Apitherapy: Usage and Experience in German Beekeepers

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


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

In This Article


To the best of our knowledge this is the first study on therapeutic experiences with bee products among beekeepers. Most beekeepers definitely do not consider themselves as apitherapists, although they may be regarded as the primary therapists for this type of medicine. Most have had positive experiences in using honey, propolis, pollen and rojal jelly, which they employ for various indications. It is interesting that no adverse experiences were reported by the beekeepers, which implies that these products seem to be safe. This study enabled us to determine the major indications for the use of propolis and pollen in beekeepers and factors which were associated with positive experiences and the use of bee products, especially self-administration of treatment, better health conciousness, greater age, larger number of bee hives tended and positive experiences with using one bee product.

The fact that older beekeepers use bee products more frequently than younger ones is similar to findings in a study on complementary and alternative medicine,[20] that does have shortcomings. The first is the low response rate to the questionnaire published in the beekeeping journals. However, this is not unusual. Another questionnaire in the same journals had a similar response rate.[21] Another problem may be the use of a non-validated questionnaire. However, to the best of our knowledge there have not been any earlier studies in the field. The third shortcoming is the possibility that the low response might lead to bias or a skewed distribution of results. In order to determine the potential for bias created by this type of investigation, we also analyzed a reference group - the Giessen Beekeeper Association. Comparison of the results showed that there were no significant intergroup differences in the major assessed demographic factors. In addition, characteristics of the beekeepers in a study on beekeeping traditions from Rhineland-Palatinate are very similar to those in our sample.[22] It is also worth adding that data provided by the Deutsche Imkerbund (German Beekeepers Association) regarding beekeepers' age and the number of beehives tended do not suggest any important bias in our study group. Furthermore, since the survey addressed several aspects of beekeeping, we do not believe that beekeepers with particularly strong views or problems regarding one aspect would have been more or less likely to respond to it. Thus we assume that the bias is low.

Apitherapeutic societies claim that bee products are efficacious in several circumstances.[23,24] In general, these claims of effectiveness are not supported by published reports but an overview of the literature, especially on propolis, shows that some assertions could well be valid. Propolis has wide therapeutic spectrum, ranging from anti-inflammatory to antifungal, antibacterial, anti-tumor, anti-allergic and wound healing properties.[23,25] Recent reports indicate that it may also have neuroprotective effects which could be helpful in cases of cerebral ischemia. There is also evidence supporting the use of pollen in diseases of the prostate. These studies were conducted with rye pollen and showed positive results.[22] Although rye pollen is not collected by bees, there may be common properties.

In summary, the potential benefit of bee products is supported by several studies and now also by the positive experiences of a large group of beekeepers who used bee products frequently to treat a wide range of conditions. The indications stated here may be useful in selecting and designing future trials of bee products. The recent positive findings from the meta-analysis on honey and wound healing show that the some experiences may well prove interesting.[2]


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