Report of January 2019 joint meeting with West Dorset
The Accidental Apitherapist. A talk by Dr Gerry Brierley
Gerry started off by relating her experiences after suffering from Lyme disease, an infection transmitted by ticks. Standard treatment with antibiotics was not entirely successful. After a chance meeting with an ex BBKA President she attended a bee venom workshop and decided to try the treatment on herself.
3 years and several thousand stings later she is now clear of the disease. This experience has sparked an interested in apitherapy and what bee-related products can do for us.
Apitherapy can be defined as “The use of honeybee hive products for therapeutic and pharmacological purposes”.
Nearly 400 compounds have been identified in bee venom, among them many physiologically active compounds such as the hyaluronidase enzyme which breaks down cell structures. Bee venom therapy for desensitization is widely used under medical supervision with standardised doses and is not recommended for home therapy.
The product we as beekeepers are most familiar with is: Honey
The healing and curative properties of honey have been known for a very long time. The Sumerians prescribed honey in 3000BC and many cultures have used honey for treating wounds and burns. The source of this healing ability is the presence of glucose oxidase, an enzyme secreted by bees, which on contact with skin produces hydrogen peroxide which is a powerful sterilising agent.
In addition, some plants produce nectar containing antimicrobial substances which carry over into the honey. Manuka honey is a good example of this.
Honey has one other property beneficial for healing. The high concentration of sugars is hygroscopic, meaning it will absorb moisture when exposed to atmosphere. When used in wound dressings the honey draws excess fluids from wounds helping to reduce the bacterial load on the immune system.
Gamma irradiated (sterile) honey is used by the medical profession for many wound healing applications, among them control of superbugs such as MRSA.
Pollen and Bee Bread
Pollen brought back to the hive is packed into cells in the brood chamber and undergoes changes while stored. It is then called bee bread. Not surprisingly the medicinal properties of honey are reflected by bee bread. It also contains all the essential nutrients for life such as proteins, minerals and vitamins. It is commonly used as a nutritional supplement, either fresh, dried or freeze dried, put in smoothies or sprinkled on food.
The 150 or so compounds found in propolis are derived from plant resins and waxes as well as pollen, beeswax and essential oils. It has been known for millennia that propolis has curative properties. This is due to the anti-microbial substances in its composition. It can be ingested or used on the skin. Modern treatments often use tinctures or creams and are effective for burns, oral wounds and gum disorders. Care should be taken when using for the first time as it is possible to invoke an allergic reaction.
Claimed to be antiseptic, beeswax is a collection of hydrocarbons produced in the eight wax glands on the abdomen of worker bees, plus secretions from the bees added during comb building. Today, the most common medicinal use is in skin cream preparations.
Royal jelly is only found in queen cells and is a very nutritious secretion made by young worker bee mandibular and hypopharyngeal glands. It also contains some pollen. 185 compounds have been found in Royal jelly including Royalactin which is the agent responsible for the morphological changes of a larva into a fertile queen rather than a worker. As Royal jelly is only found in queen cells this limits the quantity available for use in apitherapy. It is claimed to be an anti-aging compound. Royal jelly should be used fresh, as it degrades quickly, or it can be freeze dried while fresh and used in powder form.
The term Apilarnil was created by Romanian beekeeper Nicolae V. Ilieşiu in 1980 (Api=bee, Lar=larva, N=Nicolae, Il= Ilieşiu). It is essentially the product obtained from the whole contents of drone larvae comb 10 days after eggs are laid. At this stage of development Apilarnil will contain all the elements and nutrients of the drone larval body but obviously no venom compounds. It is thus a very nutritious material and can be used as extracted or freeze dried and made into capsules. The properties are reputed to be similar to Royal jelly but in a more widely available form.
Use of any honeybee-related substance for apitherapy comes with a warning. Information in this document does not constitute or replace any medical advice. If you are concerned about a medical condition please seek advice from a Medical Doctor. Nothing contained in this document is or should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice.