The honey bee does not only produce honey. It also produces beeswax, pollen, bee venom, gelee royale, and proplis. These products, as well as honey, have been used as complimentary therapy (apitherapy) for medical applications. These products are used for treating allergies, neurologic illnesses, cancer, colds, coughs, high cholesterol, diabetes, or burns. Some of them are even used to improve athletic performance.
It's not just modern medicine that utilizes bees and their products for healing. A clay tablet that dates back to 2000-2100 BC describes the healing properties of bee venom. In 1935, Forapin, which was isolated from bee venom, was introduced into the market. It's still being used. Bee venom is collected by placing a small panel, which looks like a grill, in front of the bee hive. The panel is composed of metal wires in which low voltage electric currents flow. The entrance to the hive is through these wires. The bees that are entering or exiting the hive are subjected to a mild electric shock, and sting the panel with their needle as self defense. Meanwhile, the bee venom flows into the glass plate underneath the panel. Bee venom is collected and turned into a powder form without harming the bee.
Bee venom is a colorless, odorless, clear, and water soluble liquid that is resistant to cold and hot temperatures. In normal seasonal temperatures, this venom dries up in 20 minutes and loses 65-70% of its weight. It takes a yellowish brown color after it is dry. 10,000 bee needles are needed for one gram of bee venom.
18 different bioactive molecules were found in the composition of bee venom. Some of these are: Melittin, adolapin, apamin, mast cell degranulation, histamine, phospholipase A, peptide, dopamine and hyaluronidase. These molecules show the characteristics of amino acid, protein, fat, sugar, and enzyme. Melittin and adolapin protein are anti-inflammatory; apamin increases nerve transmission; and mast cell degranulation is equipped with characteristics to help reduce allergies. Mellition, which is composed of 26 amino acids, is the main toxin molecule of the bee venom. Melittin triggers the synthesis of the cortisol hormone that suppresses inflammation and increases the resistance of cell walls. Melittin also triggers the immune system cells that prevent the formation of free radicals, which normally damage cells and tissue. As well as being antipyretic (fever decreasing), adolapin is also a pain reliever and also plays a role in the prevention of cyclooxygenase that are a cause of infection. Apaminin, which consists of 10 peptides, is thought to play a role in healing a damaged nervous system.
Low concentrations of mast cell degranulation proteins cause the synthesis of histamine, which triggers an allergic reaction; whereas high concentrations of it play a role in preventing these reactions. Although these molecules are called venom, they are provided with remarkable healing characteristics.
The fact that treatments for rheumatism are not completely effective has persuaded patients and healers to look into complimentary treatment techniques. Bee venom has gained acceptance as a complementary healing technique in China, the US, and Europe. Apitherapy centers have been popping up in these places – and the best method to apply apitherapy is by using bee venom.
The bee sting is mimicked by injecting bee venom into or underneath the skin, though creams or capsules of bee venom also exist. The injections function in a way similar to an actual sting, or to acupuncture. Acupuncture prevents pain by blocking the brain and spine paths (opioid and alpha 2 adrenergic receptors) that cause pain. Similarly, a bee sting stimulates the secretion of endorphins, which are a pain relief molecule. Therefore, in Chinese medicine, it is more common to apply the bee venom through acupuncture. In some cases, api-acupuncture is practiced by combining both treatments.
The treatment is started by injecting a small amount of bee venom underneath the skin to see if the patient will respond with an allergic reaction. If no allergic reaction occurs, the treatment is continued with one or two bee stings or injections. The treatment is carried out three times a week, by increasing the number of bee stings and injections each time. The treatment may cause allergic reactions in the patient that result in pain, swelling, itching, redness, or – very rarely – death. Therefore, as with every practice, treatment with bee venom should only be practiced by experts, and should not be tried by inexperienced healers.
As well as rheumatic complaints, bee venom is used for the treatment of arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis), joint calcification (osteoarthritis), bone weakening after climacteric, muscular rheumatism (fibromyalgia), and chronic pain.
In a study conducted with 80 inflamed articular rheumatism patients, 40 of them were treated with bee venom twice a week for two months. The rest of the patients were injected with physiological serum. The first group showed significant improvements on sensitive and inflamed joints, morning stiffness, and pain.
In a similar study, patients with inflamed joint rheumatism were injected with bee venom three times a week for three months, and there was a significant decrease in patient complaints. This study also proved that bee venom can be used for the treatment of inflamed joint rheumatism.
The healing quality of bees has long been noted. If we ruminate on this gift, it's hard not to admire its wise design.