Sting the Pain Away (cont.)

According to Christopher Kim, medical director of the Monmouth Pain Institute in Red Bank, N.J., bee venom therapy has been around for thousands of years. Reference to the treatment can be found in ancient Egypt and Greek medical writings. Also known as apitherapy, the technique is more widely used in Eastern Europe, Asia and South America.

Treatments supposedly started after beekeepers, who were stung many times, noticed their arthritis pains were relieved. Some practitioners still use live bee stings to deliver the venom.

Most Got Better

Kim, who has administered apitherapy to 3,000 people, published a two-year study on 108 rheumatoid and osteoarthritis patients who had not responded to convention treatments. Starting with twice-weekly injections, he gradually increased the number of shots until the patients improved significantly. Most subjects showed improvement after an average of 12 injections.

In his article -- printed in the March 1989 issue of the German journal, Rheumatologie -- Kim concluded that apitherapy was safe, effective, and free of serious side effects.

But evaluations of most U.S. medical treatments are based on double-blind studies -- where neither the subject nor researcher knows who is getting the real medicine or a placebo. Most reports about bee venom therapy are anecdotal. Even those studies looking at more than one patient, such as Kim's, have not included a placebo group for comparison.

"It's very difficult to find a placebo substance that will mimic a bee venom injection or sting with its itching, redness, and swelling," says Kim.

Bee Venom Studied

Nonetheless, enough interest exists in apitherapy and its health claims that Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., has begun a one-year preliminary study of bee venom to treat multiple sclerosis -- a chronic, progressive, and often crippling neurological disorder.

"Most the 40 ingredients in bee venom have been identified," says Cohen. "Mellitin, an anti-inflammatory agent found in the venom, is one hundred times stronger than cortisone."

Bee venom also contains a substance known as adolapin, which is both anti-inflammatory and pain-blocking. Practitioners believe all the ingredients in bee venom work together to cause the body to release more natural healing compounds in its own defense. Bee venom is also said to increase blood circulation and reduce swelling.

Caution Needed

But some caution is necessary. Because one to five percent of the population is allergic to bee venom, apitherapy patients must first be tested. Moreover, the practitioner should have close at hand a bee sting kit which can remedy allergic reactions.

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