The Problem with Bee Venom Therapy

[♪ INTRO] Everyone knows that bee stings don’t feel
the best. And for the 1-7% of us with allergies to insect
venom, they can be deadly. But a growing number of people are choosing
to inject themselves with the toxic stuff, or even receive intentional stings, in the hopes of finding relief from
conditions like arthritis and chronic pain. It’s incredibly controversial, and risky,
but clinical studies have found some evidence backing bee venom therapy:
the medical use of bee venom. And further research into why it seems to
help could lead to breakthroughs for diseases we don’t currently have good ways to treat. The medicinal use of bees, or apitherapy,
has been around for ages. The Greek physician Hippocrates was doling
out stings as treatment as far back as 460 BCE. Then again, he also thought that if a
woman didn’t have sex with a man or give birth for a while, her uterus
would start wandering around her body and cause a bunch of health problems. So that’s not saying much. Today, apitherapy is mostly popular among
people who believe in alternative medicine. But it’s also started to get some attention
from evidence-based medicine, because clinical research has
backed some therapeutic claims. Venom is typically collected from bees
and then delivered through acupuncture. Small amounts of a diluted toxin mixture,
equivalent to one thousandth of a sting or less, are pricked right into
the skin with each needle. But some opt for a more natural route. Yes, that means live bees delivering real
stings. Either way, the venom usually comes from honey
bees, and it contains dozens of potent compounds, though a small protein called melittin is
the most abundant. Combined with the rest of the chemical cocktail,
it produces the burning pain and itching associated with stings as well as the hot, red lump
that continues to throb for hours. So it might seem weird to think that the venom
from a sting, which we typically associate with pain and swelling, might reduce things like pain and swelling. But that’s exactly what researchers have found. Bee venom seems to be most
effective for inflammatory diseases: conditions where excess inflammation
is a major part of the problem. Inflammation is one of the
body’s immune responses. It’s what causes infections or injuries
to become red, warm, and puffy. But when there’s too much, or it occurs
in response to the wrong things, you can end up with chronic problems. And weirdly enough, studies have
shown that both whole bee venom and melittin alone can reduce
inflammation from other sources. Melittin, for example, directly binds
with key molecules that activate pro-inflammatory genes, blocking
them from binding to DNA. And in some studies, this seems
to translate to results in humans. A handful of papers have shown that bee
venom therapy can help with the painful, swollen joints that characterize
arthritis, for example. A randomized controlled trial in Korea in 2003 found that the 37 patients who
received bee venom acupuncture had less stiffness and pain
in the affected joints than the 32 controls that
received saline instead. That lines up with what studies in animal
models of the condition have found. A few studies have also found that bee
venom therapy reduced chronic pain, which is often due to inflammation. Not in the short term, because
a sting is still, well, stingy. But in a study of 54 patients with chronic
lower back pain published in 2017, those treated with bee venom
acupuncture reported more improvement than those who received saline, similar results to a 2006 trial of
30 patients with shoulder pain. Some research has found that bee venom might
even help treat neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, where inflammation in
the brain harms and eventually kills neurons. But a clinical trial of 73
patients published in early 2018 found that the symptoms of those receiving
bee venom acupuncture had improved: they had a better walking gait, postural stability, and quality of life over those
who received saline instead. It could be that the venom actually protected
their neurons by reducing the dangerous inflammation, something seen in animal models of the disease. But while all these examples are promising, many doctors aren’t ready
to embrace bee stings just yet. Because the results of individual small trials
aren’t enough to say if a treatment works. You have to look at the research as a whole. Review papers published in 2008 and 2014 analyzed the results of previous studies on bee
venom therapy for pain and arthritis, respectively. And both concluded that when
you look at all the studies on this, there’s not enough evidence
to say if venom is effective because the trials to date were
too small or had other flaws. Plus, attempts to use venom for other
conditions have not had such great results. For example, a 2005 trial in 26
patients with multiple sclerosis, a disease where chronic inflammation
slowly causes nerve damage, found that bee venom did nothing
for the patients that received it. And while the evidence in support of bee
venom therapy remains somewhat shaky, its dangers are well established. There are dozens of side effects that come
along with injecting people with an insect venom, ranging from, oh I don’t know, pain,
and itching, to deadly allergic reactions. In a 2015 review and
meta-analysis of dozens of studies, researchers found that bee venom therapy
substantially increased the risk of a bad reaction to treatment,
which ranged from itching to death. In fact, of the 397 patients that received
bee venom across 20 clinical trials, 148 of them had adverse reactions. And these were patients who had initially
tested negative for venom allergies. So, even if bee venom therapy does work, the
benefits might not outweigh the risks. To make it a useful treatment, researchers
would need to figure out how to harness the therapeutic potential of venom
while reducing those risks. Part of the problem is that most
studies use whole bee venom and all of its allergy-inducing components when it’s likely only some or even one
compound is needed for the desired effect. In the meantime, the results of a few
small studies probably aren’t enough to justify jabbing venom-spiked
needles into your body. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow! And if you want to learn
more about insect venom, you might like our episode on 8
of the most painful stinging insects. [♪ OUTRO]


  1. Hmmm …
    If we're going to talk about secondary effects, every day millions of people take FDA approved medications whose side effects include rashes, headaches, dizziness, diarrhea, loss of immune response, depression, suicidal thoughts, liver damage, the possibility of developing lymphoma, hallucinations and death.
    It would be interesting to compare the numbers who benefit from these medications versus placebo in the same way bee venom therapy is being scrutinized.

  2. Can we do more videos on science experiments with negative results so that we get a better appreciation of positive bias and form skepticism to newly published claims?

  3. HA! Nice subtle throwing of shade. "Today, apitherapy is mostly popular among people who believe in alternative medacine. But it's also started to get some attention from evidence based medicine."

  4. …like classical homeopathy—but so why don't they sterilize it first—fake doctoring news…

  5. Yeah, nice conclusion. Just take the venom, "make it safe" and pack it in a fancy bottle to sell it for a gajillion dollars.

  6. My grandmother swears by apitoxin therapy. I’am going to try it next week. I have Trigeminal Neuralgia and I really hope it works! Traditional medicine has abandoned me and the pain makes me want to curve in a ball and die 🙁

  7. Those commenting so negatively probably never had arthritis or someone suffering from it. It works for arthritis, just because it does not work for other ailments, does not mean it is not useful. Also, if you are a beekeeper you probably get stung very often. It is from old beekeepers that i knew about this use (and nettle, works also wonders) and most probably people are using the bee sting outside of clinical trials more often than you think.

  8. I'm disappointed #SciShow. Plenty of things labeled alternative medicine have been scientifically studied and proven effective. They are not mutually exclusive.

  9. I decided to aggravate a bees nest when I was a child… It was like the scene in my girl, except I don't wear glasses and I wasn't allergic.

  10. you can get the same benefits for pain relief from capsaicin cream, the concentrated stuff that makes hot peppers super hot, and is used in pepper spray.

  11. Why use actual bees for this, we already have to little bees we don't need people killing them for next to nothing

  12. I read somewhere online that Brazilian wasp venom was found effective to curing cancer, I thought it was probably clickbait but then I saw it on other sites as well. Would be interesting if you guys made a video on that.

  13. Ok, next steps. Figure out what the compound is. Genetically engineer bees to have the perfect stinger, and to produce the venom

  14. Doesn't a bee die when it stings? How do those who love alternative medicine justify these deaths?

  15. The way I heard it it was noticed that Apiarists rarely get arthritis, much less than the general population. Thus it was assumed it had to do with the bee stings that most beekeepers get even while being cautious over the years.

  16. My dad, beekeeper, doesn't mind getting stung in a while, says there is an incredible benefit to his arthritis in his fingers and knees. He doesn't swell terribly bad, and it motivates him to go work out because his joints hurt less. He's just one data point so drawing general conclusions is a bad idea, but it does seem to help, and having him stay active is the biggest health benefit…. even if it's getting stung once or twice a week by his beloved honey bees.

  17. When I was 16 I had a pretty bad case of tendonitis in both elbows from football and weight lifting. I climbed into bed one night and a wasp was already in my blankets. It got me right on the arm. The pain was gone by morning and has been gone. I'm 32 now.

  18. "Do you know what they call alternative medicine that's been proved to work? Medicine" – Tim Minchin STORM
    Sounds promising. I hope they can do tests with more conclusive data and maybe isolate the good from the bad.

  19. im pretty sure a better direction would be where this would show the desensitisation of post synaptic receptors, where a low amount of stimulant over time would reduce the signal sent via the neurons, an perhaps on the opposite end, where pain killer addicts complain of pain due to the inverse of what the bee stings do…..

  20. Never been stung but I'm terrified that I might be allergic because I'm allergic to little bugs like ants and mosquitos

  21. I went through rush bee venom therapy to eliminate my bee sting allergy. Over two weeks I was given multiple injections per hour for 8 hours a day. I am no longer allergic to bee venom and for about two months I had no knee pain. When I told m,y Doctor about the lack of knee pain he said, "I guess that's a good thing then."

  22. That makes no sense to me, beekeepers clearly develop a significant resistance to bee venom over time, why would it be different for people in this trial.

  23. Especially in biological Videos you could show the Atoms for the substances like Saline or maybe some insight in what chemicals they are.

  24. That seems unnecessarily cruel to the bees. You have to stress them out to the point that they are willing to die to defend the colony. Bee stings are a one-time weapon. Once stung, the barbed stinger clings to the skin and the bee rips her guts out and dies.

  25. Seems logical to use a normal source to regulate inflammation and immune response.

  26. This video gives the impression that bee venom gives some relief because it attaches to receptors that would otherwise be conducive to certain forms of chronic pain. Researchers probably just want to know what's binding and where to learn how chronic conditions are created and maintained. Then a synthetic compound could be made to protect receptors from being over used.

  27. You forgot to mention that if you let a bee sting you and more people want to do this, it will lead to more bees dying, because stinging you will kill them. And that will bring us closer to doom. I don't want to imagine a world without bees. Fruits will not grow. No food. People starving.

  28. "The benefits might not outweigh the risks"
    That describes pretty much every single pharmaceutical on the market. Where profit is concerned, risk is downplayed.

  29. I am using it right now. It works for split disc. For the eyes I am using eye drop made from the honey. I also use it for joint stiffness.

  30. Research shows results only for drugs! If it makes no money, it shows no benefits!!!! …… So doctors prefer to keep their patients sick in bed than to try venom therapy …….. that so far has successfully cured all MS patients I know………. the ignorance and arrogance of the guy in this video and U.S. scientists and doctors is the main reason why I only use European medicine

  31. I was cleaning out the pool yesterday and stood on a dead bee on the side of the pool. Obviously I wasn't looking at the ground. I left the bee pocket or whatever that thing is with all the poison in it. My foot looks like a pig! It's very swollen. Please give me some advice on how to get it out!

  32. Haha bee venom did nothing for MS? That is why I don’t bother listening to scientists. They do epidemiology studies to destroy any therapy that brings results. How come every time I do therapies that work science cannot find links? But all of a sudden they find links with drugs they like to promote. So far the only diseases I got (and cured my self) were caused by doctors’ drugs (scientifically approved) vaccines, pill, surgery! I fired all doctors 10 years ago! God blessed bees and the Devil blessed scientists and doctors

  33. If anybody knows that NOVA have a video that says that bee venon can cure cancer, if you have the video please let me know.

  34. I have honey bee club in Tokyo, Japan and have meeting every month,we found bee venom therapy
    works for rheumatoid arthritis using bee sting,also hay heaver

  35. Bee venom therapy saved my shoulder from surgery, heals my sprained ankle in half the normal time, and relieved numerous sprains and strains due to strenuous athletic activity. I am a professional tennis instructor and their is no doubt with out the apitherapy I would have had to retire years ago. I used to use “approved “ anti-inflammatory drugs but was destroying my stomach. I haven’t had an Advil or aspirin for 20 years now. This guys negative effects shows his ignorance regarding the subject. Do the research yourself. Read a book by Charles Mraz, real person, real stories, real results.

  36. I am beekeeper and take 50+ stings when we are removing hives from urban locations

    no problens so far.. even noticed that now it barely hurts

    the only problem is that the arms grow to a "hell boy" size

  37. A negative reaction to bee venom can be an indicator that it’s affecting a pathogen. This is called a Herxheimer reaction and is a well established phenomenon.

  38. Filip Terč(Slovenian beekeeper) was the founder of apitherapy and Slovenian beekeepers practice it and make advanced research on bee venom. Filip Terč treated over 600 patients which had artritis and 70% of them recovered. Products from bees like royal jelly(helps with impregnation problems) propolis is natural antibiotic and stops early skin cancer etc…

  39. I met someone yesterday that kept his wife alive for 20 yrs with ms. She did very well and improved… This man looks early 60's and he is 80 because he uses bee venom. That is hard evidence right there.

  40. I wonder if this would work for my sister who has osteoarthritis? Will never know though as she is terrified of bees!

  41. Guy in the vid claims it's not worth the risk. He's obviously never had both hands feel like they were hit with a sledgehammer.

  42. My dad has a friend who had arthritis so bad his hands wouldn’t move and his feet were so bad he had to wear special shoes. He bought a bee farm and would allow the bees to sting him. He got his range of motion back in his hands and was able to wear regular shoes because his feet didn’t hurt. A bit of a crazy approach, but it worked for him.

  43. Pat Wagner is helping people, and it helped her .
    She’s written a book , and this friend had real bees were stinging her,but they’ve discovered 18 so far .
    Vitamins,I was woken up for a reason , these bees are doing something here .
    [email protected] K2, Iodine,Moringa, Vitamin B12 , ReMag Magnesium Chloride by Dr Carolyn Dean.
    All I know if it’s worth a try .WWW. OLG . COM / BEELADY
    It was on it’s a Miracle with Richard Thomas, Medicle Miracles .
    If it helped her ,and she was bedridden,then it’s worth a try to check it out at least.
    Animals , I remember Lloyd Bridges was in Hawaii watching Women give Birth underwear withDophins and the Dolphins brings up the baby’s.
    This Women in The Extraordinary with Warrick Moss , had Uterine Cancer and decided to swim with the Dolphins,and her uterine Cancer was cured .
    So you just don’t know , if I can help one person,then I’m grateful TVs turned in by itself on a show I don’t usually watch.
    So maybe this is my first time watching this,but…
    Maybe I am helping give someone hope .
    She’s Pat Wagner has apparently written a book with Special Vitamins.
    God Bless You All .

  44. BS! I am a beekeeper, I and 100s of beekeepers get stung all the times. I know many people that were confined to their bed for life coming back to life with bee stings. In fact in the past (when doctors and scientists were not corrupted) most MS cases were treated with bee stings……. when I get rhinitis a sting on a certain point in my head clears it immediately! You are not a beekeeper, do not do apitherapy, and want to tell people what is or is not based on somebody elses’ study ….. not telling us WHO did the study, the name of it so we can research it and if it was “sponsored” or not …… in the U.S. they killed all cures, in fact the word cure is now illegal! Yep, only treatments are profitable. …… they have not touched this therapy yet but they will try to discredit it like they did with the most powerful therapies out there that cure for cheap, see Gerson therapy, homeopathic sulphur, colonics etc ….. shame on you for this video

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