An experience most people try to avoid – being stung by bees, is being sought out by some with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Fibromyalgia (FM). For years now, bee sting therapy has been promoted in the alternative health literature for multiple sclerosis and arthritis. More recently, however, individuals with CFS and FM are reporting that they have found relief with this unusual therapy.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
A Discovery Health Channel documentary described a young mother who recovered from CFS with the aid of “bee venom therapy.” Beverly had run a successful florist business and had a newborn daughter when she was struck with CFS. Debilitated by fatigue, severe joint pain, long term-headaches and having exhausted traditional medical approaches, Beverly arranged to be treated with live bee stings.
The pain in her harm and hand dissipated quickly after the first stings. Amazed, Beverly asked the therapist to next apply the bee stings to her neck, in an effort to reduce her three-month-old headache. The headache went away. Unfortunately the documentary did not detail the frequency or overall length of her treatment but Beverly now considers herself recovered.
Another report of bee venom therapy for CFS comes from Nancy who initially received some relief through hypnotherapy and low blood pressure medicine. However, her fatigue and muscle aches persisted and so she sought treatment from Dr. Theodore Cherbuliez, the president of the American Apitherapy Society. (Apitherapy refers to the use of honeybee products including honey, royal jelly, propolis and bee venom for healing.)
Although Nancy initially had a high fever from the therapy, she gradually acclimated herself to six stings every other day for six months. Regarding bee venom therapy, Nancy states “it’s not a cure, but it has given me my life back. I no longer wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck; my muscle aches are gone and I have a lot more energy.” When there was a resurgence of her symptoms later, Nancy once again found bee sting therapy successful.
Bee venom’s ability to stimulate the adrenal glands may explain its benefit for CFS patients since many with CFS have underactive adrenal glands leading to diminished levels of cortisone. Dr. Cherbuliez’ clinical experience has “shown that conditions sensitive to cortisone do respond frequently to bee venom therapy.” Thus Dr. Cherbuliez has found that many cases of CFS respond favorably to bee venom therapy. However, he says “it is not known whether the long lasting type of CFS also responds.”
Dr. Amber Rose is author of the book, Bees in Balance. This publication presents a therapeutic approach that combines acupuncture and bee venom therapy. Dr. Rose has been able to assist persons with various health problems by use of bee venom. “I have treated chronic fatigue with bees with great success,” Dr. Rose relates. For this condition, she has found that bee stings administered “mostly on the belly and the lower back” are best.
Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Conditions
A testimonial in the Fall 2001 Journal of the American Apitherapy Society indicates bee venom may benefit those with fibromyalgia. Daphne Shell tried diet and medication to manage her fibromyalgia pain but neither were very effective. After that, Daphne hesitantly turned to bee venom therapy and here is what she writes about this care:
“I started out with two stings at a time to the most painful areas. I really experienced little discomfort or itching at the sting site. I continued using two stings, two to three times per week for a period of two weeks. I began to notice a remarkable improvement in my degree of back pain within the very first week. To my amazement, after only three weeks of bee venom therapy, I was experiencing almost no symptoms of fibromyalgia. Greatly encouraged by this, I continued my therapy, gradually working up to six stings per session about once a week.”
Feeling much better, Daphne explains she now only needs the therapy when symptoms begin to reappear. Daphne’s success seems consistent with research showing bee venom can benefit rheumatoid conditions such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, and bursitis. A study recently published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine found that a majority of patients with osteoarthritis found substantial more pain relief when bee venom was included with acupuncture as opposed to acupuncture therapy alone.
Because so many multiple sclerosis patients have benefited from bee venom therapy, medical studies have been organized to research this further. One small study done at Georgetown University Medical Center with 16 patients using bee venom injections (as opposed to stings) has recently yielded favorable results. Thus, that institution intends to do further studies on this therapy for multiple sclerosis.
Ross Hauser, a doctor at the Caring Medical & Rehabilitation Service in Oak Park, Illinois, followed 51 patients with progressive multiple sclerosis who received bee venom injections. Dr. Hauser reported that “fifty-eight percent had a very positive response and got significantly better, but thirty percent had no benefit, and one patient got worse.”
How is it Administered?
One of the prime ways bee venom can be applied is directly through bee stings. Tweezers are used to hold the bee on or near an area of pain. Ice may be applied to the site first to reduce the smart of the sting itself. Once the bee stings, the body of the bee can be pulled away leaving only the stinger in the skin. When the venom has entered the skin, usually within 10-15 minutes, the stinger is removed.
Venom can also be derived from bees and made into an injectable solution that has near the same effect as the bee sting. Additionally, bee venom can be produced into creams, liniments, ointments and salves. Capsules and homeopathic drops are used in some areas as well.
A small percentage of individuals have severe allergic reactions to insect venom. To prevent lasting harm, therapists initially only provide one sting to test for a negative reaction. If there is an adverse reaction, epinephrine can be quickly administered which reverses the symptoms.
Pain, itching, and swelling are common at the injection or sting site, but most say the benefits far outweigh this minor discomfort. The journal Patient Care, explains that Dr. Christopher Kim, director of a pain clinic in New Jersey, has administered 34,000 injections to 174 patients without any major complications. He says that half the patients that experience itching at the injection site, no longer experience this reaction with continued treatment.
How it Works
Of the numerous substances that make up bee venom, several are now understood to have beneficial effects. Milittin, the most abundance component in bee venom, has stronger anti-bacterial effect than penicillin and counters inflammation. Milittin also stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisone, a hormone sometimes found to be insufficient in CFS patients.
A bee venom ingredient called MCDP is much more effective than hydrocortisone in reducing inflammation. Bee venom also contains apamin, which enhances nerve function, and adolopin, which acts both as an anti-inflammatory and as a pain-killer. Besides enhancing the immune system, other researchers believe bee venom has anti-depressant and antioxidant properties.
While bee venom therapy is looked down upon by many doctors there is a growing body of research supporting its efficacy. Fortunately, even some CFS and Fibromyalgia patients are now included in the number finding benefits from this unusual practice.
For More Information Contact:
American Apitherapy Society
1209 Post Road
Scarsdale Ny 10583-2023
Leeches, Maggots, and Bees, Discovery Health Channel documentary
Nancy and Been Venom Therapy (Dec. 20, 1999) www.anglefire.com/stars/cfsrecovery/alternative.html
Cerrato, Paul L., A Therapeutic Sting, RN 61(8):57 (Aug. 1998)
Cherbuliez, Theodore, Bee Venom in Treatment of Chronic Diseases, Chronic Diseases in Bee Products : Properties, Applications, and Apitherapy (1997)
Downey, Charles, Stinging the Pain, CNN.Com (Jan. 21, 2000)
Frick, Lisa, Apitherapy, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine (2001)
Granstrom, Chris, Stinging Away the Pain, Country Journal 23:22 (1996)
Hauser, Ross, Bee Venom Therapy for Treating Multiple Sclerosis: A Clinical Trial, Journal of the American Apitherapy Society 8(4):10 (Fall 2001)
Kwon, Young-Bae, The Analgesic Efficacy of Bee Venom Acupuncture for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Comparative Study with Needle Acupuncture, American Journal of Chinese Medicine (Spring 2001)
Rose, Amber, Bee in Balance (1994)
Shell, Daphne, BVT for Fibromyalgia, Journal of the American Apitherapy Society 8(3):10 (Fall 2001)
Simics, Michael, Bee Venom: Live Bees vs. Injectable Solution, Journal of the American Apitherapy Society 8(3):15 (Fall 2001)
Walsh D’Epiro, Nancy, Bee Venom for Multiple Sclerosis, Patient Care (Sept. 15, 1999)
WebMD, Apitherapy my.webmd.com/content/article/3187.13740