“”Oh NO, not the bees!! NOT THE BEES!! AAAAAH!! AAUGH-THEY'RE IN MY EYES!! MY EYES!! AAAAH!! AAAAH-AAAHGRBLHBLGBlblg...
|—A common complaint|
Apitherapy is a branch of alternative medicine which uses products derived from bees as treatments. They range from the relatively benign (royal jelly, honey, and pollen sacs) to the bizarre (sting/venom).
Bee venom therapy
Most advertised "apitherapy" is bee venom therapy, which purports to cure or ameliorate diseases such as multiple sclerosis through application of the venom of bees. Application can take the form of a powdered venom, liquid, or plain old bee stings, which isn't very good for the bees as their barbs are ripped off when stinging thick-skinned creatures like mammals, resulting in the death of the bee a few minutes later. Existing scientific studies have all come up as either inconclusive or clearly negative.
Royal jelly is produced by bees to feed their baby bees and queens (likewise, human children and the Queen of England share a particular fondness for chocolate). It contains water, sugar, various proteins, and fatty acids.
While it appears to be good for bees, there are also claims of health benefits for humans. Its uses in alternative medicine include as a treatment for asthma, hay fever, liver disease, pancreatitis, insomnia, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), stomach ulcers, kidney disease, bone fractures, menopausal symptoms, skin disorders, high cholesterol, aging, immune system problems, and hair loss. It is also used in beauty products for the skin.
There is some evidence that Melbrosia, which contains royal jelly and flower pollen, can be beneficial for menopausal women. There is no evidence that royal jelly can treat anything else, and some tests have shown it is ineffective for hayfever.
Bee venom therapy does include a serious inherent risk as well: roughly 2% of people are allergic to bee stings and could suffer from allergic reaction and anaphylactic shock. There have already been some documented cases where the anaphylactic shock directly caused by apitherapy has resulted in the death of a patient. If it involves an actual bee sting, it also poses a danger to the bee (the bee dies). Small children are at risk from botulism spores in honey. Bee pollen ingestion, touted as a cure for allergies, can cause kidney failure as well as life-threatening anaphylaxis.
Though not especially "mainstream", apitherapy appears to have been around since ancient Egyptian times. Honey has a proven antibacterial effect if used externally, and it was widely used to treat wounds before the advent of purpose-developed disinfectants. It can also be useful where other disinfectants can't be used, for example singers often drink honey (mixed with lemon juice) to soothe sore throats — although this is still a little controversial as to whether it works or is just a distraction to stop them getting drunk instead.
- Waikato University "Honey Research Unit"
- Wikipedia; everything you ever wanted to know about bee stings
- Ask a Biologist — Why do bees die after they sting?
- "No Beneficial Effect of Bee Venom in Study Using Animal Model for MS". Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. 1998-06-02.
- A menu for the Queen from birthday meals and royal banquets past, The Telegraph, 21 Apr 2016
- See the Wikipedia article on Royal jelly.
- Royal Jelly, Web MD, accessed 13 Dec 2016
- Woman dies from bee-sting therapy touted by Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ars Technica, 21 Mar 2018
- Though if it just involves a small number of European honeybees, it doesn't really affect the colony since the bees that sting you are sterile workers.
- NHS:Your baby's first solid foods
- Steven Novella. "Bee Pollen Supplements – Not Safe or Effective." 'Science-Based Medicine', May 23, 2012.