Are Chinese Patients Getting Stung on Bee Therapy Hoax?

Everyone avoids bee stings, but you may be doing more harm than good to your wellbeing in the process. This is according to a new trend in complementary wellness, in which patients in China are swarming to acupuncture clinics to be given bee stings to treat or ward off life-threatening illness. At bee acupuncturist Wang Menglin’s clinic in Beijing, more than 27,000 people have undergone the painful technique, which can involve dozens of punctures per session. Wang makes his living from believers in the concept of bee acupuncture, but there is no orthodox medical evidence that bee venom is effective against illness. Aside from potentially preventing allergic reactions to the stings themselves, rationalist websites in the West describe so-called ‘apitherapy’ as ‘quackery’. So is bee acupuncture worth the pain?


At his facility on the outskirts of the capital, Wang detailed the process of bee acupuncture: ‘We hold the bee, put it on a point on the body, hold its head, and pinch it until the sting needle emerges.’ The imported Italian variety of bee that Wang uses dies when it stings, but Wang asserts that the bee’s life is not given up in vain. ‘We’ve treated patients with dozens of diseases, from arthritis to cancer, all with positive results,’ he comments, adding that bee stings can be used to treat ‘most common diseases of the lower limbs.’ However, the US-based website paints a different picture. According to the site, such claims of panaceas and cure-alls are ‘always a red flag for quackery’. Speaking on apitherapy – or treatment with bee products – the site stated, ‘there is no scientific evidence to support its use.’


And yet the therapy, and other potentially flawed methods used within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) remain popular in China. Most hospitals in China have traditional medicine treatments available, and the lucrative field produced goods worth 516 billion yuan (approximately £50.5 billion) in 2012. the National Bureau of Statistics points out that this production from the TCM industry in China accounted for more than 31% of the country’s total medicine output that year. Maybe individuals are seeing benefits that are yet to emerge in scientific studies, so what about case studies and testimonies of people who have had the treatment?


One of Wang’s apitherapy patients recalls that doctors gave him little over a year to live following his lung and brain cancer diagnosis, but he now believes he has almost doubled his life expectancy, thanks to the power of bee stings. He noted, ‘From last year up until now, I think I’m getting much stronger.’ However, the American Cancer Society makes clear, ‘There have been no clinical studies in humans showing that bee venom or other honeybee products are effective in preventing or treating cancer. Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.’


The American Cancer Society does allow, however, that there is a Koranic reference to the medicinal properties of the liquid produced by bees. Moreover, the first Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (742-814) was thought to have been treated with bee stings. And bee stings are not just an ancient or far eastern thing; in the West bee stings have also been used by sufferers of multiple sclerosis (MS), which is an often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. That said, on the website of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, it is written that, ‘In spite of long-standing claims about the possible benefits of bee venom for people with MS, a 24-week randomised study showed no reduction in disease activity, disability, or fatigue, and no improvement in quality of life.’

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