The Bees Knees: Navigating holistic and conventional medicine.
For the past three years my naturopathic doctor got me on a very unusual treatment for my arthritis. I developed the arthritis likely from two reasons: genetics and I abused the heck out of my knees. I loved to hike and I used to hike up mountains on a daily basis. This wear a tear quickly waned away at the cartilage behind my patella. My family genetics made it easy for these arthritic knee problems to start.
By the age of 20 I was already seeing the first signs of arthritis. It got so bad that if I landed on my knee in the wrong way it would create such a crippling pain that my knee would buckle and I’d find myself on the ground writhing in agony. Those around me would be left dumfounded as to why someone in their twenties could have such decimating pain. However, someone in their seventies might have an idea what I’m talking about.
The conventional treatment approach for arthritis is medication, in the lines of a pain reliever or anti-inflammatory. This never appealed to me because I knew that this was only making me a little more comfortable with my symptoms; not to mention, it does not offer a cure and the side effects are horrible. Another conventional approach is surgery, like a knee replacement. This is a brutally intrusive surgery where they replace the knee joint by sawing off the end of the femur and tibia and replacing them with artificial pieces. Usually, someone’s knee functionality is never the same after a surgery like this. These approaches disinterested me and I wanted to see if there was another option.
I tried the popular food supplements like MSM and glucosamine but this made no difference. I also tried physical therapy, which helped me strengthen my knees but ultimately my therapist said, "this is something you are going to have to learn to live with." I wasn’t satisfied with this apathetic approach. That’s where apitherapy comes in.
I heard of people healing their arthritis by getting bee venom injections. The idea sounded crazy to me but not nearly as crazy as taking medication for the rest of my life or massive knee replacement surgery. So I found a naturopathic doctor that performed this type of therapy and he determined if I would be a good candidate. Turns out, I was the ideal candidate.
We started with a small injection of bee venom around each knee. It of course stung for a few seconds and then a warm feeling washed over each knee. They felt as if they were pulsating with warmth. I went back weekly for several weeks before my doctor told me that I should just become a beekeeper and sting myself. I was always interested in beekeeping and this seemed like a great opportunity to get into it. There were too many pros not to: lots of honey, bee’s wax for candle making, propolis (which I won’t go into the usefulness of this natural product here), pollinates the garden and fruit trees, and I got bee venom anytime I wanted or needed. This sounded a lot cheaper than the cost of the injections and doctor visit charges I was paying. Nope, insurance in the United States does not cover apitherapy.
I continued stinging my knees on a weekly basis until the winter came. Then I just left the bees to stay warm in their hive. Come next spring, I started my stinging regiment. It sounds odd but I began to look forward to the stings. The pain and discomfort of the sting was brief in comparison to the beneficial feeling I had afterwards.
With a holistic approach, all is addressed. I started drinking more black cherry juice, ginger, turmeric, and modifying my diet to decrease inflammation along with a number of other things.
In the first six months of treatment, I noticed great improvements. I had lots more range of motion with little pain. Once I noticed that it helped, I continued to sting myself for three more years. Today the pain is minimal and it slowly continues to improve. As a side effect, I have massive stores of raw, organic honey on hand.
The other day my curiosity was spiked and I wanted to know what the all-knowing internet had to say about this successful treatment. The first website I came across was WebMD. I was intrigued with what they had to say about it given that most medical doctors have little to no training in natural medicine. Here’s what WebMD had to say about it:
“People used to think that bee venom might be a useful treatment for arthritis. This theory was largely due to supposed swelling-reducing (anti-inflammatory) effects of bee venom and the observation that many beekeepers don't develop arthritis. However, research results have not supported this.”
WebMD says the research doesn’t support the use of bee venom for arthritis but fails to cite the research they are referring to. Any reporter or scientific researcher will tell you that it is important to cite your sources. Otherwise you are claiming this knowledge as something the author has discovered, which is a form of plagiarism.
Regardless, I was intrigued and I wanted to dig up some scientific research to see what was out there in the scientific literature. A quick search on Google Scholar brought up a study the said just the opposite of WebMD’s claims. Surprisingly, it was the first study listed. Kim (2013) not only found bee venom to be an effective treatment for arthritis but it was also a useful treatment for a list of other ailments like migraines, peripheral neuritis, chronic back pain, multiple sclerosis, lupus, eczema, psoriasis, and herpes.
So what’s going on here? Why can I easily find research in a matter of seconds that contradicts the claims of WebMD? Why aren’t WebMD authors providing sources for their claims? Well, I cannot speak for WebMD but it points to an ongoing problem in conventional medicine. Conventional medicine isn’t embracing natural medicine despite scientific evidence supporting its legitimacy.
Personally, I don’t need WebMD or any scientific research to tell me that apitherapy is an effective treatment for arthritis. I just have to bend my knees and I know that it works.
Unfortunately, the days where we can openly trust our doctors to be well informed of the many scientifically proven treatments are gone. It takes a determined individual to search out their options on their own. Regrettably, most people are not trained in how to review scientific research and the medical field knows this.
Most medical doctors are trained in schools funded by the pharmaceutical companies and they have little to no training in natural medicine. Medicine from nature cannot be patented and therefore there is little to no profit. However, pharmaceuticals that are synthetically derived can be patented and therefore there is a profit. Your medical doctor is often going to suggest that the treatment most profitable to them and the industry is best. This is not to suggest that your doctor is greedy or of bad character. On the contrary, they may very well be nice and have the best in mind for you. But their training is lacking and it’s a growing problem particularly in the United States.
So what can we do?
First, always, seek out a second opinion. If you want to know what are the more natural or holistic options, seek out a professional that has been trained in this area. Naturopathic doctors and holistic health care professionals typically have this training. They are going to be familiar with the scientific research in their field and can provide you with options.
Second, do some internet research for yourself to see what is out there. Make sure the website your reviewing provides bona fide sources to support their claims.
Thirdly, demand more from your doctor. Ask them the tough questions like side effects, does this cure or just suppress symptoms, and what are my options? Research it yourself and ask them about some of the things you found. And if the doctor fails to meet your standards, perhaps it’s time to fire them and find a new doctor that will meet your basic standards.
Kim, C. M. H. (2013). Apitherapy - Bee venom therapy. Eds. M. Grassberger, R. A. Sherman, O. S. Gileva, C. M. H. Kim, K. Y. Mumcuoglu. Biotherpay - History, Principles and Practice, pp 77-112.
WebMD: Link 2016: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-972-BEE%20VENOM.aspx?activeIngredientId=972&activeIngredientName=BEE%20VENOM