Even though, all of us would flinch at the thought of being stung by a bee, its effectiveness in treating pains associated with arthritis have been proven by a number of studies conducted worldwide. Bee venom therapy or apitherapy has been around as a therapeutic modality since almost the second century BC in Eastern Asia, with its uses being documented in ancient Egypt and Greek medical writings.
Its efficacy in treating arthritic joint pain was first discovered by beekeepers, who noticed that their arthritis pains were relieved, when they were stung many times by bees.
Extensive research focusing on its clinical applications has lead to the widespread use of this alternative therapy by a number of arthritic patients, in an attempt to avoid pharmaceutical drugs like non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) that often cause severe side effects like liver malfunction, renal disorders, depression, etc.
Today, it is most widely practiced in Korea, Eastern Europe, Asia and South America. The benefits of bee venom can be extracted in different ways using topical formulations, oral products containing bee venom, bee sting therapy and bee venom acupuncture for curing arthritis. However, therapeutic application of honeybee venom, through live bee stings has been found to be the most effective way of healing joint pains associated with arthritis.
Bee Venom for Treating Arthritis
Bee Sting Therapy
Bee sting therapy or apitherapy that requires the patients to endure hundreds of stings by bees is often used as an alternative treatment for arthritis and a range of other serious illnesses like asthma, multiple sclerosis, etc. The bee sting stimulates the adrenal glands to produce steroids like glucocorticoids or cortisol, natural hormones that are produced in the body, in response to an attack on the immune system.
Rheumatoid arthritis is basically an auto-immune disorder which can worsen by a failure to have an adequate steroid response. Hence, stimulating the body’s natural steroids possessing anti-inflammatory properties by using a bee sting can aid in the healing of joint pains, thereby alleviating the symptoms associated with arthritis. According to a study conducted by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts in 2009, bee venom contains about 40 different healing components, one of which is melittin, a compound considered to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic agent.
In fact, it has been found to be one hundred times stronger than cortisol, a natural anti-inflammatory hormone found in the human body. The healing potency of bee venom is accentuated by the presence of a compound called adolapin that acts as both an anti-inflammatory and a pain-blocking compound. These components work together in boosting the immune system, helping it recruit anti-inflammatory compounds naturally present in the body, in its own defense to the site of inflammation.
It quickens the healing process by spurring the production of endorphins by hypothalamus and pituitary gland which are the body’s natural pain killer. It is also known to increase blood circulation and reduce swelling in the joints. Furthermore, a recent study published in South Korea using laboratory rats has shown that melittin which is the primary peptide in bee venom, can inactivate inflammatory genes that are inherent with degenerative diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
Collective evidence from in-vivo experiments conducted on animals and arthritic patients have shown that bee sting therapy has a potent analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect. In fact, Christopher Kim, the medical director of the Monmouth Pain Institute in Red Bank, administered apitherapy to three thousand patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
In the 1989 issue of the German journal, Rheumatologie, he published a two-year study on 108 arthritic patients, who had failed to respond to convention medications prescribed for the treatment of arthritic pain. He started initially with bee venom injections twice a week and gradually increased the number of shots until a significant improvement was found in the patients. It took around 12 injections for most of his subjects to experience a reduction in joint aches thereby proving apitherapy to be a safe and an effective alternative in treating arthritis, without causing any serious side effects.
Bee Venom Acupuncture
Exclusively used in Korean medicine, bee venom acupuncture (BVA) is a kind of herbal acupuncture that uses diluted bee venom to be administered on specific sites called acupoints for stimulation. This therapy helps in simultaneously exerting the anti-inflammation and analgesic actions from the bioactive compounds present in the bee venom and mechanical actions from the acupuncture stimulation to help get rid of the arthritic joint pains.
The effectiveness of this bee venom acupuncture in treating arthritis has been proven in various kinds of animal arthritic models and also in arthritic patients, making the use of this therapy, a promising area of future research. Several animal and human studies also suggested that the effects of bee venom were further intensified by acupuncture stimulations, which may help in reaching therapeutic goals.
Precautions In Treating Arthritis
Since one to five percent of the population is allergic to bee venom, apitherapy patients must first be tested by initially administering a very small dosage of bee venom. Although, no severe reactions have been reported in healthy individuals who are not allergic to bee venom, the practitioners are advised to keep a bee sting kit close at hand, as a remedy for allergic reactions containing antihistamines for minor reactions as well as epinephrine to prevent the patients from going into an anaphylactic shock. While, only a small percentage of the American population has been found to be allergic to bees, the other patients have experienced no negative side effects from apitherapy besides the temporary pain of the sting itself.
Despite the fact that approximately 65,000 Americans have been using and benefiting from bee venom therapy, many medical professionals refuse to acknowledge the benefits of apitherapy. Most medical establishments also reject it as a viable treatment option for arthritis claiming that it could be dangerous and can have fatal consequences.
However, many arthritic patients have reported the benefits of apitherapy in mitigating severe joint pains. Hence, even though bee venom may not have the potential to cure all the conditions related to arthritis, the venom can certainly keep the condition from getting worse, without imposing any harmful side effects like most other drugs do.