Feeling down? How about a whole bunch of bee stings to put some pep in your step? Say hello to the next alternative medicine craze: bee sting acupuncture.
Bee sting acupuncture is part of a group of bee-centric alternative medicine practices known as apitherapy, which, according to it’s practitioners, use the magic of bees to treat everything from bacterial infections to cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Lyme disease.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice of inserting very thin needles into the body to improve the flow of energy. Live bee acupuncture is fairly self explanatory. You replace the needles traditionally used in acupuncture with nature’s needles: the stingers of honey bees. Sounds appealing, right? Well, hold on just a second. Before you go and stick your head in a beehive, there’s something you should know. Just like everything else that’s fun in this world, bee sting acupuncture can kill you.
According to the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology, a 55-year-old woman from Spain with no history of bee allergies recently died as a result of the treatment. It wasn’t her first time being voluntarily stung by bees either. The paper says that the woman had undergone bee sting acupuncture once a month for two years without a problem until it went wrong:
During an apitherapy session, she developed wheezing, dyspnea, and sudden loss of consciousness immediately after a live bee sting….The patient died some weeks later of multiorgan failure.
It’s sounding more appealing by the minute. The unnamed woman had no clinical record of any diseases or risk factors and underwent the live bee acupuncture to improve muscle contraction and stress. So why was she OK for two years of treatment before her death?
According to the report, the more the little buggers sting you, the greater the risk for sensitization to bee venom. In other words, every time a bee stings you, the more likely it is to have a surprise allergic reaction. A typical session of bee sting acupuncture can consist of dozens of bee stings. Amazingly, the apitherapy clinic did not have any adrenaline—which is used to treat anaphylactic shock via an EpiPen—on hand. The apitherapy clinic did administer methylprednisolone, but it didn’t quite work out.
So far, no benefits of live bee acupuncture have been scientifically proven. The paper states:
The risks of undergoing apitherapy may exceed the presumed benefits, leading us to conclude that this practice is both unsafe and unadvisable.
Beyond bodily risk, there’s another reason to distrust live bee acupuncture: we need bees. Apitherapist Wang Menglin described the process to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:
We hold the bee, put it on a point on the body, hold its head, and pinch it until the sting needle emerges.
Of course, when honey bees use their stinger, they die. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, more than 700 North American species of bees are on their way towards extinction. So the next time someone tells you they can cure your ailments with a couple dozen dead honey bees, take a shot of powdered rhino horn and tell them you’re looking out for mother nature.