Florida Extension Beekeeping Newsletter
Apis--Apicultural Information and Issues (ISSN 0889-3764)
Volume 12, Number 2, February 1994
FOCUS ON APITHERAPY
In conjunction with other forms of "alternative" medicine, the
use of bee products in promoting and conserving human health is
trying to enter the mainstream. That seemed to be the message at
the recent American Beekeeping Federation convention in Orlando.
Dr. Brad Weeks, an MD and president of the American Apitherapy
Society, held forth for several hours on the subject. The
audience, a mixture of true believers and skeptics, intently probed
Dr. Weeks for kernels of information to support their respective
views on this controversial subject.
Dr. Weeks was careful to discriminate between the role of the
Society and that of a physician. The Society cannot recommend
treatment; only the individual doctor is able to do this. The
Apitherapy Society's function, Dr. Weeks said, is to gather
information and place it in the hands of beekeepers, patients and
physicians. Toward this end, the Society has established The
Multi-Center Apitherapy Study (MCAS), which is gathering as much
data as possible on benefits of apitherapy. Anyone undergoing
therapy should fill out a standard form which can then be used
along with others as a testimonial to effectiveness. Some 4,000
arthritis suffers and 1,700 with multiple sclerosis (MS) are
currently participating in this database. With enough cases
cataloged, Dr. Weeks said, it will be increasingly difficult for
conventional medical authorities to ignore the virtues of
Increased exposure in the media, according to Dr. Weeks, has
caused a great surge in Society membership; up to 3,000 from the 40
or so that has been traditional. Phone the Society at 800-823-3460
or the MCAS at 206/579-1632 for more information on their programs.
The membership fee stands at $35.00 a year; mail checks to 3220 E.
Swede Hill Rd., Clinton, WA 98236, phone/fax 206/579-1532.
The Society defines apitherapy as "...medicinal use of honey
bee products including bee venom, raw honey, pollen, royal jelly,
wax and propolis." Two of these were discussed in some detail by
Dr. Weeks in his presentation: venom and raw honey.
Exciting research on bee venom, according to Dr. Weeks,
indicates that it has pronounced anti-inflammatory, analgesic and
immunostimulant properties, bolstering claims of effective
treatment for a wide variety of diseases. He cautioned that how
the venom actually works is a mystery, but that encouraging more
research along this line is one of the American Apitherapy
Society's missions. Bee venom is a poison, he said, but so are
most substances when used in excess. Thus, venom therapy becomes
a matter of dosage based on individual needs.
Bee venom is a complex of various chemicals which Dr. Weeks
divided into various metaphors derived from the game of football.
He characterized as "front line" players: hyaluronidase,
phospholipase A and histamine. These tend to soften up tissues,
promoting circulation, allowing the other constituents access to
localized sites. He said melittin, apamin, MCD-peptide and
adolapin were like "running backs," and the "utility players" were
dopamine and norepinephrine.
Melittin, which is 50% of the dry weight of whole venom, is a
powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent, Dr. Weeks said.
Apamin produces anti-inflammation without compromising the immune
system. It may be the main substance responsible for reducing
symptoms of MS. MCD-peptide is important, according to Dr. Weeks,
because there are many receptor sites for it in the hippocampus of
the human brain. It, along with adolapin, may contribute to
clearing up "fuzzy thinking" as reported by some patients.
Dopamine and norepinephrine are neurotransmitters which can enhance
communication throughout the nervous system. Their use may be
important in treating Parkinson's disease.
The systemic effects of bee venom also include stimulating the
adrenal glands to produce cortisol, according to Dr. Weeks, a
related compound to hydroxy-cortisol, or cortisone. The latter is
often prescribed as an anti-inflammatory. Taking a page from the
Physician's Desk Reference (PDR), he then proceeded to show the
range of currently medically accepted products based on cortisol
and the maladies for which they are prescribed. The list was
similar to the one containing diseases for which bee venom has been
recommended. And, although commercially available cortisone has
shown deleterious side effects in some cases, Dr. Weeks said,
cortisol, produced by the body, does not.
There are a number of principles of apitherapy, according to
Dr Weeks. First and foremost is informed consent by the patient.
The patient-physician relationship has broken down, Dr. Weeks said.
Instead of being the all-powerful god-like figure of today, the
original physician was a teacher. Communication between the
afflicted and doctors must be a two-way street or little healing
Working with symptoms instead of against them is also
important Dr. Weeks said. Itching, for example, is a symptom of
healing. Some patients, when confronted with itching, may refuse
more treatment, even though it is a sign that things are improving.
Another is trying to lower a temperature. The heat is in fact
destroying viruses and other organisms that are responsible for
unhealthy conditions. As Hippocrates said, quoted by Dr. Weeks,
"Give me the power to create a fever and I will cure all illness."
Another principle is that a "crisis" is often necessary before
any healing can take place. The crisis is like a call to arms, Dr.
Weeks said. It gets the body's immune system's attention that
something is really wrong. He quoted a physician named Hamerman,
"You can never cure a chronic illness, the best you can hope for is
to make it acute, and then you can cure it."
Finally, Dr. Weeks said, the placebo effect exists. This is
the observed fact that some patients get better no matter what the
treatment. Something inherent in the doctor-patient relationship
often stimulates healing in and of itself. This effect, along with
other therapies, should not be ignored and can be used to the
patient's benefit. The bottom line, Dr. Weeks concluded, is the
patient's welfare and all means should be brought to bear to
With reference to liability, Dr. Weeks said that beekeepers
are usually not at risk when providing bees for treatment. This is
especially true if no money changes hands. He concluded that the
risk was worth taking if venom therapy helps even one patient.
Most recently, there has been great interest in using bee
venom therapy to treat multiple sclerosis (MS). Information on
near miraculous recoveries by some was published in American Bee
Journal, see the July, 1993 APIS. Dr. Weeks passed out information
from North America's best known apitherapist, Charles Mraz,
specifically concerning treatment of MS. What follows is a
condensation of that information:
1. MS involves the neurological system; it is important to treat
all nerve meridians in rotation. The spine is a main nerve
meridian to be treated.
2. Before beginning, always make a test sting near the area most
affected. Remove the sting after a minute or two and wait fifteen
minutes to see if hypersensitivity develops. [Editor's comment:
trouble breathing, vomiting, hives are often considered signs of
hypersensitivity]. After this test, start treatment with five or
more stings along a nerve meridian.
3. It is best to apply stings to trigger points or "hot spots."
These are very sensitive spots along nerve meridians and can be
found by pressing firmly with the thumb. Mark the spots with a
pen. If trigger points cannot be found, applying stings along
meridians will usually be effective.
4. Normally, five to fifteen stings are applied on appropriate
nerve meridians three times per week. First treatments may not
produce much swelling, but further ones will. Extensive swelling,
heat and itching are to be encouraged. This "reactive stage"
indicates the body's healing powers are being mobilized. The main
precaution is not to try to administer more bee stings than the
body can handle. [Editor's comment: this can be extremely
variable, ranging from 100 to several thousand].
5. Continue treatment for at least six months to ensure giving the
therapy a chance to work. All cases respond differently. The only
way to find out if this kind of therapy works is to try it. When
symptoms are no longer present, treatment can be discontinued.
Treatment can be resumed at any time. There is much to gain and
little to lose trying bee venom therapy for MS, lupus erythematosus
and scleroderma, as well as the vast family of rheumatic diseases.
6. Bees for treatment should be placed in a small jar with a
tablespoon of honey, preferably crystallized or in comb so that
they don't become mired. Bees can be collected even in winter by
rubbing the jar's opening over a 3/4" hole in a hive. The
disturbed bees come running out into the jar. For treatment,
chilled bees can be picked by the thorax with long six-inch
tweezers, crushed, and the abdomen applied to the site. The sting
site can be treated with ice prior to stinging and even local
anesthetic might be used.
Other therapies based on bee products are also part of the
Society's work, Dr. Weeks said. Using "raw" honey is of
significance in everything from post nasal drip and pink eye to
diaper rash. Perhaps its most universal use, however, is in burn
treatment. Dr. Weeks mentioned an effective treatment used in the
Far East, based somewhat on honey, called "Moist Exposed Bee
Ointment" (MEBO). This, he said, was far less painful and
expensive than others currently in use in the United States.
Because the therapy depends to some extent on hydrogen peroxide
produced by glucose oxidase, honey must not be heated, or the
reaction will be compromised.
Although therapies based on bee venom and raw honey appear to
have a good deal of merit, the Society skates onto thin ice when
describing the benefits of other hive products in its literature.
It allies itself with those who have described bee collected pollen
as the world's "only perfectly complete food," with "all" the
essential vitamins and minerals needed by humankind. As Dr. Justin
Schmidt said on page 931 in the newest edition of The Hive and the
Honey Bee: "Simple evidence that pollen is not a perfect (human)
food comes from the fact that pollen contains no, or essentially
insignificant, levels of the lipid-soluble vitamins D, K, and E."
The Society also says that royal jelly "...is the world's best
example of 'You are what you eat.' This is the substance fed to
the queen bee larva which allows her to develop into a genetically
complete (fertile) insect." Both workers and queens are
genetically complete; the queen is able to lay fertilized eggs only
because of sperm donated by drones. Again, Dr. Schmidt, on page
970 of the volume mentioned above, said: "It is not uncommon to
hear that royal jelly has some gonadotropic or otherwise sex-
enhancing action, an opinion that is emotionally pleasing since
royal jelly is the sole food of one of the most productive
organisms on earth--the queen honey bee. Any validity to these
ideas was thoroughly dispelled over 50 years ago in excellent
studies demonstrating that royal jelly had no gonadotropic effects
on female rats and contains no nutritionally active levels of
vitamin E, the fat-soluble vitamin first recognized for its crucial
role in reproduction."
Clearly the work of the American Apitherapy Society is needed
not only to improve the health of humankind, but also that of the
beekeeping industry. Ultimately, this boils down to delivering
quality information to physicians, patients and beekeepers alike.
Like most organizations, the Society will have to carefully choose
from the many available sources. This means working closely with
the likes of the National Honey Board and Cooperative Extension
Service, something not often apparent from reading its literature.
If a true demand for therapeutic products from the beehive existed,
this would provide significant alternative income for many in the
apicultural industry. It is incumbent on the American Apitherapy
Society, however, to ensure that it has done the best possible job
ensuring long-range survival of any product that might be developed
as a result of its activities.
Malcolm T. Sanford
Bldg 970, Box 110620
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611-0620
Phone (904) 392-1801, Ext. 143
BITNET Address: MTS@IFASGNV
INTERNET Address: MTS@GNV.IFAS.UFL.EDU