The exotic substances produced by bees have been invested with assorted medicinal powers since the dawn of history. The venom from bee stings, for instance, has been recommended as a remedy for arthritis since the time of the ancient Egyptians. And modern advocates of apitherapy still have great faith in the powers of so-called royal jelly, which they say can boost energy and ease the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Apitherapy has, in fact, been promoted for everything from chronic pain, backache, and migraines to such disorders as hair loss, poor vision, gout, asthma, certain skin conditions, loss of memory and poor bladder control. Despite all these claims, modern clinical testing has failed to reveal any medicinal value in the various byproducts of bees. Indeed, the only currently accepted application of apitherapy is in desensitization treatments for people with a potentially life-threatening allergy to bee stings. For such individuals, controlled exposure to tiny amounts of bee venom can help build a protective tolerance. Lately there has also been much speculation about a potential role for bee venom in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. The Multiple Sclerosis Society has provided a research grant to study the possibility, and The International Apiary Society reportedly is tracking 4,500 people with multiple sclerosis for the same purpose. However, the jury remains out on the treatment's real value, and few doctors recommend it - at least for now.
Five bee-generated substances fall under the rubric of apitherapy. Each is credited with various health benefits, though none has been conclusively shown to deliver them
Who Should Avoid This Therapy?
Before undertaking any type of apitherapy, be sure to get tested for an allergy to bee venom. Life-threatening allergic reactions have occurred after a single exposure to the venom - or to a single dose of royal jelly. Even if you've been stung in the past without apparent harm, you may still have developed an allergy since then. Allergies usually don't surface with the first sting, but once you've been sensitized, a second sting can send you into shock. For some people, even the slightest risk of a reaction simply can't be justified. If you have a heart condition, for instance, you should avoid all forms of apitherapy. Those with diabetes, tuberculosis, or other types of infections should also be wary. It's wise, too, to avoid apitherapy during pregnancy.
People receiving bee venom treatments are likely to experience pain, inflammation, stiffness, soreness, and itching - as anyone who has ever had a bee-sting knows. Of more concern is the possibility of a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction in someone unaware that he's allergic. Due to danger of such a reaction, many practitioners believe treatments should be administered only in the presence of a physician.