As the world anticipates the millenium, more people are looking back to the past for alternative methods of healing. People are realizing that modern medicine isn’t the only way to feel better. Sometimes the best solutions to the problems are those that have been around for centuries. One such method is called apitherapy. Apitherapy utilizes products from the honeybee including bee venom, bee pollen, raw honey and propolis, to help promote healing. The history of apitherapy can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians when they used it as a treatment for arthritis. Bee products can also be used as health foods and can be used in the treatment of wounds. Modern medicine is no longer the soul answer for the body’s ailments. Ancient methods, like apitherapy are a promising alternative.
The History of Apitherapy
The honeybee has played an important role for thousands of years. The use of honey has been documented in several religious texts including the Veda (a book of Hindu scriptures) and the Bible (Molan, 1999). 4000-year-old tablets even record the use of honey in ancient Sumeria (Molan, 1999). Honey was important to the ancient Egyptians as well. They depicted bees making propolis, a gummy material from trees, on vases and ornaments (Molan, 1999), and even used honey to embalm their dead (Broffman, 1999). Hippocrates, who lived between 460-367 BC, said that “honey cleans sores and ulcers of the lips, heals carbuncles and running sores” (Molan, 1999). Ancient Greeks athletes even drank honey for an energy boost (Broffman, 1999). Pliny, a Roman scholar, wrote about propolis in the book Natural History claiming it reduces swelling, soothes pain, and heals sores (Stangaciu, 1999). He swore that a glass of honey and cider vinegar would clean the system and bring good health (Broffman, 1999). Bee products remained important and in 1597 John Gerard wrote about the healing power of propolis in The History of Plants (Stangaciu, 1999). In the 19th century bacteria was found to be the cause of infection. Bee products, especially honey, continued to be used as healing agents. In 1919 a studies confirmed that honey had antibiotic powers (Molan, 1999). By the 1940’s antibiotics had grown popular in the medical world and made honey obsolete. However, honey continued to be used in folk medicine and as a last resort for patients not responding to modern treatment. In the 1989 issue of the Journal of Royal Society Medicine an editorial expressed that “the time has come for conventional medicine to lift the blinds off this “traditional remedy” (honey) and to give it due recognition” (Molan, 1999). With the recent rise in popularity of alternative medicines, apitherapy is beginning to be re-acknowledged.
Bee Products as Health Foods
Bee products can be used as foods that promote health. Honey, propolis, and pollen are all honeybee products that give benefit when eaten. They provide quick energy and can be used as effective replacements for other foods. Honeybee products when taken as a supplement or just plain can classify as a health food.
Honey consists mainly of sugars. Sugars are classified in order of their complexity of their molecules. The sugars found in honey, dextrose and levulose, are simple sugars, or monosaccharides (Grout, 1963). Simple sugars are special in that they are the building blocks of all other sugars. They are already broken down into their smallest form, therefore they do not need to be digested down but can be absorbed immediately when they reach the intestines (Martini, 1998). It is dextrose and levulose that give honey its high-energy content because they can be put to use immediately. Honey has a relatively low content of minerals at only .17-1% (Grout, 1963). However, substituting honey for sugar does increase the mineral intake because plain table sugar has no minerals (Grout, 1963). Honey also offers a sweet alternative to stable diabetics. Although the high sugar levels are to be avoided by the diabetic, it is a better sweetening agent than table sugar. A diabetic can have more sweetening power with less honey than with granulated sugar. Athletes can use honey diluted with orange juice to give them a boost of energy (Grout, 1963). When taken after an athletic event it even enables them to recuperate faster (Grout, 1963). Honey can be used as a health food because of its high content of energy giving sugars.
Pollen is another bee product that can be used as a health food. Bees collect pollen, reproductive spores of seed-bearing plants, from flowers. Pollen extracts have been used to detect and immunize against allergies. It has been claimed that pollen can also provide a relief for premature aging, bodily weakness, weight loss, and constipation (Tyler, 1993). Some pollens are also high in Vitamin C which help boost the immune system (Tyler, 1993).
Propolis is the sap, or the resinous material, that oozes from the bud and bark of trees, especially pines (Stangaciu, 1999). Bees take the propolis to their hive and add their saliva and wax flakes to it. The material is then used to cover the inside of their hive. Bee propolis reinforces the hive walls and it also help protects the hive from infection. Humans can use propolis to boost the immune system. It has been shown to act in a similar way to aspirin without the negative side effects (Stangaciu, 1999) and to reduce the swelling in a sore throat (Broffman, 1999).
Bee Products used in the Treatment of Wounds
Bee products have also been used in the treatment of wounds. Honey’s high acid content and its high density give it antiseptic properties (Grout, 1963). The acidic property of honey is masked by the sugars present in it. However, in a study done by Nelson and Mottern (in 1931 in Ind. Eng. Chem. Vol 23:355-356), citric, malic, and succinic acids were identified. At the University of Waikato in New Zealand, recent studies on honey have shown its antibacterial effect. Samples of honey were tested against staphylococcus aureus, the most common wound infecting bacteria. The results showed that “the average honey can be diluted ten-fold yet still completely halt the growth of the major wound infecting bacteria” (Molan, 1999). As stated by M.W. Bullman in a 1955 article of the British Bee Journal, “Honey’s high sugar content, mineral, and antibacterial action make it a valuable surgical dressing” (Grout, 1963).
Bee Products Used in the Treatment of Arthritis and Rheumatism
Bee products can also help in the treatment of rheumatism and arthritis. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage around the joints wears away causing painful bone to bone contact (Horstman, 1999). Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation (Horstman, 1999). The underlying cause of these disorders is poor circulation resulting in insufficient oxygen levels in the tissues. Because of poor circulation, body wastes are not discarded and bacteria have the opportunity to grow (Broadman, 1997). Treatments like massage, heat, and exercise improve circulation and increase oxygen levels. With improved circulation the tender joints of arthritic patients are greatly relieved. Bee venom therapy takes a similar approach to relieving painful symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism.
Bee venom therapy can be administered two ways: directly from a bee sting or by a prepared injection (Burroughs, 1993). Bee venom causes inflammation where it is introduced on the body. The inflammation triggers the body to increase circulation to that point and to create anti-inflammatory hormones to relieve pain (Broadman, 1997). By injecting bee venom directly to the joint that is painful, the body’s anti-inflammatory response will treat the arthritic joint. Bee venom therapy is not a one-time cure. Fred Malone demonstrates this in his book Bees Don’t Get Arthritis when he works himself up to 28 stings a day. It is necessary to continue frequent treatment in order to keep the anti-inflammatory hormone around the painful joints. Bee venom therapy is not for everyone. Those with allergies can have fatal reactions to the treatment. That is why it is necessary to start the treatment with just one sting to make sure that the patient has no allergies. The treatment can then continue by increasing the number of stings by one everyday. If a person experiences no allergies to the bee venom then bee venom therapy can offer a great alternative to modern medicine that can reduce the pain associated with arthritis and rheumatism.
Apitherapy utilizes bee products to promote healing in the body. Honey, propolis and pollen are all made primarily from sugar, an energy-giving source. Because of the high amount of sugars, these bee products are often found in health foods. The high sugar content in honey and the fact that it has a high density gives honey antiseptic properties too. This makes honey a good alternative when dressing wounds because it halts the growth of bacteria. Bee venom therapy is another form of apitherapy. By injecting the venom from a bee into the skin the pain caused by arthritis and rheumatism is often reduced. These techniques are ancient remedies that have demonstrated their power over the course of human time. From the ancient Egyptians to the ancient Romans it has been shown that these methods are worthwhile. Modern medicine is no longer the soul answer for health problems. In the modern world, health professionals should look towards alternative therapies to find complimentary methods that can also improve health. Apitherapy is one of these alternative methods of healing that can serve as a great addition to modern medicine.
Broadman, Joseph MD. (1997). Bee Venom: The Natural Curative for Arthritis and Rheumatism. USA: Health Resources Press Inc.
Broffman, Nicholas. (July 1999). Products from the Hive and their Uses Available: http://www.apitherapy.org/AAS/broffman.html September 12, 1999.
Burroughs, Hugh and Mark Kastner. (1993). The complete A-Z Guide to Over 160 Different Alternative Therapies: Alternative Healing. New York: Halcyon Publishing.
Grout Roy A. (1963). The Hive and the Honeybee. Illinois: Dadant & Sons.
Horstman, Judith. (1999). Arthritis.com. Available: http://www.arthritis.com September 18, 1999.
Larkin, Tim. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Food and Drug Administration. (1985). Bee Pollen as a Health Food. (FDA-84-2193).
Malone, Fred. (1979). Bees Don’t Get Arthritis. New York: E.P. Dutton.
Martini, Frederic Ph.D. (1998). Fundamentals of Anatomy and Physiology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Molan, Peter. (August 1999). Honey for the Treatment of Infection. Available: http://www.apitherapy.org/AAS/molan.html September 12, 1999.
Stangaciu, Stefan. (July 1999). Healthy Cell News: Bee Propolis. Available: http://www.apitherapy.org/AAS/beeprop.html September 12, 1999.
Tyler, Varro E. (1993). The Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press.
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