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In the US alone, over 20.4% of all adults suffer from a form of chronic pain (CDC 2018). When treating chronic pain, many modern medications can reduce pain sensations; however, they also come with serious side effects that lead to opioid addictions or adverse health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia (Oesterle 2019). In a recent clinical trial, researchers at Kyung Hee University Hospital in South Korea find that bee venom acupuncture (BVA) has a significant reduction in pain without many negative symptoms for individuals with lower back pain than other alternative pain solutions (Seo 2017). For individuals suffering from any form of chronic pain, this study reveals new potential for alternatives to prescribed pain medications.

Bee venom therapy is a treatment option for individuals with chronic pain conditions such as arthritis, Lyme disease, or scoliosis. Through professional acupuncture or home treatments, bee venom that has been extracted from honey bees contains anti-inflammatory properties that can ease pain, reduce swelling, and limit long-term discomfort. Many personal testimonies state the use of bee venom has improved their quality of life and cured them of their chronic conditions (Lorenzo 2016).

While the benefits are numerous, there are also many drawbacks. Many people may be allergic to bees, resulting in worsened health conditions or even anaphylactic shock (BBC 2018). Moreover, treatment is not always consistent among users, and the therapy is currently very expensive. However, as more research is released, the beneficial chemicals in the venom and how they reverse chronic conditions have become increasingly clear.

With recent research exposing the dangers of prescribed pain medications, there exists a growing need for alternative solutions. In-lab testing on rodents finds that bee venom has numerous benefits – reducing pain responses, decreasing swelling, and improving normal functions (Chen 2010). In a specific study on pain receptors in mice with arthritis, researchers find that continuous bee venom injections reverse the chronic conditions (Kwon 2001). To respond to both the concerns of opioids and also the potential in bee venom therapy, Byungkwan Seo from the Department of Acupuncture & Moxibustion at Kyung Hee University Hospital and a group of researchers across South Korea conducted a twelve-week clinical trial at the Kyung Hee University Hospital that lasted from 2016 to early 2017. They questioned whether the benefits for mice could also be beneficial for humans. Thus, they hypothesized that bee venom can be utilized in acupuncture to improve recovery speed for individuals than regular acupuncture (Seo 2017). Having no potential conflicts of interest, they received funding from the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine and the Spine Center of Kyung Hee University Hospital. Their research was published in Toxins in November of 2019.

In conducting their study, the researchers took several steps to prevent bias or possible interferences that could affect the results. From an initial pool of volunteers between ages eighteen and sixty-five with lower back pain (LBP), Seo’s research group screened each patient for pain sensitivity, allergic reactions to bee venom, and availability for treatment. The resulting fifty-four patients were randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups, bee venom acupuncture (BVA) or regular acupuncture (non-BVA). The purpose of the non-BVA group was to confirm that bee venom has measurable benefits in a controlled setting and that the results were not chance-based. The acupuncture needles for the BVA patients were coated in bee venom while the non-BVA group was treated with an identical saline solution to prevent possible practitioner bias (Seo 2017).

During a three-week period, a licensed MD performed six acupuncture treatments on each patient along acupoints on the spine. Dosages of bee venom increased each week from 0.2 mL to 0.4 mL to 0.8 mL. For the next nine weeks, patients did not have any acupuncture treatment. Each week, Seo’s group measured “bothersomeness” and pain intensity for each patient. They found that bee venom had a statistically significant improvement in recovery time and pain management than individuals in the non-BVA group (Seo 2017). Both groups, however, showed almost equal pain levels by the sixth week, three weeks after the last treatment (Seo 2017). These results indicate that bee venom has useful short-term benefits in reducing pain symptoms, but long-term effects for humans are still unknown.

While the experiment is easily replicable, the authors admitted that their study had possibly erroneous methodology. The placebo treatment, while non-invasive, could have still triggered specific acupoints to alleviate pain. These results may explain why both groups report statistically similar levels of pain by the fifth week. Additionally, since the pain was self-reported, some level of bias could have been introduced since each person may measure pain levels differently. This error was likely negligible since, in the screening period, pain sensitivity was measured for each patient and verified to be within a normal range. Lastly, while each group had approximately twenty-seven people, the sample size was small and could be improved.

Rather than further experimentation on mice, future bee venom research would likely focus on clinical trials and human patients. With a larger sample size, other researchers could examine other chronic pain conditions – migraines, arthritis, nerve damage, fibromyalgia, etc. The authors also suggest testing different concentrations of BVA treatment to find the optimal dosage in humans (Seo 2017). If modeled similarly to this research, these studies would be ethical; however, if researchers wanted to test maximum, tolerable dose for humans, the ethicality becomes questionable. While clinically proven to work in small doses, bee venom is still a toxin to the human body. Thus, testing various concentrations of bee venom could result in injections that could either be harmful or outright lethal to patients.

As one of the first approved clinical trials of BVT, Seo’s research provided a basic foundation for the potential in this new field of alternative medicine. Currently, with limited research, users have unknowingly taken dangerous injections, sometimes in lethal doses (BBC 2018). To improve the safety of these patients and open the possibility of a replacement to pharmaceutical drugs, bee venom research provides relief to anyone, especially elders who suffer from chronic pain or individuals who know people dependent on prescribed pain medications.

Most people at a certain point in life suffer from a form of physical pain; bee venom provides a possible solution. Bee venom research is particularly popular in South Korea, for Eastern medicine remains a more culturally recognized form of medicine than in the West. Therefore, the publication of Seo’s research allows widespread dissemination of the potential in bee venom that other researchers across the world could invest in. As this study is replicated, and more research becomes publicly available, BVA could become a recommended option for future patients with chronic pain and assist in eliminating the current crisis on opioid addiction.



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Kwon Y, Lee J, Lee H, Han H, Mar W, Kang S, Beitz A, Lee J. 2001. Bee venom injection into an acupuncture point reduces arthritis associated edema and nociceptive responses. Pain. [accessed January 16]. 90(3):271–280.

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