Apitherapy is using the products of a honey bee colony for therapeutic purposes. Humans have been doing this for thousands of years, and some apitherapy, like the use of honey to heal wounds and burns and soothe sore throats, has been scientifically proven effective. Also, the use of bee venom in immunotherapy to protect people allergic to bee stings from having an anaphylactic reaction when stung is a medically sound therapy and invaluable to bee sting allergic beekeepers. Beeswax is also used in many protective skin products like lip balm and lotion.
Other components of a honey bee hive that have been used to prevent or treat ailments do not have many peer-reviewed clinical studies to support their claims. Though many people anecdotally report a wide variety of health benefits from the ingestion or topical use of pollen, propolis, bee bread, and royal jelly. Caution should be exercised in use of these products, particularly in those people with pollen or bee venom/sting allergies.
The most controversial form of apitherapy is bee sting therapy or bee venom therapy used not in the context of bee allergy immunotherapy. Bee sting therapy has been reported to treat a variety of diseases including arthritis, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Parkinson’s Disease, and possibly some forms of cancer, but reliable scientific backing of these claims is sparse. In fact, bee sting therapy has been shown to actually cause autoimmune disease symptoms in some individuals. Because not all of the components of bee venom are well studied or even known, and because each bee’s venom sac contains a slightly different amount and mixture of these components, there are serious risks to bee sting therapy. These risks include, but are not limited to, organ failure and death. Bee sting apitherapy should not be attempted lightly, by anyone who is not a trained professional, without access to an Epipen, or without immediate access to proper medical intervention should a severe reaction occur.
More Information: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-43513817
No matter what you read on the internet, the simple truth is bee stings are dangerous. Even if you are not allergic, even if you have been stung many times before, even if you have gentle bees, every sting is an opportunity for an anaphylactic reaction. Again, even if you are not allergic to bee stings, you can spontaneously develop an allergy and have a systemic overreaction by your body that can cause fever, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, convulsions, throat swelling, trouble breathing, loss of consciousness, shock, and in some cases, death. While multiple stings at the same time are more likely to cause a severe reaction, these serious symptoms can be caused by a single sting. ALL BEEKEEPERS should carry epinephrine auto injectors (i.e. Epipens) with them when working their hives, especially hives that are remote or when doing inspections alone. Also, as a beekeeper, you will get stung. There is no way to not get stung, only to minimize the amount and severity of the stings. That being said, even if you are or become allergic to bees, with proper immunotherapy and precautions, you can still continue beekeeping (I am a bee sting allergic beekeeper).
Most honey bee stings cause a local reaction at the sting site. This reaction typically includes: pain, swelling, redness, heat, itchiness, and tenderness that can last a few hours to a few days based on the individual and any topical or systemic treatment applied or taken. Topical treatments include ice, meat tenderizer, antihistamine (i.e. Benadryl) spray, cream, or ointment, and steroid (i.e. cortisone) spray, cream, or ointment. Some people also experience a more moderate reaction with hives that appear on other parts of the body and/or more generalized swelling of the entire area (like the entire hand for example) that worsens over time. Sometimes these more moderate symptoms can be controlled with oral antihistamines (i.e. Benadryl), though oral steroids like Prednisone are sometimes needed. Any reaction that is more than local inflammation at the site of the sting is cause to see a doctor.
What is a stinger? What happens when a honey bee stings you? Only female bees have stingers because they are a modified ovipositor. The stingers of the worker bees are barbed and have two parts which allows them to work their way deeper into the flesh. The stingers are attached to venom sacks which continue to pump venom into the body of the victim minutes after it has pulled away from the bee itself, eviscerating and killing the bee in the process. Not unlike snake venom, honey bee venom is a witch’s brew of peptides and other substances meant to injure the thing that is stung. The main component of bee venom is a peptide called Melittin which causes pain and cell death.
More Information: https://www.beeawareallergy.com/resources/beekeepers/high-risk-allergy/
Jen Haeger is a new master beekeeper and board member of A2B2.