Is Bee Venom a Cure All?

Is Bee Venom Therapy (BVT) a “cure-all”?

 

“If nothing else works, try bee venom!”. Those enthusiastic words, which I heard first from the mouth of Charlie Mraz, are more accurately attributed to Dr. Raymond Carey. Dr. Carey was a successful, Los Angeles based physician who had a large practice of bee venom in the 1950 and 60’s. He, Dr. Joseph Broadman and Dr. Bodog Beck constitute the cadre of clinical researchers (now deceased) who experimented successfully with bee venom. These physicians described bee venom in glowing terms. But is bee venom really a panacea? A cure-all? “Good for what ails you.”?

The quick answer to the question is “No”. Such an idea, that one remedy can help all diseases, holds little currency in today’s world of medicinal “silver bullets” which target not just specific germs, but specific phases of a pathological organism’s life cycle. The idea that a non-focused general approach might be as or more effective than a precisely focused anti-biotic, anti­mitotic, anti- anything agent runs against current scientific thinking. How can one agent treat with equal potency illnesses involving inflammations (gout, arthritis), infections (viral meningitis, shingles), ­deteriorations (multiple sclerosis, chronic pain) and dysregulations (hypertension, PMS)? At present, no one can claim scientifically that bee venom helps all these-ailments. All we have is persistent and recurrent anecdotal evidence that it does.

Might bee venom prove to be a potent remedy for this great variety of illnesses? Yes. But before bee venom is given the credit, placebo and charisma must be accounted for. However, their effect is certainly not limited to unorthodox remedies such as BVT. Studies convincingly show that the more invasive the intervention, the greater emotional investment the patient makes and therefore, the greater the placebo effect. It follows that surgery, not bee venom therapy, claims the dubious rank of first among beneficiaries of the ubiquitous “placebo effect”. The best response when critics discount BVT as “simply placebo” is to point out its track record with animals. Well-controlled scientific literature demonstrates that horses, dogs, guinea pigs, apes and mice all thrive with bee venom treatments and are not known to be influenced by placebo effects.

The best argument that bee venom does all that the apitherapists say it does lies in a comparison with the “wonder drug” cortisol. Cortisol too was termed a “panacea” when it first hit the market Like bee venom, it too was prescribed for “what ails you”. Eventually the severity of its side-effect profile toned down the enthusiasm of its proponents but even today it is prescribed for over 17 major categories of diseases.

According to the AHFS Drug Information manual (1990) Section 68:04 “Adrenals”, physicians recommend this one drug for all the following diseases:

1) adrenocortical insufficiency (not curative, supportive therapy only)

2) adrenogenital syndrome

3) hypercalcemia (esp from MM, other malignancies or sarcoidosis)

4) thyroiditis (pain, fever and swelling) 5) Rheumatic / Collagen disorders: “In rheumatic disorders and collagen diseases, glucocorticoids relieve inflammation and suppress symptoms, but do not affect progression of the disease.” Indications include: rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, dennatomyositis, polymyositis, polyarteritis nodosa, polymyalgia rheumatica, giant cell arteritis, mixed connective tissue disease syndrome,

6) Dermatological Diseases: pemphigus, pemphoid, exfoliative dennatitis, bullous dennatitis herpetiformis, Stevens­Johnson syndrome, eczema, sarcowosis, mycosis fungoides, lichen planus, psoriasis.

7) Neoplastic diseases: (Hodgkins, Chronic and Acute Lymphatic Leukemia (CLL, ALL)

8) Allergic Conditions (angioedema, serum sickness, contact dennatitis)

9) Ocular Disorders (orbital edema from exopthatmos, reduces scarring of ocular injuries)

10) Respiratory Diseases (asthma, sarcoidosis, TB)

11) Gastro-intestinal diseases (Ulcerative colitis, regional enteritis, celiac disease) 12) Liver diseases

13) Cerebral Edema

14) Myasthenia Gravis

15) Immuno-suppression during Organ transplants

16) Nephrotic Syndrome

17) Multiple Sclerosis (methylprednisolone followed by high dose prednisone)

 

How does cortisol do it? What is cortisol anyway? Corticosteroids are hormones secreted from the

adrenal cortex or synthetic analogues of these hormones. They include: endogenous cortisol (stimulated by bee venom), Beclomethasone, Betamethasone, Cortisone, Dexamethasone, Hydrocortisone, Meprednisone, Methyl prednisone, Paramethasone, Prednisolone, Prednisone, Triamcinolone. In simple terms, cortisol affects almost all body systems by modification of enzyme activity rather than from direct actions. That is, cortisol works indirectly (and thereby multiplying its effect) by redirecting the body’s immune and endocrine system to create a systemic effect.

More specifically, cortisol has anti­ inflammatory effects in 7 ways: 1) it stabilizes leukocyte lysosomal membranes preventing release of destructive hydrolases; it inhibits macrophage accumulation in inflamed areas; 3) it reduces leukocyte adhesion in capillary epithelium; 4) it reduces capillary wall permeability and edema formation; 5) it decreases complement components; 6) it antagonizes histaminese activity and release of kinins from substrate; 7) it reduces fibroblast proliferation; collagen deposition, and subsequent scar tissue formation.

The scientific literature clearly suggests that bee venom induces secretion of endogenous cortisol in rats, guinea pigs, dogs, monkeys, horses, and humans. So, it follows that bee venom can do all that cortisol can do. However, note that the research to date suggests that none of the negative side-effects of artificial cortisol occur with bee venom therapy. Therefore, BVT appears to offers all the power of cortisol (noted above) with none of its side-effects. That claim certainly merits further research!

Thus far we reviewed a reasonable rationale for supporting bee venom therapists’ reports of such clinical success with a bewildering variety of diseases. Cortisol helps treat all those illnesses and bee venom induces an increase in endogenous cortisol production. Therefore whatever cortisol helps we would expect bee venom to help also. But let’s explore another theory as to why bee venom helps so many diseases.

Let’s think metaphorically and consider all illnesses as if they composed a large tree. Each leaf would represent a specific illness. A cluster of leaves (specific illnesses) attaches to and is directly influenced by a single twig (class of illness). The twig springs from a branch (organ system) and the branch from the trunk (general immunologic factors influencing health). The trunk, in turn, depends upon a solid grounding by the roots (nutrition, exercise, sense of purpose and love). In this organic example, it is clear that the fate of a leaf (specific illness) is dependent upon the influences from without (wind and weather symbolizing “silver bullet” antibiotics) and from influences from within (the root’s general effects of health promotion). Now, if a remedy such as bee venom were shown to act on the root and trunk of this health tree, then its effect would be generalized. That is to say, it would affect every leaf (all illnesses) and produce impressive results with a great variety of illnesses.

All this is speculation.  Until the AAS can raise enough money to support clinical research in apitherapy, we can only guess at the answers to these important questions. The compelling fact is that apitherapists around the world continue to report clinical success in the treatment of so great a variety of diseases that one is tempted to believe in panaceas or “cure all”. History, however, dictates that we must be cautious in both our claims and our practice. Doctors appreciate the tongue in cheek of the following sales pitch: “When a new drug hits the market, use it as frequently as possible while it still works!” The point being that after the hype of a new drug fades, serious side­ effects appear and the drug is often taken off the market.

That said, however, we should remember that bee venom is NOT a “new drug”. In fact, it is one of history’s oldest remedies. Bee venom has stood the test of time from before Christ up until the present and it continues to challenge our understanding of just what is therapeutically possible. It calls to mind the words of the ancient physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) who wrote: “There are no incurable diseases, only incurable people”.

 

(C)  Bradford S. Weeks, 1991

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