bee venom therapy
May 27, 2020 9:03 AM   Subscribe

I quickly ducked into my bedroom closet, grabbed a small wooden hut filled with 60 buzzing bees, and returned to the group. Sitting under a floor lamp, I used a pair of long, delicate tweezers to grab a squirming insect, then asked Risha to pull up her sweater and straighten out her back. Using the knuckle of my thumb to measure one inch from Risha’s spine, I carefully placed the bee to her skin and gave it a light tap. As the tiny barbed stinger went in, Risha inhaled sharply and I slowly counted to 10. I scraped out the stinger with my fingernail, then turned to my guests, who had come to my house to learn about using live bee stings as a treatment for Lyme disease. “Who’s next?” The Secret Society of Self-Stingers (Narratively)
posted by not_the_water (32 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
My mom tried to get me to do this for my chronic illness. She had me talk to a lady who did it.

Her: "Apitherapy lowered my blood pressure and increased my core temperature 2 degrees!"
Me: "Well, my problem is low blood pressure and overheating, so I'll pass, thanks."
Her: "Oh no, I'm sure it would help for that too! The bee venom just knows where to go to flush all the toxins out. :)"

Nope. Nope. Nope.
posted by brook horse at 9:22 AM on May 27 [22 favorites]


Texas Monthly ran an article exploring bee-sting therapy not too long ago; it's interesting to read the first-person account posted here.
posted by Tuba Toothpaste at 9:44 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]


love 2 torment & kill a few thousand bees to feel better, maybe
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:49 AM on May 27 [10 favorites]


I read it in reader mode in firefox and read a completely different story. It was about boxing.
posted by aniola at 9:51 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Not all that sure about treatment of Lyme but pretty sure I saw a few decent studies a while back that said it was actually a potentially valid treatment for certain types of arthritis so, while a bit crazy perhaps, it's not completely silly.

I'm inherently skeptical of woo-woo based treatments (ranging from reiki to hypnotism to much of chiropractic practices), doubly so when they make claims to do X or Y... but there's something to be said about the untapped potential of natural remedies that don't have a reason for big pharmaceutical companies to go all in on funding studies to prove their efficacy for a given use case. I wish we knew more but I doubt we'll get the level of clarity that a proper study with large populations and analysis could possibly provide.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:56 AM on May 27 [8 favorites]


Reading the first person account, and even the Texas Monthly article, I thought, "Hmmm, bees, it's pretty odd but maybe there's something there." And then I got to the day-after regimen which includes coffee enemas to "expel toxins," and was like, "Oh, Orlop, what are you thinking? Of course it's woo."

I have a couple of friends dealing with long-term, debilitating, chronic conditions that have been very hard to diagnose and treat. One's trouble started when a nickel-and-copper IUD triggered such an extreme allergy to metal that she couldn't even drink water without a reaction. Both of these friends are into a lot of alternative therapies, including "muscle testing" for food allergies and reactions, which involves holding the item in your hand and seeing if you have a muscle weakness while holding it. One of them says that she can now do this without touching the food; she just needs to think about it, and her body will either sway forward if the food is OK, or backward if it's not.

I do kind of think they're both embracing all kinds of non-scientific stuff that probably isn't helping them as much as they think it is. But I also have a chronic, hard-to-treat pain condition, and I can't blame them.

I was stung by a bee for the second time in my life sometime in the last year. It hurt like crazy. I don't think I'd have the gumption to do what these people are doing.
posted by Orlop at 10:02 AM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Also, I didn't realize it could take as long as 15 or 20 minutes for a bee stinger to finish delivering its venom. Interesting.
posted by Orlop at 10:03 AM on May 27


Also, I didn't realize it could take as long as 15 or 20 minutes for a bee stinger to finish delivering its venom

Oh yea, you can watch it pump like a little tell tale heart.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:04 AM on May 27 [10 favorites]


"gluten-free pretzel sticks, medjool dates, turmeric-roasted cashews"
"sparkling mineral water"
"Brooke hiked, baked and sipped natural wines"
"infrared-heated hot yoga studio in downtown Manhattan"
"swept shards of grain-free tortilla chips from my floor"
"we’re going to hang out in her sauna and cook some organic eats"

The author goes to ridiculous lengths to signal her bouginess in this essay. I mean, nothing against you if you like turmeric-roasted cashews, but she's obviously writing this for a very specific audience.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 10:16 AM on May 27 [14 favorites]


This would be a hell of a way for someone to discover they had a beesting allergy....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:17 AM on May 27 [8 favorites]


Holy shit.

It's hard to know where to start, with all the woo and exploitation and the feeling that somewhere in here is another historic failing of Western medicine to prioritize women's health. But I think I'll jump on the part where the treatment involves being stung 4,500 times over two to three years. I guess I naively hoped that these stings could be done by any species of bee, like the kind that can live to sting another day, but then there's an awkward moment in the article where the description of the treatment goes from describing a live bee to describing a stinger. And indeed, the business that's named in the article - I'm not going to link to them - makes it clear that they use honey bees for their treatment, meaning that with each sting the bee "leaves behind not only the stinger, but also part of its abdomen and digestive tract, plus muscles and nerves. This massive abdominal rupture kills the honey bee."

I don't know what the animal bodycount is for my normal day-to-die life, but I live a pretty bland and average first-world existence and so I assume it is insanely, selfishly, and unsustainably high. All the same, the idea of directly causing the death of 4500 honey bees - to start every day by ritualistically enticing them to kill themselves against my skin - it feels like eating Ortolans.

I truly empathize with anyone with a chronic health condition that puts them in a place where they seek out a treatment like this - regardless of its efficacy. I don't think that I am in a position to judge the morality of their decision. But I'm feeling a strong need to go plant some things.
posted by ZaphodB at 10:28 AM on May 27 [43 favorites]


surely if 4500 honeybees are good 2 or 3 murder hornets with non-barbed stingers would be better...

(This and a math post. When do we get the qdoba or lady bird post today?)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:32 AM on May 27 [9 favorites]


Not the turmeric-roasted cashews!
posted by thelonius at 10:39 AM on May 27


Her name was conspicuously absent from the article, but rest assured that bee venom therapy passes the first test of modern, dangerous, anti-science woo: it's been endorsed by Gwyneth Paltrow. Not just for Lyme disease, too; she herself used bee stings to treat her c-section scar.

God it's hard some days.
posted by ZaphodB at 10:40 AM on May 27 [14 favorites]


STUNG by a GIANT HORNET! - would not recommend.

But it's terribly entertaining to watch this guy get bit/stung by various critters.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:50 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Bee venom is not "woo woo" anything.

Does Reiki have numerous research studies asserting its efficacy? No. Bee venom seems to have them.

Bee Venom: Overview of Main Compounds and Bioactivities for Therapeutic Interests

"the clinical application of BV therapy is still a long way ahead, but researchers believe that the ongoing work on this topic will eventually allow BV and its compounds to be considered as definitive candidates in various therapies in upcoming years."

Therapeutic Effects of Bee Venom on Immunological and Neurological Diseases

"Future studies including experimental elucidation of detailed cellular/molecular mechanisms, and well-controlled, randomized clinical trials will lead to a potential therapeutic alternative for treating refractory immunological and neurological diseases."

Clinical Randomized Study of Bee-Sting Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

"Compared with pre-treatment, scores of joint swelling degree, joint activity, pain, and pressing pain, joint-swelling number, grasp force, 15 m-walking duration, morning stiff duration in bee-venom group and medication group were improved significantly (P [less than] 0.05, 0.01)."

I'll be honest. I know little about the National Center for Biotechnology Information. It does not seem like "woo woo" research though.

I have no stake in this medicine. It would be lovely to see a little open-mindedness instead of knee-jerk Paltrownonsense. I know anti-vax and other disinfo is reaching Infocalypse levels. I get it.

However, those links above are the top 3 on Google. It took me 5 minutes to look it up and say, "Oh, it's real thing!"

As far as the cruelty and "waste" of bees, it seems like there could be a way for extracting venom without damaging bee populations...

Here's one.

So yeah, I think it would be really swell if this person could get the medicine that works for them without having to DIY it.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:00 AM on May 27 [9 favorites]


Previously came up in this discussion about ticks and Lyme. That thread is worth reading for Blasdelb's magnificent comment alone.

My aunt used to get bee stings for her multiple sclerosis. She also got special Masses said for her. She lived 20 years with that disease before it killed her and I think it had a lot more to do with incredible stubbornness than anything else.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 11:02 AM on May 27 [3 favorites]


My aunt used to get bee stings for her multiple sclerosis.

My mom did as well, and actually did see a small benefit at first. Nothing earth shattering, but she did feel a little better for a bit. But that didn't last very long.

The fun part about that? I'm terrified of bees due to an incident when I was 2 when I got stung many times by what I thought was flies landing on me. So now mom decided to put a freaking beehive in the backyard. Oh, and the beekeeper that sold it to her needed help moving it. He said it's night, so they're not active, it's fine. Hoping this would help mom, I put on a beekeeper suit and helped him move it. That went OK. But then I walked away, and got 20 feet from the hive, and turned on my flashlight to see where I was going in the yard. That's when the little fucker found a gap in the suit and stung me.

I can't say I got any benefits from that.
posted by azpenguin at 11:21 AM on May 27 [5 favorites]


When I was 6 years old I got stung by a bee for the first time. I was in Pakistan and visiting the site of a new university that a distant relation was establishing. I vividly remember that the bee was yellow and red and that sting hurt! The relation, who was a large scale practitioner of Unani medicine, told me that because I got stung I wouldn't get arthritis. It was a bit remote for my concerns as a 6 year old but now that I'm in my 40s I'm hoping a bit more that he was right.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:29 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]


mrgrimm, the NCBI is just a repository for open-source articles. It's not behind the studies you've linked to. Of those studies, one appears to be self-published. The other two are published in journals I'm not familiar with, Toxins and Mocules, but they're both low-impact-factor journals published by MDPI - which is to say they're predatory author-pays journals with little credibility. I don't want to be snarky, but this is the danger of relying on a five-minute Google search on a topic as complex as this.

The Texas Monthly article that's linked above talks a little about existing clinical research regarding bee venom therapy and Lyme disease. In brief, that evidence appears to be sparse, theoretical, and distant from actual treatment of patients. And I'm not even going to get into the issue of chronic Lyme disease.
posted by ZaphodB at 11:35 AM on May 27 [32 favorites]


Lots of the stuff in this article is absolute nonsense, but actual medical hospitals use maggots and leeches all the time — for very specific purposes. Bee stings can't be a cure-all (cure-alls cure nothing!) but that doesn't mean they don't have potential as a therapy for some things. Let's be skeptical of Goop-esque b.s. while also remaining open-minded to new potential treatments?

I know a lot of people who have this kind of debilitating chronic illness and desperate need for validation and support that they don't get from doctors, who end up connecting with each other, selling each other on all sorts of things, and building a whole identity around it. They get preyed on by unscrupulous ppl selling the newest fad treatments, they get involved in pyramid-scheme-esque 'trainings' to be 'healers', and they feel attacked if anyone questions their decisions or their faith that (woo treatment of the day) is going to cure them. It is hard to watch and I try to sympathize with the anxiety, depression, and isolation they feel while I remain skeptical of the ways they talk about the science of health.
posted by 100kb at 11:35 AM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Well it appears to have way more risks than benefits- Sawbones went in on this 2 years ago. This is not new- and while it might be possible some sort of purified vemon could have theraputic properties, so far no dice- and bee sting therapy isn't just stupid and cruel to the bees- it has some real health risks such as triggering life-threatening allergic reactions.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:41 AM on May 27 [7 favorites]


mrgrimm, the NCBI is just a repository for open-source articles. It's not behind the studies you've linked to. Of those studies, one appears to be self-published. The other two are published in journals I'm not familiar with, Toxins and Mocules, but they're both low-impact-factor journals published by MDPI - which is to say they're predatory author-pays journals with little credibility. I don't want to be snarky, but this is the danger of relying on a five-minute Google search on a topic as complex as this.

Thanks for the explanation. I used to work abstracting periodicals, and all the names get confusing after a while. Journal of Integral Medicine (I believe it's a Chinese peer-reviewed science journal)? BMJ Open? Journal of Groundwater?

Current medical consensus seems to be that bee venom therapy is ineffective for MS, arthritis or lupus. Inflammation is less certain.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:04 PM on May 27


Such pointless murder of so many bees.
posted by Annabelle74 at 12:25 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


>> Also, I didn't realize it could take as long as 15 or 20 minutes for a bee stinger to finish delivering its venom

> Oh yea, you can watch it pump like a little tell tale heart.

(First off, +1 internetz for that reference)

This is what messes me up regarding wasps.

A bee stinger can tear itself off their ass and pump venom into you for minutes, and unless you have an allergy or get a bunch of stings at once it'll probably suck but usually not be too ridiculously bad.

A wasp will merely graze you with a stinger that's in and out in less than a second, and BAM!
posted by mystyk at 1:17 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one thinking about that great Kuro5hin post from 2006 about that guy curing his allergies by getting infected by hookworms? I mean it was great in really horrifying way. Does anyone have an archived copy?
posted by uandt at 1:33 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]



I truly empathize with anyone with a chronic health condition that puts them in a place where they seek out a treatment like this - regardless of its efficacy. I don't think that I am in a position to judge the morality of their decision.


every person's pain is different but I am in agony a lot of the time, for other (known) reasons, and I can easily imagine that this could work for me - sort of like capsaicin but penetrating deeper and working better. but I would never. I wouldn't even experiment. because to kill one bee I could justify. easily! I'm in pain, and the bee would be in much worse pain, but it's so much smaller than me, and a less complex organism, and it's not illegal.

but the temptation to keep going if it worked--no. We are not all strong enough to keep from doing awful things when in pain, but you can avoid tempting yourself, if you care. these people don't care. I think I would be less disgusted if they expressed some ambivalence, or guilt, or pity, or awareness. which is silly, because it's not like that makes any difference to the bees. but.

like there is one kind of all the insects on earth that have a right to be left alone to die in their own good time, and it's bees. bees are it. they're the ones. little kittens of the air that they are. let them bee
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:46 PM on May 27 [18 favorites]


I truly empathize with anyone with a chronic health condition that puts them in a place where they seek out a treatment like this - regardless of its efficacy. I don't think that I am in a position to judge the morality of their decision.

I dunno, as a chronically ill woman, I'm real tired of people pushing these treatments on me. It has more often than not been non-disabled people peddling them.

I empathize for the chronically ill people who end up in a place where they are susceptible to things like this, and won't judge anyone for using it*, but I am going to judge the people who push it as a cure for others.

*Well, I will, for the bee murder, but not for the woo.
posted by brook horse at 3:09 PM on May 27 [15 favorites]


uandt, that is helminthic therapy and yeah, similar but even more what-the-hell-no than this. But you must remember how bad people must feel their disease or condition is to attempt such treatments.

(I don't know of the post you mention specifically)
posted by mephisjo at 5:13 PM on May 27


A bee stinger can tear itself off their ass and pump venom into you for minutes, and unless you have an allergy or get a bunch of stings at once it'll probably suck but usually not be too ridiculously bad.

A wasp will merely graze you with a stinger that's in and out in less than a second, and BAM!


(Some) bees can do that too. Last year I was riding one of those tadpole trikes, which puts your legs up in a perfect position for insects to fly up your pant legs. Then I was feeling this sensation like, "hmmm, that's familiar - it almost tastes like a bee sting". So I had to stop and take my pants off, and found a small bumblebee which had left a 12" trail of small stings down my leg. It seemed to be none the worse for having endured its trip through my pantleg, and happily flew off. But who knows, maybe it just couldn't get into the right position for max envenomation.
posted by sneebler at 12:22 PM on May 28


> A wasp will merely graze you with a stinger that's in and out in less than a second, and BAM!

(Some) bees can do that too.


So yeah, the way we found out that I had a mild beesting allergy was when I was ten and playing in a sprinkler, and a bumblebee started flying around me and I stopped and stood still like everyone told me to do - only to have the bee land right smack on the end of my nose and then start stinging me on my damn lip. I shrieked and swatted it off - it was only on me for a half second - and ran like hell. The next morning I woke up with my lip swelled up about twice normal size and the left side of my face soon followed. An emergency visit to my pediatrician, followed by a couple days of prescription-strength Benadryl, sorted that out; ever since I have given into my lizard-brain instinct to run like hell when I saw a bee the way I always wanted anyway.

….My point being - I was a pretty darn healthy kid with no history of bee allergies and yet suddenly was surprised by one that required a doctor visit. I shudder to think what would have happened if I'd been similarly surprised by a bee sting allergy, only I also had a chronic illness on top of it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:44 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I knew a woman, who was paid to help with bee stinging. Her friend was a symphony violinist with multiple sclerosis. The violinist bought the bees and brought them to this friend to administer the stings. This was twenty years ago, so it is not a new fringe thing.
posted by Oyéah at 4:16 PM on May 28


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