Bee venom, or apisin or apitoxin, is colourless liquid, bitter and sour, having a delicate aromatic scent reminiscent of honey. After drying off, a white crystalline substance is formed, which is used in apitherapy, for cosmetic and other purposes. It is a very valuable ingredient in small doses, but in large doses it can cause serious health problems and even death. However, in a healthy individual, this limit is relatively high - a man would have to get 700 to 1,000 stings, a woman a little less and a child about 90 stings. An exception, of course, form apitoxin allergy sufferers, which is approximately 1% in the population.
Bee venom is very good to work with - if we let it dry off, it crystallises into blue-grey crystals and loses its honey scent. However, it is thermostable, so it does not lose its properties even when heated to 100 degrees Celsius. The effects of bee venom are not lost even when frozen, dissolved in water, dried, or even mixed into ointments.
How bee venom is formed
Bee venom is secretion of the venom gland of worker honeybees. It is collected in the venom sac, from where it travels up into the stinger and from there to the site of the sting.
Bee stinger with a venom sac
Bees use the stinger with venomous filling in order to defend the beehive – honey reserves, larvae, and the entire bee colony. A bee sting is designed to induce as much negative experience as possible in the opponent so that they remember it and do not come back.
If bees did not fight back like that, everyone would go to hives like to a store. In addition, a bee, having stung, sends an alarm message using pheromones, which calls for more guard bees to help.
Paradoxically, however, only “girls”, i.e., worker bees, own the stingers and not “boys”, i.e. drones - male bees, in whom we would expect it much more in the human world. The queen bee also has the stinger, but she uses it only to fight a rival (because the queen´s stinger has no barbs, therefore, having stung, she will not die like worker bees do).
First aid for bee sting
Bee venom, which enters the body when the stinger is lodged in it, causes the cell membranes to rupture, stimulates prostaglandin synthesis, and causes an inflammatory process at the sting site. In humans, we observe reddening of the skin and swelling at the sting site. A higher number of stingers also affects respiration and nervous system.
When a bee has stung, the stinger tears loose from the bee's abdomen, along with the venom sac and some muscles. The thing is that the stinger is barbed, which does not allow the stinger to be pulled out. If you do not suffer from bee sting allergy, one or two stingers should not hurt you.
The stinger ripped from the bee's abdomen
However, you should remove the stinger from the wound as soon as possible because the muscles on the venom sac are still working and gradually “pumping” venom into the wound. Consequently, smear the injection site with alcohol or propolis, vinegar, onion, soap, or ordinary clay (ideally moist), which you have almost always within reach outdoors. It is recommended to cool the affected area with ice to slow down the absorption of the venom and a possible violent reaction. A proven practice is to smear the affected area with honey. Allergic individuals should then take antihistamines.
And how to recognize allergy? The most basic proposition circling round among beekeepers is: Swelling up to a maximum of two joints from the sting site is fine and is more of a normal reaction. Unfortunately, if the swelling is larger, it is an allergy to bee venom. Reactions and risks of bee sting and topics on how to calm bee stings, but also how to prevent it, we thoroughly discussed in the article First Aid for Bee Sting.
How much venom will you actually get into your body with such a sting?
In total it is 0.1 - 0.4 mg. But it takes about 15-30 minutes than the venom sac empties completely, so if you remove the stinger quickly, of course, much less venom will be released into the body. Watch the video to see, how the muscles on the venom sac are pumping venom into the wound:
„Bee venom is a complex mixture of various chemical substances. Freshly obtained contains up to 88% water. By nature, it resembles snake venom.
The largest component of the venom (about 60% of dry matter) form proteins, almost half of which is melittin (peptide consisting of 26 amino acids). Melittin damages cell structures and decomposes blood cells – therefore, it clearly has a toxic and haemolytic effect. It disrupts the cells and releases histamine and serotonin from them.
Dried bee venom
Another important polypeptide is apamin, composed of 18 amino acids, the main of which is cystine. It is a feared neurotic component. In small amounts it excites (irritates) the cells of the central nervous system, in large quantities it can also cause necrosis of the brain tissue. MCD peptide (mast cell degranulating) of 22 amino acids releases histamine and causes dilation (expansion) of blood capillaries, contraction of smooth muscles and swellings.
As regards enzymes, mainly phospholipases A and B and hyaluronidase are contained, having a haemolytic effect. Phospholipase A causes destruction of red blood cells, hyaluronidase cooperates in tissue breakdown. The venom dry matter also contains lipids, volatile substances, hormones histamine, dopamine and noradrenaline as well as individual elements such as copper, sodium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and sulphur. Of sugars, bee venom contains glucose and fructose.“1
All components of apisin reinforce each other´s effects, so they are in so-called synergy. They cause rapid palsy and paralysis of the muscles because they affect the nervous system. The venom quickly enters the circulatory system and lowers blood pressure, destructs red blood cells, and affects the respiratory system.
According to Štefan Demeter, apisin has „anti-inflammatory properties, destroys bacteria, treats epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, lowers blood pressure, helps with chronic pain, chases away migraines, rheumatism, increases the resistance of tissues to harmful radiation. In medicine, it is used in inflammatory rheumatic processes, inflammation of joints, tendon systems, chronic back pain, trigeminal neuralgia, musculoskeletal disorders, desensitisation treatment, against adverse reactions. It is applied in the form of ointments, inhalation, injection by live bee, injection.“2
The list of effects of bee venom on human body is given in his publication Apitherapy: Treatment with Bee Products:
„After application, bee venom affects small nerve endings in the human skin and inside the body, stimulating so blood circulation and metabolism of the body by dilating the small blood vessels and capillary system around important organs such as the heart, brain, respiratory system, liver and more.
It allows the body to restore the normal functions of all tissues, thereby significantly lowering cholesterol levels.
Improves bone marrow function for red blood cell production.
Reduces blood clotting, which is very important for the prevention of myocardial infarction and stroke.
Increases the solubility of urinary stones.
A peptide adopanin, one of the components of bee venom, has an analgesic effect.
It prevents the adhesion of red blood cells and thus contributes to the prevention and treatment of thrombosis.
It has a positive effect on improving sleep and appetite.
Bee venom treats arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis - RA, a chronic inflammatory disease that mainly affects joints, muscles, tendons, but sometimes also other organs and systems, especially the lungs, blood vessels, heart, eyes, and nervous system).
It cures rheumatism, is an excellent analgesic for rheumatic pains, dissolves deposits in the area inflamed by rheumatism and thus helps to wash them out and restore functions.
Significantly helps with back pain, has analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect, relaxes spasms of the affected muscles.
Supports the treatment of skin diseases.
Helps treat sclerosis and multiple sclerosis.
Helps treat Lyme disease.
Helps in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome.
It is used in the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia.
It is used for disorders of the musculoskeletal system (in general).
Treats skin indications: all oedema of allergic or inflammatory origin are improved by the application of bee venom.
Bee venom increases the resistance of tissues to harmful radiation.
Bee venom acts as a local anaesthetic.
Accelerates metabolism; stimulates various metabolic processes such as bone metabolism (accelerates fracture fusion), increases oxygen supply and provides the body with the necessary warmth.
Increases removal of accumulated toxins from the body.
Bee venom significantly increases the peristaltic movement of the digestive tract.
Inhibits (slows down) swelling and pain, contains a polypeptide with anti-inflammatory activity (100 times higher than hydrocortisone).
Improves liver function, brain activity, treats myocardial infarction.
It is a very effective protection against radioactivity, which can significantly serve to protect against radiation in the treatment of cancer.
Reduces the protein content in the blood plasma, thus increasing the permeability of blood vessels.
It has antiarrhythmic properties, it eliminates arrhythmias.
In the treatment of a disease, no antibodies are produced against bee venom itself, and therefore human body does not get used to it. Therefore, repeated stings or injections with bee venom are increasingly effective in the body
Bee venom is the most effective antibiotic substance known.
The antibacterial properties of bee venom act against various microorganisms: streptococci, staphylococci, E. coli, diphtheria and tuberculosis originators, and others.
Bee venom accelerates recovery processes in affected areas of the brain in Parkinson´s disease by restoring normal nerve impulse transmission. Bee venom also acts as a tonic in the blood vessels in the brain, improves blood flow to nerve cells, reduces blood viscosity, and thus acts preventively against formation of thrombosis (stroke).
Bee venom is highly effective in treating gout. Its effectiveness supports the unique composition of bee venom, contains more than 50 biologically active substances that have a special anti-inflammatory effect (melittin), act as analgesics (adolapin), the peptide apamin tones the nervous system by rapidly reducing inflammation, relieving pain and restoring range of motion in the affected joint.“3
The list given here is not complete. In the book Apitherapy: Treatment with Bee Products is the full list of apitoxin effects, numbering 54 items.
History of the use of bee venom
According to surviving records, bee venom has been used in medicine in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and in Arab regions. It is known from later history that, for example, Charlemagne and later Ivan the Terrible relied on the healing power of bee stingers in the treatment of gout. The use of bee venom in traditional folk medicine was based on random experience and subsequent observation. It has been observed that people who are beekeepers live longer and suffer less from gout and rheumatism.
Moreover, personal experience of the effects of bee venom led to the emergence of apitherapy. Father of modern apitherapy was Filip Terč M.D. (he is also referred to as Philipp Tertsch or Filip Tertsch, because his father was a German and his mother a Czech). Terč was rheumatic and suffered from severe joint pain. One day in 1868, several bees stung him, and to his surprise, from that moment on, his pains gradually began to fade, and his muscles began to move again.
He was very impressed by this personal experience. Afterwards, he performed a similar experiment on his 650 patients; 593 of whom showed changes for the better. And apitherapy was born! After that, he began to focus on apitherapy and published his experience in 1888 in the book “Über merkwürdige Beziehung des Bienenstiches zum Rheumatismus” (On the relationship of bee sting to rheumatism).4
Bee venom therapy is one form of apitherapy that requires expertise and patient entrance tests. Treatment with bee stings is determined by the apitherapist based on of the results of initial examinations and allergy testing.
According to Stefan Demeter „The use of bee venom has proven successful in the following diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis, bursitis (bursa inflammation), tendonitis, post herpetic neuralgia, shingles, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, varicose veins.“5
Bee venom therapy has very good results, but it must always be conducted by a specialized expert, i.e., an apitherapist.
Caution! „Patients suffering from bee venom allergy, severe heart defects, severe kidney inflammation and diabetics must not be treated with bee venom.“6
Application of bee venom
Remember that any controlled application of bee venom must be performed by an experienced physician, ideally an apitherapist. We decidedly do not recommend anyone experimenting with bee sting without professional supervision.
Bee venom is applied directly in its natural form, i.e., via bee sting with the stinger to a specific site, or indirectly, for example by massaging skin with a bee venom product or via acupuncture. Ointments containing apitoxin are a painless solution, but their effect is down about a third.
However, bee venom treatment is not a novelty, but rather a traditional method. This is also evidenced by the findings of B. Handl from the book Bee Products in Medicine, in which you will find more information about the basics of apitherapy.
„Many cases of larger or lesser reaction to various numbers of stings are known from medical practice. There was even a case where a seventeen-year-old boy suffering from rheumatism was severely stung by bees with about 400 stingers. Such a dose is practically lethal. However, the boy was fine after a few days, and the articular rheumatism, which manifested itself to such an extent that he almost walked on crutches, miraculously disappeared after the stings and the boy was healthy.“7
Don’t forget! You had better not experiment with bee venom on your own. If you want to test the benefits of bee venom, find an experienced apitherapist and undergo a professional apitherapy.
Apisin also finds numerous applications in cosmetics, where it is supposed to help with a wide range of conditions, such as skin problems, pain in some sites, etc.
A Korean study on bee venom and its association with wrinkle smoothing was conducted on 22 women aged 30 to 49 years. The study found that the application of even a very low concentration to the skin reduced the area where wrinkles originally occurred, reduced their total number, and even smoothed them out (decreased their depth).
This effect was also apparent to the eye, after the application of bee venom for 8 weeks. Scientists have found that when in contact with skin, bee venom has a bacteriostatic effect (inhibits the growth and multiplication of organisms, similarly to antibiotics) and an anti-inflammatory effect, which helped in the case of problematic skin with acne. Interestingly, there was no irritation response in the study during or after the application of bee venom.8
Bees do not die when apisin is obtained
In a normal case, a bee stings, and when it stings, its abdomen tears off, along with the venom sac and some muscles. The stinger in fact contains barbs, which do not allow the stinger to be pulled out, so it remains in the attacker. After stinging and tearing off, the stinger remains a living organ; continues to work and pumps apitoxin into the wound.
Of course, this is not always the case, for example, in a collision with a wasp, the bee stings and pulls out its stinger again, so that the bee does not die. The reason is a very soft tissue of wasp (and other) bodies. Based on this finding, some apitherapists use a special grid that prevents the stinger from being torn out. So even if the bee stings (through the grid), the stinger stays in her abdomen and the bee survives.
If you are wondering how we get the necessary amount of bee venom to make our products, you do not have to worry, we do not harm the bees. When collecting apisin, on the other hand, we use the above-mentioned resistance of the stinger to be torn out, so the bee does not die.
The bees run over the glass on which there is cling film. On the film, there is strung a wire, into which a weak electric current is poured irritating the bees. The bee then stings, leaving a drop of venom on the glass, but the thin film does not prevent the bee from pulling the stinger out. So, no bee has died because of venom for our products.
1 Czech publication: Trojan, Aleš: Včelí produkty ve výživě a lékařství; Brno, 2005; Bakalářská práce. Masarykova univerzita v Brně, Fakulta sportovních studií, Katedra sportovní medicíny a zdravotní tělesné výchovy; str. 49 Back
2 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 149 - 150; ISBN 978-80-87274-27-9 Back
3 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 132–135; ISBN 978-80-87274-27-9 Back
4 Czech publication: CUTÁKOVÁ, Zdeňka: Dr. Philipp Terč, zakladatel moderní apiterapie; Moderní včelař. 2014, čís. 1, s. 28 Back
5 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 143 - 148; ISBN 978-80-87274-27-9 Back
6 Czech publication: MUDr. J. Stoklasa: Včelí produkty ve výživě, lékařství, farmacii a kosmetice; Státní zemědělské nakladatelství, Praha, 1975, str. 128; ISBN neuvedeno Back
7 Czech publication: MUDr. Bohuslav Handl: Včelí produkty v lékařství: Jejich význam při léčení nemocí nervových, žaludečních, reumatických, srdečních, kožních, jater, žlučníku, astma, sklerose aj.; Blansko: Základní organizace včelařů a zdravotní osvěta, 1971, str. 11 Back
8 SANG Mi Han, IN Phyo Hong, SOON Ok Woo,SUNG Nam Chun,KWAN Kyu Park, YOUNG Mee Nicholls, SOK Cheon Pak: The beneficial effects of honeybee-venom serum on facial wrinkles in humans [online]; Clinical Interventions in Aging, 2015, č. 10. 1587–1592. [cit. 23. 7. 2019]; available here Back