Bee venom therapy (apitherapy or BVT) is a fad treatment that involves stinging oneself with bees. BVT is one of the many forms of quackery used in the chronic Lyme world. In a 2015 scientific review, BVT was among 30 “unorthodox” Lyme therapies without evidence for efficacy.
There is no compelling scientific evidence to support BVT as a treatment for any disease, but it carries serious risk of anaphylaxis and other side effects.
|Adverse events with bee venom therapy:||Frequent|
|Number of diseases helped by bee venom therapy:||0|
|Number of people killed by bee venom therapy:||At least 1|
How bee venom therapy kills
BVT is sometimes administered by acupuncturists. In 2018, doctors in Spain documented the death of a 55 year old woman who had been receiving bee venom acupuncture every four weeks for two years.
According to an article by Dr. Robert Glatter:
While bee venom does contain an anti-inflammatory compound known as melittin, medical studies have not provided any convincing evidence that this component is efficacious in alleviating pain or in treating the purported medical conditions.
What is clear is that the chance for adverse reactions–skin rashes, allergic reactions, and anaphylaxis–to bee venom increases the longer such acupuncture therapy is administered.
This might seem counterintuitive, but with each session there is a greater chance of having a more severe reaction, including anaphylaxis —a dangerous drop in blood pressure and massive airway swelling which is fatal.
Sometimes advocates will point to sciency-sounding studies as providing proof that bee venom therapy works. There have been at least two studies showing melittin kills Lyme bacteria in a petri dish, but there is no evidence it is effective in humans for any disease. One of these studies was performed by a group at University of New Haven led by Eva Sapi. Eva Sapi received a diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease herself and seems to be dedicated to legitimizing the unrecognized diagnosis.
Plenty of substances, such as bleach, can kill bacteria in a petri dish. Such results are not necessarily applicable to humans. Furthermore, there is already a cure for Lyme disease, so searching for new treatments is not a high priority.
Bad medical advice spreads via social media and “support” groups
If you go to a chronic Lyme support group meeting, someone might say they felt better with BVT. Or if you’re in a Facebook group, someone might sing the praises of the bizarre practice. The NIH has reported that as high as 40% of patients receiving placebo had a positive response. In other words, a fake treatment (placebo) may seem to be effective when it is not having any effect.
A site called “LymeWarrior.us” claims with no compelling scientific evidence, “Bee venom therapy targets all forms of Lyme bacteria.” Despite having a known bee sting allergy, a woman featured on Lyme Disease UK stung herself with bees and reported improvements.
Thousands of people have gathered in Facebook groups that legitimize both chronic lyme disease and bee venom therapy. There is even a group for Australians, even though there is no Lyme disease in Australia. There is a Meetup group in Oakland, CA called Bee Venom Therapy for Lyme Disease and Coinfections with 161 members as of May 1, 2018. However, in 2016, there were only 90 confirmed cases of Lyme disease reported in California.
Lantos PM, Shapiro ED, Auwaerter PG, et al. Unorthodox alternative therapies marketed to treat Lyme disease. Clin Infect Dis. 2015;60(12):1776-82.
Robert Glatter, MD: Bee Venom Acupuncture: A Therapy That Could Kill You
Clay Jones, MD at Science-Based Medicine: A Woman Dies from a Severe Allergic Reaction After Live Bee Acupuncture Session
David Gorski, MD: Bee venom acupuncture: Deadly quackery that can kill
Skeptics Guide to the Universe: Beware The Honey Trap: Gwyneth Promotes Bee Venom Therapy
Vazquez-revuelta P, Madrigal-burgaleta R. Death due to Live Bee Acupuncture Apitherapy. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol. 2018;28(1):45-46.
Park JH, Yim BK, Lee JH, Lee S, Kim TH. Risk associated with bee venom therapy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(5):e0126971.
Adamic K, Zidarn M, Bajrovic N, Erzen R, Kopac P, Music E. The local and systemic side-effects of venom and inhaled-allergen subcutaneous immunotherapy. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2009;121(9-10):357-60.
Lubke LL, Garon CF. The antimicrobial agent melittin exhibits powerful in vitro inhibitory effects on the Lyme disease spirochete. Clin Infect Dis. 1997;25 Suppl 1:S48-51.
Socarras KM, Theophilus PAS, Torres JP, Gupta K, Sapi E. Antimicrobial Activity of Bee Venom and Melittin against Borrelia burgdorferi. Antibiotics (Basel). 2017;6(4)
Articles by Dr. Steven Novella, a Yale neurologist who founded Science-Based Medicine:
- Bee Venom Therapy (2002)
- Bee Venom Therapy – Grassroots Medicine (2008)
- Bee Venom Therapy Update (2012)
- Ben Venom is Snake Oil (2018)