To bee or not to bee: The potential efficacy and safety of bee venom acupuncture in humans

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Abstract

Bee venom acupuncture is a form of acupuncture in which bee venom is applied to the tips of acupuncture needles, stingers are extracted from bees, or bees are held with an instrument exposing the stinger, and applied to acupoints on the skin. Bee venom is a complex substance consisting of multiple anti-inflammatory compounds such as melittin, adolapin, apamin. Other substances such as phospholipase A2 can be anti-inflammatory in low concentrations and pro-inflammatory in others. However, bee venom also contains proinflammatory substances, melittin, mast cell degranulation peptide 401, and histamine.

Nevertheless, in small studies, bee venom acupuncture has been used in man to successfully treat a number of musculoskeletal diseases such as lumbar disc disease, osteoarthritis of the knee, rheumatoid arthritis, adhesive capsulitis, and lateral epicondylitis. Bee venom acupuncture can also alleviate neurological conditions, including peripheral neuropathies, stroke and Parkinson's Disease. The treatment has even been piloted in one series to alleviate depression.

An important concern is the safety of bee venom. Bee venom can cause anaphylaxis, and several deaths have been reported in patients who successfully received the therapy prior to the adverse event. While the incidence of adverse events is unknown, the number of published reports of toxicity is small. Refining bee venom to remove harmful substances may potentially limit its toxicity.

New uses for bee venom acupuncture may also be considered.

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