Scientists have found that bee venom can control the harmful inflammation in joints that leads to rheumatoid arthritis. They have shown the venom contains molecules that cause an increase in natural hormones in the body that regulate inflammation. It has raised hopes that bee venom can be used to develop new treatments that can help bring relief from the pain of arthritis and even prevent it from developing in the first place. The findings helped to explain anecdotal reports of how patients who undergo bee sting therapy report improvement in their condition. Dr Suzana Beatriz Veríssimo de Mello, an associate professor in rheumatology who led the research at the University of São Paulo, in Brazil, said bee venom caused increased levels of anti-inflammatory hormones called glucocorticoids.
The most documented benefit of BVT is in the reduction of pain and inflammation in both osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Several randomized, placebo-controlled trials have considered the safety and efficacy of BVT for OA and RA by measuring levels of joint stiffness in the morning, pain and swelling in the joints, and laboratory values for erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP).
One trial involved 80 patients with RA who were assigned to either BVT or control therapy.3 In the treatment group, injections of bee venom were administered twice weekly for 2 months at the proximal and distal phalangeal joints. Baseline assessments of the pain parameters and laboratory data were then compared between the 2 groups. In all outcome measures, BVT showed statistical significance over control therapy.3 Another trial examined the effect of BVT in OA of the knee; 60 patients were randomized to either BVT or traditional acupuncture.4 Treatments were performed twice weekly for 4 weeks. More than 82% of the patients who had been treated with bee venom reported substantial pain relief, compared with 55% of the patients who had been treated with traditional acupuncture.
Bee venom is theorized to reduce musculoskeletal pain by acting on 2 specific pathways. Both in vitro and in vivo studies have found that bee venom blocks the production of pro-inflammatory substances, such as cytokines, tumor necrosis factor-2, and cyclooxygenase-2.5 Bee venom also acts to inhibit the formation of rheumatoid synovial cells, thereby reducing swelling, pain, and joint deformity