn’t automatically mean it can handle the 50th.
The literature of bee venom therapy is very extensive and lists over 2,000 titles. There are basic guidelines of the therapy which need to be followed. The education on the part of the patient and the therapist is critical and the obtained result is proportional to the knowledge and experience of the administrator of the venom.
Bee venom therapy is an alternative form of healing. In the hands of a licensed practitioner, it is considered to be safe and can be used when the patient does not respond to conventional treatment methods.
Are there any possible problems or complications?
This product is sold as a dietary supplement in the United States.
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Supplement products without any reliable scientific evidence of health benefits may still be sold as long as the companies selling them do not claim the supplements can prevent, treat, or cure any specific disease. Some such products may not contain the amount of the herb or substance that is written on the label, and some may include other substances (contaminants).
Though the FDA has written new rules to improve the quality of manufacturing processes for dietary supplements and the accurate listing of supplement ingredients, these rules do not take full effect until 2010. And, the new rules do not address the safety of supplement ingredients or their effects on health when proper manufacturing techniques are used.
Most such supplements have not been tested to find out if they interact with medicines, foods, or other herbs and supplements. Even though some reports of interactions and harmful effects may be published, full studies of interactions and effects are not often available. Because of these limitations, any information on ill effects and interactions below should be considered incomplete.
Some people have extreme allergic reactions to bee stings, the most severe of which can prove fatal. Asthma attacks and one death have been attributed to the use of royal jelly. People with weakened immune systems should be cautious about consuming honey, as it may contain bacteria or fungi.
The possible effects of bee venom on pregnancy have not been well studied. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should speak with their doctors before using this treatment. Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.
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