Cures from the hive get mixed reviews

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: June 1st, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

There’s a new buzz in alternative medicine, but not all doctors think it’s sweet as honey.

Apitherapy [ape-ih-therapy] is the practice of using bee-made products to heal ailments and afflictions. You’ve tried them if you’ve ever used hand lotion containing bee pollen, or burned beeswax candles. Bee products have been around since the early Egyptians and are gaining popularity today. But the recent buzz isn’t over curing chapped lips with honey… it’s about using bee venom to treat serious medical conditions such as arthritis, tendonitis and even multiple sclerosis.

Proponents claim bee stings can stimulate healing in arthritic joints and sore tendons by increasing blood flow to affected areas. The venom is injected either directly from the insect, or by needle.

Many medical experts are skeptical of its effectiveness, though, and also worry the practice could endanger people allergic to bee stings. Positive effects of apitherapy are generally regarded as anecdotal. Recent research at Georgetown University failed to show significant improvement in multiple sclerosis patients given bee venom. Doctors do not recommend bee sting therapy until more research is done.

Other buzzworthy applications get sweeter reviews. Royal jelly, a substance made by worker bees and fed to the queen, is high in B vitamins and other nutrients, and apitherapy advocates say it can boost energy levels. Honey is full of antioxidants and enzymes that can help minor cuts and burns heal quickly.

But before swarming to the closest hive for a natural cure, ask your doctor about the risks and benefits.