Apitherapy: Health & Wellness from the Beehive
Apitherapy: Health & Wellness from the Beehive
Bee-Sting Therapy and Apipuncture? The science over safety isn’t there yet. But researchers are looking back to the past to learn how bee-derived products might come to the aid of humanity
By Mark Zuleger-Thyss
Apitherapy is an offshoot of alternative medicine that has been around for centuries. Humans have used apitherapy since the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians began exploring it. Persian manuscripts documented bee-derived products as effective remedies for conditions such as tumors, ulcers, muscle pain, and eczema. Pythagoras valued honey so much he was convinced it added 40 years to his life.
In holistic terms, apitherapy is genuine natural medicine straight from the earth. Nature gives us everything we need: gardens, food, flowers, butterflies, bees, and beauty – what could be more perfect?
Bees contribute to maintaining biological balance in nature through their pollination activities. They are an integral part of enabling animals, plants, and humans to thrive. Bee products are an entirely natural food source and are effective for use as food as medicine.
Honey is a nutritious food, rich in vitamins. It is safe to assume almost everyone loves honey - and the bees do, too. Honey is a food source, produced for their queens, female worker bees, drones, and larvae. Each bee has a specific job in the hive to help the whole as a superorganism. A good size colony of bees can have 30-40,000 bees in the hive. Large quantities of honey are stored there to meet the demands of scarcity.
Honeybee products include propolis, pollen, royal jelly, hive air, nectar, beeswax, beebread, and bee venom. Take a deeper look at bees and their role in nature and our lives. Bees make amazing things that are used for many purposes. Apitherapy practitioners use bee-derived substances to treat illnesses and ease pain from acute and chronic injuries.
Apitherapy reaches beyond traditional Western medicine to help you achieve good health using a holistic approach in true harmony with nature.
Advocates of some forms of Apitherapy, like bee-sting therapy and apipuncture, make claims for their healing benefits, but you might want to consider them with a sound mind. The claims for various health benefits are still unsupported by evidence-based medicine. The Western medical community is understandably skeptical.
The scientific evidence in support of apitherapy is not complete. As with many alternative therapies, it does work for a lot of people for reasons that are not clear. In many parts of the world where sophisticated medical equipment and access to medicines are patchy, many patients turn to apitherapy.
The medicinal properties of bee-derived products have spurred increasing attention from the science community. New remedies for infections are needed and researchers are looking back to the past for new ideas and alternative approaches that produce the least side effects.
There can be mild side effects of any treatment and then there are the dramatic ones. Scottish actor Gerard Butler got injected with the venom of 23 bee stings and luckily lived to tell the story of going into anaphylactic shock. Performing stunts on movie sets can cause injuries and muscle aches, and Butler chose to try the remedy to relieve that pain.
The composition of bee venom is well studied and some people believe it to be safe for use in a variety of ways. But Butler now believes he was over-zealous in trying the treatment for its anti-inflammatory benefits. This risk landed him in the hospital for four days with a heart that felt like it was “going to explode.”
Like in Butler’s experience, apitherapy can be dangerous for some people. Don’t assume that because something is natural, it cannot hurt you and has no side effects. Some people are allergic to bee venom and have reported side effects such as hemorrhagic strokes.
Goop is a wellness and lifestyle brand launched in 2008 by American actress Gwyneth Paltrow. In it, she recommends “bee-venom therapy,” for injuries and body pain.
Paltrow does set trends and likes to explore every health and beauty treatment with “curiosity and nonjudgment and hard conversations by cracking open taboos.” It came then as little surprise when the former actress admitted to trying bee-sting therapy. In 2016, she told the New York Times, "I’ve been stung by bees. It’s a thousands’-of-years-old treatment called apitherapy." And she added, "People use it to get rid of inflammation and scarring. It’s incredible if you research it. But, man, it’s painful."
Goop offers valuable content about health and wellness, and cutting-edge advice from doctors. On the topic of injecting bee venom, I am reluctant to recommend it.
I would say, don’t be like Gerard Butler. Look before you leap, do research, and talk to an “apitherapist” before believing your injuries will “disappear." Don't risk a hemorrhagic stroke by placing a bee onto your skin along the spine and stimulating it to sting you. If it does hurt as Paltrow says, you might take solace in knowing the bee dies after releasing its stinger.
I recommend honey, propolis, bee pollen, and royal jelly for their high antioxidant value. These products are practical and helpful for immune system support and strength. Honey and propolis, containing strong antibacterial properties, can treat wounds and burns. Hive products are sometimes mixed with other ingredients, such as essential oils. This depends on the condition you want to treat.
Honey, propolis, or bee venom face masques might work wonders to plump up the skin and smooth wrinkles. Bee venom used as a topical treatment to decrease inflammation and improve circulation might have value. But getting injections of the venom of 23 bee stings to relieve neurological and rheumatic complaints is not on my radar. For now, I’ll stick with consuming raw honey to soothe a sore throat and relieve a cough.
Poke around and you will find a lot of quality resources about apitherapy, bees, and beekeeping. It is a broad and fascinating topic with an international following.
Proponents of ‘all things bees’ have an international federation called Apimondia. Since 1897, every two years, Apimondia organizes beekeepers' congresses, hosted by different countries. Their efforts promote scientific bodies and individuals involved in apiculture worldwide.
Apimondia maintains scientific commissions to further the understanding of apiculture. These commissions facilitate the exchange of information worldwide. They include Apitherapy, Bee Biology, Pollination and Bee Flora, and several others, including the Beekeeping Economy.
Bee-derived products like pollen, propolis, and royal jelly have been used for centuries in folk medicine and going back to ancient times. They are an amazing source of bioactive substances, nutrition, and can be used as food as medicine.
© 2021 Mark Zuleger-Thyss, Garden of Healing. All rights reserved.