There are reports of bee venom being used to treat arthritis as far back as ancient Egyptian times, as well as in medieval Europe, but the treatment has regained popularity in recent years along with growing interest in natural therapies. Clinics offering bee venom therapy administer the venom either by syringe, or by applying live bees directly to the skin.
Nelson Honey and Marketing has been selling honeybee venom mixed into honey in New Zealand for the past 13 years, but companies must seek novel foods approval to market foods or ingredients in the EU if the product in question was not widely consumed in Europe prior to May 15, 1997.
The company milks the venom from the Apis mellifera species of honeybee using an electronic system that causes the bees to sting through a latex film onto a glass plate for collection. It is then dried and administered through its Nectar Ease brand of venom-spiked Manuka honey – made from bees feeding on the native New Zealand Manuka tree. The company recommends that the dosage is built up gradually from a quarter teaspoon daily to a maximum of two teaspoons over three weeks, but it adds: “Bee products should not replace medical treatments, the advice being supplement – not substitute.”
Although there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of bee venom therapy in alleviating the symptoms of arthritis, there is no rigorous scientific evidence proving its effectiveness.
Manuka honey, on the other hand, is reported to have significant antibacterial activity, potentially making it useful in the areas of oral and throat health, gut health and as a topical treatment for wounds.
Apart from arthritis, bee venom is also administered for a number of other conditions, including multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure, asthma, eczema, bone healing and hearing loss, but there is no significant scientific evidence substantiating its efficacy.
Comments on the company’s application are invited until July 23, 2009, and will be passed to the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes when it begins its assessment of the ingredient’s safety later this year.
More information on the application can be found here.