APITHERAPY Overview Information
Apitherapy is the use of honeybee products such as bee pollen, bee venom, honey, “bee glue” used for hive construction (propolis), and special honey used to feed queen bees (royal jelly) for medical purposes. There is no specific training or licensing standard for practitioners of apitherapy in North America. In many instances, apitherapy is practiced by nurses, physicians, acupuncturists, or naturopaths.
Apitherapy is used for treating multiple sclerosis (MS), osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, pain after a shingles infection, and bee sting allergies. It is also used for cough, herpes simplex virus, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), hay fever, high cholesterol, and the common cold. Other uses include improving athletic performance and wound healing after mouth surgery.
Honey is sometimes applied directly to the affected area for burns, wound healing, and foot ulcers caused by diabetes.
How does it work?
Apitherapy is the use of honeybee products for medical conditions. Different honeybee products are thought to have different actions in the body. Bee venom is thought to desensitize the body to bee stings. Bee venom was also once thought to decrease pain and swelling (inflammation), but more recent studies disagree.
Honey and other bee products such as propolis might be able to fight bacteria and viruses. However, there is not a lot of scientific information about royal jelly and other bee products.
Likely Effective for:
- Bee sting allergy. Bee venom is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of severe allergies to bee sting. Increasing doses are given over time by injection under the skin. This treatment typically provides 98% to 99% protection from allergic reactions to bee stings. Once bee venom treatment is stopped, the risk of an allergic reaction over the next 5 to 10 years is about 5% to 15%.
Possibly Effective for:
- Burns, when honey is used. Applying honey to burned skin seems to help improve healing.
- Cough, when honey is used. Taking honey at bedtime seems to help reduce nighttime coughing in children over the age of 2 years. It seems to work about as well as an over-the-counter cough medicine called dextromethorphan.
- Herpes, when propolis is used. An ointment that contains propolis seems to help genital herpes sores heal. It may work even better than a prescription medication called 5% acyclovir ointment.
- A type of mouth surgery called sulcoplasty, when propolis is used. Propolis mouth rinse following sulcoplasty seems to improve healing and reduce pain and swelling.
Possibly Ineffective for:
- Athletic performance, when bee pollen is used. Bee pollen does not seem to increase athletic performance or stamina.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS), when live bee stings are used. Administering live bee stings does not seem to improve MS symptoms.
- Osteoarthritis, when bee venom shots are used. Some early studies suggested that bee venom shots might be an effective treatment for arthritis. But other well-designed studies did not agree with this finding.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), when a combination bee product is used. Developing evidence suggests that a specific combination product (Femal, Natumin Pharma) seems to decrease some symptoms of PMS including irritability, weight gain, and fluid retention when given over a period of 2 menstrual cycles. This product contains 6 mg of royal jelly, 36 mg of bee pollen extract, and 120 mg of bee pollen plus pistil extract per tablet. It is given as 2 tablets twice daily.
- Hay fever, when honey is used. Early research suggests that consuming one tablespoon of honey daily, in addition to standard treatment, does not significantly improve symptoms.
- Athletic performance, when honey is used. There is some evidence that honey might help return blood sugar to normal levels after exercise. Honey might also improve performance when given during exercise.
- High cholesterol, when royal jelly is used. Developing research suggests that royal jelly might lower cholesterol levels in people with high cholesterol.
- Diabetic foot ulcers, when raw honey is used. There are reports that applying raw honey can speed healing of otherwise non-healing diabetic foot ulcers, even in the presence of “super bugs” such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), and Pseudomonas. In one report, previously non-healing ulcers completely healed after applying honey dressings for 6-12 months. After this treatment, amputation of the lower leg of this patient was no longer needed.
- The common cold, when propolis is used. There is some evidence that propolis might help people get over the common cold faster.
- Wound healing, when honey is used. There is some evidence that applying honey to a surgical wound that has become infected speeds healing, helps clear up the infection faster, and shortens the hospital stay. Early studies also suggest that applying honey directly to the skin can improve healing of mild skin ulcers, wounds, and sores.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Pain after a shingles infection.
- Other conditions.
APITHERAPY Side Effects & Safety
Most apitherapy bee products including bee venom, honey, bee pollen, and royal jelly, seem to be safe when used appropriately. However, there isn’t enough information about propolis to know if it is safe.
Bee venom for bee sting desensitization should only be administered by a licensed health professional. Since bee venom is usually given by injection, the most common side effects include local irritation, swelling, and tenderness at the injection site.
Allergic reactions are also common among people taking bee products by mouth or applying them to the skin. Some people can experience serious, life-threatening allergic reactions.
Special Precautions & Warnings:Children: Honey seems to be safe for children over 12 months of age. However, don’t give honey to younger children because raw honey can be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum spores, which can cause botulism poisoning in infants or young children. This is not a danger for older children or adults.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Eating honey in food amounts is LIKELY SAFE during pregnancy and breast-feeding.
It might be safe to be given bee venom shots in appropriate doses by a trained health professional. So far, serious side effects have not been reported. However, you should avoid high doses of bee venom. High doses can release histamine and this can cause the uterus to contract, possibly triggering a miscarriage. Some health professionals cut the maintenance dose of bee venom in half during pregnancy, just to stay on the safe side.
Asthma: There is some evidence that propolis may make asthma worse. It’s best to avoid using it if you have asthma.
Be sure to avoid royal jelly as well, if you have asthma. Royal jelly often causes allergic symptoms including intense itchiness, skin rash, eczema, swollen face and eyelids, irritated eyes, runny nose, shortness of breath, and asthma attacks. In severe cases, royal jelly can cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and death.
Allergies (atopy): Avoid using royal jelly if you have a tendency to get allergic reactions. Royal jelly often causes allergic symptoms including intense itchiness, skin rash, eczema, swollen face and eyelids, irritated eyes, runny nose, shortness of breath, and asthma attacks. In severe cases, royal jelly can cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and death.
“Auto-immune diseases” such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Bee venom might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using bee venom.
Skin problems (dermatitis): Avoid using royal jelly if you have skin problems. It might make your condition worse.
Pollen allergies: People with pollen allergies might get a serious reaction to bee pollen and other bee products. Allergic reactions can include itching, swelling, shortness of breath, and light-headedness. A severe allergic response (anaphylaxis) could lead to death.
Moderate Interaction Be cautious with this combination
- Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants) interacts with APITHERAPY
Bee venom might increase the immune system. By increasing the immune system, bee venom might decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system.
Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.
- Warfarin (Coumadin) interacts with APITHERAPY
Royal jelly might increase the effects of warfarin (Coumadin). Taking royal jelly with warfarin (Coumadin) might result in an increased chance of bruising or bleeding.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For cough: 2.5-10 mL (0.5-2 teaspoons) of honey at bedtime.
- For bee sting allergy: Healthcare providers use bee venom “shots” to lower allergic reactions in people who are allergic to bee stings.
- For the treatment of burns: honey has been applied directly or as a dressing made from gauze soaked in honey. The dressings have been left in place for up to 25 days, with wound inspection every 2 days. When used directly, 15 to 30 mL of honey has been applied every 1 to 2 days, and covered with a dry sterile gauze and bandage.
- After mouth surgery (sulcoplasty): a 5% aqueous alcohol solution of propolis is commonly used as a mouthwash.
- For herpes sores: 3% propolis ointment applied to the sores 4 times daily.