People would feel more comfortable around bees if it wasn’t for their stingers. However, that little sting seems to have some properties that can relieve pain from arthritis.
Apitherapy, colloquially known as bee venom therapy, is becoming a more well-known method of treatment for treating arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and bee sting allergies. Peter Borst is a member of the Finger Lakes Bee Club, who has been working in the beekeeping industry since 1974. Along with managing over 500 of his own colonies, he is a retired Senior Apiarist at Cornell's Dyce Lab for Honey Bee Studies. and worked as an apiary inspector for New York State from 2006 to 2008.
Borst also suffers from arthritis and has used bee venom to relieve the pain. Considering his long exposure to bee stings, though, he has built up a tolerance. Others with allergies to bees are warned to steer clear of this kind of treatment, he said, and the methodology certainly counts as an alternative medicine as opposed to something condoned by modern medicine entities. Due to his field experience with bees, Borst has learned how to self-administer the bee stings in a controlled environment.
“Traditionally, apitherapy is done using the actual bees,” Borst said. “There are a few people in the United States who sell bees through the mail where you can buy about 10 or 15 honey bees in a very small case and an individual can self-administer the bee sting. You just chill the bees down a bit, like put them in the fridge for a few minutes and they stop moving. Then you can take them out of there and warm them up. Then, you hold the bee by its wings and poke the stinger into your skin.”
Borst said this comes in handy in the wintertime as a type of booster shot to relieve the pain from arthritis. This does come with a side effect for the bees, though. While this may be good for a person’s arthritis, this does kill the bees. Borst, though, sees this as a part of natural selection since most bees live about four to five months at a time. Since most hives, he said, have around 50,000 worker bees in them, this is not a major loss for the hive.
This type of treatment can be done safely under the supervision of a doctor. It’s safer to inject the venom, which allows for a more controlled way to administer a proper dosage. In an article from Sept. 2017, Borst wrote about the active anti-inflammatory agent in bee-stings, which has been found to be much stronger than cortisone
“The active principle which comprises about 50% of fresh venom is called melittin,” Borst wrote. “It induces lysis in cells, which means it causes them to burst. This is the action that produces the initial pain of the bee sting. Obviously, stinging insects intend to inflict pain quickly on their enemies to create a strong, unforgettable memory that will permanently deter them.”
While still a firm believer in traditional medicine, Borst has a healthy dose of skepticism regarding the usage of apitherapy. Despite knowing a great deal of its pros and cons, Borst said he wouldn’t recommend this for most people going through the same thing he is without careful deliberation and adequate consultation. Considering the number of risks associated with this type of treatment, such as developing allergies to bees, Borst warns that it isn’t for everyone.