Recent research has proven out the ability of bee venom therapy for fighting Lyme disease, along with other inflammatory conditions. A 2017 study has confirmed that bee venom will kill the tick bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi better than popular antibiotics used for Lyme.
Lyme disease is expanding
Lyme disease has been surging in epidemic proportions over the past few years. This seems to be related to droughts and warmer summer conditions, and the surge of populations of deer and mice. To some degree, the latter also appears to be related to the increased the availability of acorns in the northeast U.S.
This is reflected by research on two of the leading tick species that carry Lyme disease: The blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) is the primary tick associated with Lyme disease.
The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum (L.)) has often been attributed to Lyme disease, but a 2018 study from U.S. Army Public Health and the CDC found that the lone star ticks do not carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
A 2016 study found that the blacklegged tick has expanded over 44 percent since 1998, and found in 1,531 counties in 43 states.
The growth of these tick populations has, of course, resulted in more cases of Lyme disease. According to the Centers of Disease control, Lyme disease diagnoses range around 300,000 per year. And 96 percent of these cases are in 14 states in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest.
Antibiotics typically given for Lyme disease
Regardless of where the Lyme disease is contracted, conventional treatment is spearheaded by the use of antibiotics. The most popular of these antibiotics used by doctors is doxycycline. Other antibiotics used against the Lyme bacteria include cefoperazone, daptomycin, amoxicillin, tigecycline, metronidazole and tinidazole.
Sometimes “doxy” is the only antibiotic used. Other doctors will retest Lyme levels after a course of doxycycline and if the tests come up positive, will try the other antibiotics.
In some cases, a combination of these antibiotics will be given in combination in an attempt to fight the Lyme disease infection of B. burgdorferi bacteria.
Issues with antibiotic treatment of Lyme disease
The problem is that studies have shown that doxycycline can kill up to 90 percent of the spirochetes (the spiral forms) of the bacteria. But then another form of the bacteria – called round bodies or spheroplasts – will rebound and increase in number.
These round body forms can embed into nerves and other tissues, growing a long-term form of the infection. These are often referred to in the literature as biofilm forms of the bacteria, because they group together in growing colonies.
The other antibiotics mentioned above and others have also been tested in the same way that doxy has been tested.
According to the research (see below for references), these have various effects. For example, amoxicillin reduces spiral forms by around 90 percent and reduces round body forms by 80 percent. Others, like tigecycline, metronidazole and tinidazole have similar effects. However, the problem is that biofilms were only reduced by between 30 and 55 percent in tests of these popular antibiotics.
Furthermore, researchers are noticing that these bacteria are beginning to become resistant to some of the antibiotics. This presents a problem that will only get worse, as antibiotics become less successful.
This leads us to our discussion about bee venom and natural antibiotics in general. As we discussed in a recent article on this subject, it turns out that many natural antibiotics work on a different level than pharmaceutical antibiotics: Many natural anti-bacterial agents produce vibrational effects that interfere with the quorum sensing ability of the bacteria – preventing the bacteria from communicating and expanding their colonies.
Research proves bee venom fights Lyme bacteria
Researchers from Lyme Disease Research Group at the University of New Haven have been investigating the ability of natural products to combat Lyme bacteria – the primary being Borrelia burgdorferi. They have tested bee venom – used by many natural doctors over the past few years to combat Lyme disease.
The researchers tested both whole bee venom and a bee venom extract compound called melittin against the Lyme disease bacteria. Not only did they test these, but they also tested these against three popular Lyme antibiotics, doxycycline, cefoperazone and daptomycin.
The researchers also tested a combination of all three antibiotics.
The table below tells the story. The table shows the B. burgdorferi bacterial count numbers as a result of different treatments. The bars show how much of the bacteria in different forms is still alive after treatment. The red bar shows the spiral forms (spirochetes). The orange bar shows the persistent forms of the bacteria, including the round body forms. And the green bar shows the biofilms after seven days.
As you can see, the doxycycline therapeutic dose killed a lot of spiral forms but then the round bodies and biofilms are still pretty evident. The same goes for cefoperazone and daptomycin to different degrees. There is still plenty of biofilm bacteria evident after the treatment. Enough at least to allow the bacteria to grow.
The combination of the antibiotics (D+C+D) does the best at eliminating the B. burgdorferi biofilms. But now look at the 800 micrograms per milliliter dose of bee venom and the 200 and 400 micrograms per mL doses of melittin. It is obvious from this chart that the bee venom beats the combination of the antibiotics. And the melittin compound from bee venom virtually eliminates counts of all forms of the bacteria in these two doses.
Furthermore, the researchers tested the bacteria in single treatments and three-day daily treatments. The daily treatment regimen was found to be even more effective at eliminating the bacteria.
The researchers concluded:
“In conclusion, the findings from this study showed that whole bee venom and melittin were effective against all B. burgdorferi morphological forms in vitro, including antibiotic-resistant attached biofilms.”
The researchers also noted:
“Differences in bee venom and melittin effectiveness on B. burgdorferi suggest that there may be other components within the whole bee venom, that also have an effect on Borrelia biofilms.”
Other applications of bee venom therapy
While bee venom therapy has not been approved by the U.S. FDA, many medical doctors have been using bee venom injections for their Lyme disease patients. But this isn’t the only use of bee venom therapy.
Bee venom injections have also been used to combat neuralgia – nerve pain. Some success has been shown in multiple sclerosis as well as rheumatoid arthritis and various forms of joint pain.
Chinese acupuncturists have also been employing bee venom therapy with their acupuncture therapy. In these cases, the acupuncture needles are dipped in bee venom.
In many of these applications, it is the body’s own immune response to the bee venom that stimulates a healing response. In others, the mellitin and other compounds in bee venom specifically reduce inflammatory markers.
Bee venom injections are usually spread apart by days or even a week to help prevent the patient from a natural adaptation of the bee venom, which can partly ameliorate some of the immune response.
Bee venom therapy has been the subject of clinical research over the past few years, especially for back pain, neck pain and musculoskeletal pain.
For example, a 2017 study from the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine tested 54 patients with low back pain. They were given either bee venom injections or sham (placebo) injections daily for three weeks.
The researchers found the bee venom group experienced significantly less pain intensity and better function.
A 2008 review of clinical research was done at the Peninsula Medical School at the University of Exeter in the UK. The researchers found 11 clinical trials of bee venom therapy acupuncture for musculoskeletal pain.
The researchers found clear evidence that bee venom therapy can reduce musculoskeletal pain.
In a 2016 study, Korean researchers investigated the metabolic effects of bee venom therapy. They found that bee venom was anti-inflammatory. Bee venom reduced COX-2 expression (related to pain and inflammation) and reduced inflammatory cytokines TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-6. It also inhibited other inflammatory factors that take place in the RANKL-RANK inflammation signaling pathway.
Other laboratory and clinical research have confirmed the ability of bee venom to reduce inflammation and pain. For example, a 2015 review of research from Australia’s Catholic University of Daegu medical school found that bee venom and melittin were effective in reducing inflammation in liver fibrosis as well as atherosclerosis. They also found it effective at reducing inflammation in skin conditions.
The researchers stated in their conclusion:
“Collectively, therapy using bee venom and its major components is considered a useful clinical approach for the treatment of inflammatory diseases.”
Injections, acupuncture or bee stings?
The main applications of bee venom are needle injections, acupuncture needles and bee stings.
Injections are typical in most doctor’s offices. And acupuncturists utilize sterile bee venom dipping canisters. But there is another option – that is, being stung directly by bees.
Apitherapists have training in handling bees and applying these to patients.
An apitherapist may utilize tweezers to apply a bee directly to the skin. Or they may utilize bee therapy boxes. This will allow a brave patient to put their arm inside a container containing stinging bees. There are also larger chambers that apitherapists utilize.
And there are smaller bee therapy kits. While a person can learn to self-apply bee stings, it is important that an experienced apitherapist apply such methods, at least initially. An apitherapist will have epinephrine on hand in the case of allergic response. And an apitherapist will also pull out the stinger shortly after the sting and reduce reaction with an appropriate skin application.
So far in clinical research, acupuncture bee venom therapy has proven useful for pain and inflammation issues. But injections and bee stings serve to get more mellitin into the body for the antibiotic effects.
By the way, bee sting skin reactions can be reduced with baking soda or apple cider vinegar. Putting mud on a bee sting is not a great idea because it can lead to an infection. Sterile bentonite clay is a good alternative. Other remedies for bee stings include honey, calendula and onion.
Lyme disease is complicated
A number of years ago I trained with two doctors who treated patients with Lyme disease, and I eventually also worked with some Lyme patients in my practice. What I learned is that Lyme disease is a very complicated condition, and not everyone will necessarily follow the same course of the disease. Therefore it is important to find a doctor who keeps up with the research and is ready to apply a combination of methods, including natural therapies such as bee venom therapy.
While antibiotics alone might be successful in an early infection, as we see from the research above, they can also fall short of preventing a regrowth of the infection. For this reason, a combination of antibiotics and natural therapies such as bee venom, cat’s claw and others makes sense.
For more information on natural healing approaches to Lyme disease, consider Dr. William Rawls’ book on the topic:
Unlocking Lyme: Myths, Truths, and Practical Solutions for Chronic Lyme Disease by William Rawls MD
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Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.