Bee sting therapy is an alternative medical treatment available for the management of inflammatory conditions like arthritis and bursitis. In a bee sting therapy session, a practitioner will carefully introduce bees to the patient's body and encourage them to sting, releasing a complex blend of toxins and other compounds. A patient may undergo one or multiple stings in a session. The number is at the discretion of the practitioner, who will develop a course of treatment after evaluating the patient. Providers of alternative medicine may offer bee sting therapy, and it is sometimes offered as a complementary therapy in a more conventional medical office.
Several cultures have a long history of apitherapy, the use of bee products in medical treatment, and in both Ancient Greece and China, bee sting therapy was an accepted method of treatment for a variety of medical conditions. Interest in apitherapy was revived in the 20th century. Controlled studies on bee sting therapy suggest that it does not appear to have a therapeutic effect, and for some patients, it can pose risks.
Practitioners of bee sting therapy believe that melittin, a key component in bee venom, has therapeutic effects. This compound certainly has antimicrobial effects, and it may also act as an anti-inflammatory. Bee venom also contains a number of other substances, some of which are known to cause inflammation or neurological damage, and the combination of ingredients in bee stings may serve to neutralize the beneficial effects of melittin.
Patients may seek bee sting therapy for multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and gout, among other conditions. Some practitioners directly apply bees, usually with a careful eye to positioning in the belief that, like acupuncture, the location of the treatment plays an important role in therapy. Others may apply injections of purified and treated venom, especially if the patient is nervous or uncomfortable around bees.
Some patients report successful results with bee sting therapy. Before considering this option, it is advisable to consult a primary care provider to get advice about contraindications and potential concerns. This treatment is not suitable for patients with a history of allergic reactions to bee stings, even if those allergies are mild. Repeat exposures can increase the intensity of the reaction and may put the patient at risk for severe complications. It is also advisable to tour the facility where therapy takes place, and to ask about safety measures in the event of acute allergic reactions or other complications.