You might think of bees as pain inflictors more than healers, but researchers have recently shown that injections of European honeybee venom (HBV) can reduce pain and improve function for people with knee osteoarthritis.

Using bee venom as medicine is part of a discipline known as apitherapy (api is Latin for bee). Apitherapy has been used for hundreds of years and is practiced today as a complementary and alternative therapy. Some studies show that HBV has strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Recent research finding: The new study, published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, combined HBV injections with acupuncture, since the injections were given in the knees as well as in traditional acupuncture sites, including around the eyes and the spine. Injections were given just below the skin (called a dermal injection). This study was double blind, placebo-controlled, which means the researchers compared HBV to placebo injections, and neither the subjects nor the researchers knew which participants were given the HBV.

The researchers recruited 538 patients with X-ray-documented osteoarthritis of the knee and significant knee pain scores recorded before treatment. Patients were randomly assigned to receive injections of either histamine (the placebo) or HBV. All patients received 12 weekly sessions of 15 injections. Injections included five in each knee and other injections in various acupuncture points.

At the end of the 12 weekly injections the placebo group was compared with the HBV group for pain scores, physical function ratings, doctor evaluation and patient assessment. Compared with the placebo patients, the HBV patients had highly significant improvement in pain, which lasted four weeks after finishing treatment. The HBV patients had significant improvement in both doctor and patient assessment of their overall osteoarthritis condition.

The HBV patients had more injection-site reactions, but overall HBV safety was comparable to the placebo injections. The researchers conclude that HBV therapy can significantly improve knee osteoarthritis pain and function.

Source: Study titled “Efficacy and Safety of Honey Bee Venom (Apis mellifera) Dermal Injections to Treat Osteoarthritis Knee Pain and Physical Disability: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” by researchers at CHA University, Seongnam, The Republic of Korea, published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.