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Apitherapy is a branch of alternative medicine that uses honey bee products, including honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom. Proponents of apitherapy make claims for its health benefits which are unsupported by evidence-based medicine.
References to medical properties of bee products can be found in Chinese, Korean, Russian, Egyptian and Greek traditional medicine practices. Apitherapy has been practiced since the times of Hippocrates and Galen. The more modern study of apitherapy, specifically using bee venom, was initiated by Austrian physician Philipp Terč in his 1888 article "About a Peculiar Connection Between the Bee stings and Rheumatism." More recent alternative medicine practice is attributed to the Hungarian physician Bodog F. Beck who coined the term "bee venom therapy" in 1935, and to beekeeper Charles Mraz (1905–1999) in the latter half of the twentieth century. In 1957, the USSR Ministry of Health sanctioned use of bee venom to treat certain ailments by approval of Nikolay Artemov's "Instruction for Bee Sting Venom Apitherapy."
Apitherapy is promoted as alternative medicine for several uses, but its health claims are not supported by scientific evidence. Bee venom or other honeybee products are ineffective for the treatment or prevention of cancer.
Adverse reactions to bee venom therapy are frequent. Frequent exposure to the venom can also lead to arthropathy. In sensitized persons, venom compounds can act as allergens, causing a spectrum of allergic reactions that can range from mild, local swelling to severe systemic reactions, anaphylactic shock, or even death.
In March 2018 it was reported that a 55-year-old woman died after receiving "live bee acupuncture", suffering a severe anaphylactic episode which the apitherapy practitioner did not respond to by administering adrenaline. While stabilized by ambulance personnel on the way to the hospital, she died a few weeks later from complications resulting in multiple organ failure. Live bee acupuncture therapy is “unsafe and unadvisable,” according to researchers who studied the case.
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