Apitherapy: Usage and Experience in German Beekeepers

Markus Hellner; Daniel Winter; Richard von Georgi; Karsten Münstedt

Disclosures

Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2008;4(5):475-479. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

This study aimed to investigate the practice of apitherapy - using bee products such as honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom to prevent or treat illness and promote healing - among German beekeepers and to evaluate their experiences with these therapies. A questionnaire incorporating two instruments on beekeepers' physical and mental health and working practice was included in three German beekeeping journals and readers were asked to complete it. The instrument included questions on the use of apitherapy. Simple descriptive methods, bivariate correlation, cross-tabulation and one-way ANOVA were used to analyze the data. Altogether 1059 completed questionnaires were received. The beekeepers reported the most effective and favorable therapeutic effects with honey, followed by propolis, pollen and royal jelly. The factors associated with successful experiences were: age, number of hives tended, health consciousness, positive experiences with one product and self-administration of treatment. Beekeepers were asked for which condition they would employ propolis and pollen. They reported that they used propolis most frequently to treat colds, wounds and burns, sore throats, gum disorders and also as a general prophylactic, while pollen was most commonly used as a general prophylactic and, less frequently, in treating prostate diseases. No adverse experiences were reported. The potential benefit of bee products is supported by the positive experiences of a large group of beekeepers who use some of these products to treat a wide range of conditions. The indications and treatments given here may be important in selecting bee products and designing future trials.

Introduction

Apitherapy is the use of bee products such as honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly, bee venom, wax and apilarnil to prevent or treat illness and promote healing. According to Dr Stefan Stangaciu, editor in chief of the International Federation of Beekeepers' Association, apitherapy is, 'the art and science of treatment and holistic healing through the honeybee and her products for the benefit of mankind and all the animal kingdom'.[1] The roots of apitherapy can be traced back more than 6000 years to medicine in ancient Egypt. The Greeks and Romans also used bee products for medicinal purposes. This is described by Hippocrates (460-370 BC), Aristotle (384-332 BC) and Galen (130-200 AD), who prescribed the use of honey and bee venom as a cure for baldness. However, whether these practitioners from the ancient world really represent the fathers of apitherapy is questionable.

There is a major difference between apitherapy and the use of bee products in defined medical situations. Apitherapists believe that bee products can be used to cure most diseases. However, the use of bee products in conventional medicine is limited to certain indications where they have shown effects which are equal to or better than those of standard treatments - for example, in treating wounds and burns and as an interesting approach in arthritis.[2,3,4]

Dr Stangaciu is one of the foremost protagonists of apitherapy and he states that he has had more than 7000 treatment successes with bee products.[5] He has developed guidelines for apitherapy and these are reproduced in Table 1 .[5] There are various other reports on the internet of healing through apitherapy but unfortunately no detailed information is available.[6]

Despite the relative lack of scientific evidence, the concept of apitherapy strongly appeals to many people, especially beekeepers. Beekeepers have used and promoted bee products for a long time, sometimes even defying state laws to do so.[7] In order to learn more about apitherapy and its applications, we assessed the extent of its use in beekeepers and their experiences with this therapy in a nationwide study in Germany.

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