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Bee Venom Therapy
Bee Venom Therapy (BVT) is the therapeutic use of honey bee venom, either injected by stings from live bees or injected by needles. BVT is used to treat a variety of ailments, primarily neurological and immunological, including chronic pain, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
Bee venom therapy is sometimes called “Apitherapy” (from the Latin word for bee, “apis”); but Apitherapy is also used to refer to treatment with other bee products, such as honey, pollen, royal jelly, and propolis. Therefore, we will use to term “Bee Venom Therapy” (BVT) to refer specifically to the injection of bee venom.
This page describes the following issues:
History of Bee Venom Therapy
Bee venom therapy (BVT) has been recognized for over 5,000 years as being helpful in the treatment of diseases and injuries. Early hunter-gatherers drew images on rocks depicting the honeybee as a source of medical treatment. BVT was practiced by ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Greek therapists, including Hippocrates.
BVT was studied by the Austrian physician Phillip Terc in his 1988 “Report about a Peculiar Connection between the Bee Stings and Rheumatism.” But it was Bodeg Beck, a Hungarian who moved to America after World War I, who brought apitherapy to the United States. Charles Mraz, a beekeeper from New York, met Beck in the 1930’s and advanced the popularity of Apitherapy significantly. He treated people with bee stings for arthritis pain for over sixty years, was a founding member of the American Apitherapy Society, and authored Health and The Honey Bee in 1994, which recounted his experiences with BVT.
Research about bee venom therapy continues today. In 2004, South Korean researchers published a study (Hye Ji Park, et al. “Anti-arthritic Effect of Bee Venom: Inhibition of Inflammation Mediator Generation by Suppression of NF-KappaB Through Interaction With the p50 Subunit.” Arthritis and Rheumatism, 2004 Nov; 50(11); 3504-3515.) in which they gave rats with advanced rheumatoid arthritis low does of bee venom. BVT dramatically reduced tissue swelling and osteophyte formation on affected paws, showing a correlation between the anti-inflammatory properties and anti-arthritis effects of bee venom.
In a study at Georgetown University School of Medicine (Washington, D.C.) to evaluate the safety of honeybee venom extract as a possible treatment for patients with progressive forms of multiple sclerosis, the results were so encouraging that the researchers called for expansion of the clinical trials (Castro HJ, et al. “A phase I study of the safety of honeybee venom extract as a possible treatment for patients with progressive forms of multiple sclerosis.” Allergy Asthma Proc. 2005 Nov-Dec;26(6):470-6).
As yet, there is no legally marketed venom extract in the U.S.A. to use in BVT.
Natural History of Honey Bees
Honey bees are socially advanced insects with a caste- and job-related hierarchy. This hierarchy is hardwired into the genetics and anatomy of the hive residents. Worker bees, being genetically female, have modified ovipositors which act as “stingers,” capable of injecting venom from their venom sac. Honey bees can sting only once, for their stingers are barbed. The barbs allow the stingers to remain within the skin; the bee can not remove it. For the honey bee, this means that it is bound to the victim, unless wiped or torn away from the embedded stinger. Once the stinger and honey bee are separated, the bee will die from its wound. For the victim, this means that the stinger remains embedded in the skin, connected to its venom sac and associated muscles, even if the bee is torn away. The associated musculature continues to pump venom and advance the barbed lancets (singer) into the victim, even after the bee is separated from its stinger.
More about honey bees can be found here:
The best source of information about BVT can be found by networking with an experienced bee venom therapist, or the American Apitherapy Society (AAS): www.apitherapy.org.
Producers and Distributors of Bee & Bee Venom products
The following companies may be able to supply you with the bee and bee venom items you need:
We are in the process of assembling a searchable database of apitherapists. Anyone with interest, knowledge or experience with apitherapy is encouraged to contact the Foundation to help assemble and/or be included in this referral list. For now, the American Apitherapy Society can provide you with more information.
Note that these and other references will soon be available to members, through our virtual library service. You may also visit our more extensive References and Clinical Studies page for bee venom therapy here.