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The Bible of Bee Venom Therapy

Foreword to 1997 Edition

It's almost unheard of in the 1990's to take a medical text written over sixty years ago and reissue it. Why has the present work been reissued after so long? Dr. Beck's book, as the reader will soon discover, is no ordinary medical text. It was issued in 1935 by a prestigious New York publisher, D. Appleton -Century Company, and then allowed to languish after the printing sold out. Only seven years later the author died. This work was his magnum opus, the realization and summation of a distinguished career devoted to the practical and scientific exploration of the nature and use of honey bee venom.

It wasn't until 1981, almost forty years later, that a dedicated osteopathic physician, L.A. Doyle, D.O., of Osage, Iowa reissued the original work complete with two introductions; one written by him and the other by Charles Mraz, a longtime student of Doctor Beck who in the early 1930's had been successfully treated by Beck as a patient. This volume, like its antecedents, quickly sold out. So, once again Dr. Beck's book was unavailable. Several years ago I called all over the country, attempting to locate a copy for my personal use. No one who had one would part with it for any amount of money. Many people had even borrowed the book and gone to the expense of photocopying it! I began to realize that it was a highly valued text in the community of apitherapists. Charles Mraz, often regarded as the father of post-Beck apitherapy, wrote in 1981, "This book is still the best text on the subject." Though other books on the subject have since appeared, none of them rivals the present volume for depth and extent of cover-age of the subject. In addition, as shall soon be demonstrated. Dr. Beck has never since been equalled in his mastery of the theoretical and practical aspects of the discipline which he termed for the first time in this volume "apitherapy," the therapeutic use of the venom of the honey bee.

Bodog Beck, M.D. was a product of the central European world of the late nineteenth century that produced such other therapeutic pioneers as Freud, Ignaz Semmelweiss, the father of modem antisepsis, and Anton Terc, M.D. of Marburg, Austria, who has justly been identified as the father of modern apitherapy. Born around 1871 in Budapest, Hungary, the young Bodog was fascinated with nature as a boy. His early years involved him taking on the task of raising his own honey bees. This, in turn, led him deeper into what would become a life-long exploration into all aspects of the world of the honey bee. He served in his nation's armed forces during the First World War, after which he emigrated to the United States where he settled in New York City. By the early 1930's, when Charles Mraz encountered him, he had established a thriving Park Avenue practice among the elite of New York's upper east side. Though he was on the staff of a local hospital. Saint Mark's, as a medical practitioner, his first love was apitherapy and it was to this discipline that he assiduously devoted himself until his death on New Year's Day, 1942.

Mr. Mraz notes that Doctor Beck, though experimenting with injectable venom, preferred to use the venom of the live honey bee. For this purpose he kept a five-frame hive covered with wire screen on the window sill of his medical office. The bees were free to fly in and out of the hive, which they often did, gathering large amounts of honey from nearby Central Park. Doctor Beck would take a bee from the hive with long forceps and carefully apply it to the skin of the patient wherever treatment was intended. He termed this a "self-activated, self-contained, sterile hypodermic needle," which indeed it was.

Over the many years during which he practiced apitherapy Dr. Beck treated thousands of patients with many varied medical conditions. He, as much as anyone else utilizing bee venom for therapeutic purposes, came to understand the potential uses and definite limitations of this approach to therapy. According to Charles Mraz, mentioned above, Bodog Beck was fond of saying that when he didn't know what else to offer patients to help alleviate their condition he could always turn to apitherapy. However, as the reader of this volume will discover, Dr. Beck did not consider apitherapy a panacea any more than any other approach, no matter how powerful, could be so considered.

Doctor Beck, besides being a highly reknowned physician, was also a scholar in his chosen field, apiculture. He had an enormous personal library with books and materials in many languages from every part of the world. He had dedicated himself for years to collecting everything he could find (monographs, journal literature, personal notes, pictorial matter, ephemera, etc.) related to bees and especially bee venom therapy. He was personally fluent in all of the languages of his collection which, besides most modem European tongues, also included Latin and Ancient Greek. He also devoted himself to amassing a collection of Napoleonic materials with Napoleon's honey bee emblem.

Honey and other bee products were also of great interest to Doctor Beck who learned quite a bit about their history and medicinal uses. Much of this knowledge he later passed on to us in a highly original work, Honey and Your Health, which was published a few years after the appearance of the present work. An enlarged edition co-authored by Doree Smedley was issued sometime later and has been republished by Health Resources Press.

What makes this text unique? First of all, the very subject itself, that of the therapeutic use of honey bee venom, had hithertofore not received much, if any scholarly attention and certainly not in English. Scattered articles were to be found in both the lay and scientific press in Europe regarding apitherapy, but most of these tended to be anecdotal or fragmentary in their nature. None pretended to survey the field and summarize the accumulated experience of literally thousands of practitioners in many lands over several hundred years. No work of such encyclopedic nature had ever been attempted on this subject prior to 1935 and, it might be mentioned, never has been since.

A few new volumes related to apitherapy have been issued over the last sixty years. For the most part they deal with various personal experiences successfully using apitherapy. The failures are not mentioned or analyzed to attempt to understand why these patients failed to respond to apitherapy. The rest of these volumes chronicle various approaches to the actual day-to-day practice of bee venom therapy.

There is also a substantial collection of work that has appeared in academic and medical journals, mostly from outside the United States. This work has been published in many languages, including Russian and Chinese. Most of it is not currently available in English. Much of this material involves scientific studies of apitherapy and the various aspects of the bee venom itself. Limited bibliographies of this material are available.

However, no one to date has attempted to replicate Doctor Beck's task; to systematically present all that is known about the field of apitherapy both theoretical and practical. In this book's first one hundred and twenty odd pages the author provides an exhaustive summary of the history of the use of bee products for therapeutic purposes. In addition, the physiologic nature of the venom on humans, the true nature of human sensitivity to venom (a topic on which most physicians are very ill-informed) and related topics complete the first part of the volume. The second section covers all aspects of actual practice based on the experience of the author as well as many other authorities. Doctor Beck notes that he has had good therapeutic results using apitherapy with muscular rheumatism, myalgia, myositis, neuralgia, neuritis, migraine, acute rheumatic fever, endocarditis, acute and chronic arthritis, arthritis deformans, chronic surgical inflammation of the soft and bony tissues, iritis and iridocyclitis rheumatica, as well as various dermatoses. I can confirm from personal clinical experience that many other conditions also respond to apitherapy including pulmonary and cardiac sarcoidosis, chronic asthmatic conditions, and pathologic scars, to mention but a few. What is especially valuable and necessary for the practitioner is to under-stand what conditions do NOT respond well to apitherapy. This is one of the few works on the subject to address this topic in an informed manner. Unfortunately, certain devotees of this discipline have made what can only be diplomatically termed inflated and ill-informed statements regarding the clinical efficacy of bee venom therapy. So it is very important to know how to select patients and Dr. Beck does address this concern.

The book concludes with an extensive bibliography on apitherapy, which has yet to be superseded, as well as two indexes, one by author and the other according to topic.

In the early 1930's Doctor Beck utilized several bee journals to circulate a questionnaire to bee keepers around the world. It consisted of ten questions dealing with such topics as sensitivity to venom in people who are repeatedly being exposed to and being stung on a daily basis by bees, the nature of their symptoms resulting from being stung, treatments for bee stings, the effect of the bee stings on their overall health as well as the effect on any specific pre-sting disease conditions, their knowledge of these matters as pertains to others they know, including cases of paralysis and cancer, personal and other cases of mortality and morbidity relating to honey bee stings, and any additional related details. He writes that he received many hundreds of replies from almost every state and much of the rest of the world. Though he notes that the amount of valuable information received would be sufficient to produce an entire other book he has coherently and succinctly summarized his findings in eleven pages of the cur-rent volume. This is an amazingly valuable and informative contribution to the art and science of apitherapy and as far as I'm aware has never been duplicated elsewhere. As will be seen, this work is the major written contribution of one of apitherapy's most devoted modem students and practitioners.

HOW TO DO IT

Before treating others or one's self with bee venom therapy it is especially important that the patient understand what exactly is involved This therapy is so different in many ways from other mainstream and alternative approach-es that its goals and possible effects must be reviewed before therapy is instituted. Otherwise, the patient may not successfully complete the treatment and obtain the desired therapeutic end. Physicians are advised to obtain written, witnessed informed consent which includes specific language detailing all possible major and minor effects, as well as notification that this procedure is not FDA-approved nor is it in any way considered standard of medical care anywhere in the United States. It is an experimental procedure and the patient must agree to take responsibility for this. The possibility of allergic (anaphylactic) reaction must be anticipated and the prompt alleviation of such symptoms with epinephrine or equivalent substances be available.

The patient should be asked about their past experience with bee stings It is extremely rare, according to most apitherapists, that patients reporting past adverse reactions in connection with bee stings have been stung by honey bees. In most cases, careful investigation will reveal that these patients have actually been stung by yellow jackets, wasps, or hornets. Even if they have been stung by honey bees and a reaction reported ("I was rushed to the emergency room and was given epinephrine. They told me that I'm allergic to bees,") the reaction, when detailed, will rarely be anaphylactic. Non-anaphylactic reactions from honey bees are not considered allergic by apitherapists and knowledgeable physicians. They consist of redness, heat, swelling, itching, localized pain and attendant symptoms and usually disappear without further intervention in anywhere from a few to seventy-two hours.

In addition, as is pointed out in this volume. Dr. Anton Terc, the father of modem apitherapy, discovered that most patients having conditions that respond to apitherapy are notably much less sensitive to the adverse effects of bee stings than their healthy counterparts. Curiously enough it may be noted that this phenomenon is to be found in other therapeutic situations, such as the use of high dose vitamin C for therapeutic use. Usually vitamin C in such high dosages will upset the gut, resulting in diarrhea. However, patients who are ill enough to benefit from such megadose therapy rarely, if ever, suffer from gastrointestinal upset.

The same phenomenon has been known by physicians for years in connection with chronic pain patients who benefit from large doses of analgesics. These amounts of painkillers in most people would have severe adverse effects; in these patients this is not the case. It's almost as if the system readjusts to accommodate the necessary therapy. So, in this case, it's important not to apply non-apitherapy standards to patients receiving honey bee venom treatment.

Doctor Beck explains which patients are likely to benefit from such therapy and those who are not likely to be helped with this approach. On page 171 he also notes contraindications to apitherapy. I have noted that diabetics often do not benefit quite as well as non-diabetics, though this is just an observation based on a limited, single practice situation and, as with other anecdotal notations, must be confirmed elsewhere to have more validity. Arthritics who demonstrate x-ray evidence of joint destruction will not see reversal of this state with apitherapy; bee venom doesn't reverse such states and, if they are a major part of the pathology, the patient may be better served by other approaches including joint replacement.

These days therapy is administered using either live bees or via injection of venom of honey bees. When using live bees for treatment Doctor Beck would extract the bee from a receptacle with a pair of long tweezers. He would then place the posterior aspect of the live bee on the desired spot on the patient and administer the sting. The bee would then be discarded. Another approach is to eviscerate the bee by pulling the stinger and its attached venom sac from the live insect. This detached venom administrator is then placed on the desired spot on the patient and, as above, a sting provided. In this case, the apparatus may be next placed on another location and so repeated as long as the sac contains more venom'

In some situations it may be preferable not to use live bees. In such cases pure honey bee venom stored in airtight rubber-topped vials may be utilized instead. In Doctor Beck's time such venom was not obtainable and Doctor Beck mid used so-called purified venom, which today is available, but mainly used by allergists in desensitization processes. This venom, unfortunately as Doc or Beck and others have discovered, is useless for apitherapy since in the so-called purification process it is denatured and much of its therapeutic benefits lost. Doctor Carey, a pupil of Doctor Beck later utilized pure, undenatured venom for a five year period and. according to his colleague Charles Mraz, found no therapeutic difference between it and the results with live bees.

Whichever approach is used, the injection of venom is best done intradermally and not intramuscularly. A wheal is thus produced. These wheals should not overlap one another for best results. With injectable venom 0.05 cc of venom is utilized for each sting. This is roughly equivalent to the amount of venom dispersed in an actual sting

During the first visit a single sting is obtained and the patient allowed to remain undisturbed for about twenty minutes. This is a period of observation to detect any adverse (genuine allergic) symptoms. If none are forthcoming, additional stings may then be provided or the patient dismissed and asked to return at another time for additional therapy. If more stings are administered, they should not exceed two or three in number. In general, the rule in apitherapy, according to Doctor Beck, is "Make haste slowly." We increase the number of stings very gradually, always erring on the side of caution. Gauge what the system will tolerate and don-t push beyond this. At a certain point, especially in chronic therapy, the patient may receive twenty or more stings in a single treatment, but this is only after he has built up to this point.

Since the immediate effect of bee venom doesn't last longer than two to two and one-half days usually, the patient is asked to return for further treatment in anywhere between one and two and one-half days in order to benefit from this approach. It is vital that the patient understand that redness, swelling, pain, heat, itching and similar symptoms are not allergic reactions. They are normal effects of bee venom therapy and to be expected. When they do not occur, such as in certain type two diabetic patients and those who are immunocompromised, they indicate a severely debilitated system which is having trouble marshalling its defenses against external stressors. Even with these patients, at some point, the situation will frequently change and the customary reactions will often be obtained.

At some point, especially in chronic therapy, the patient will enter what Doctor Beck termed the reactive phase. This is when "all hell breaks loose," to put it bluntly. The reactions to the venom become especially intense and the patient will let you know this! This is the most critical time in the entire therapeutic process. A fundamental shift takes place at this point and the exacerbation of adverse symptoms will herald it clearly. If the patients want to get better, they must stay the course. Support them in any way that will not antidote the process. At some point things will calm down. Then therapy can cease. If they have a return of pathologic symptoms, they can always return for additional treatment, though often this will be unnecessary.

Doctor Beck notes, and most seasoned apitherapists will agree, that failure to obtain and successfully navigate the reactive phase is one of the principle reasons why patients fail in obtaining relief of symptoms using bee venom therapy. When things get bad and the heat gets turned up as far as adverse but normal bee sting symptoms go, the patient, family and the medical community may be quick to intervene and abort the entire process. The physicians incorrectly may label the situation as an allergic reaction, which it usually is not, since the patient has only experienced an exacerbation of previously accommodated symptoms, which are common to those receiving this therapy.

When using injectable venom it must be preserved in containers that pre-vent exposure to air, since (page 159) this leads to breakdown of the venom. In addition, no alcohol must be used at any point during the process, whether for cleansing the injection site prior to stings, as most physicians are taught to do before injection, or for purposes of drinking. This will antidote the therapy and is an easy way for any patient to stop the process if they so desire. Unfortunately, certain physicians conducting studies on the efficacy of bee venom customarily rub the skin with alcohol before injecting the venom and then report that the treatment is ineffective! Any treatment so applied will usually be ineffective and violates the most fundamental protocols of apitherapy.

The areas treated are divided into two zones: local and distant. Local areas comprise those areas where the patient complains of symptoms. Distant points include points distant from the area of chief complaint. These points are those which for some reason of physiology or reflex action relate to the area of concern or which support the overall healing and balancing process involved in the patient's recovery. Frequently, for example, points lateral to the upper spine will be utilized for complaints in the upper extremities, head, and chest. The lower spine may be stung for complaints related to the lower extremities and abdomen/pelvis. In addition, tender points and acupuncture/acupressure points are frequently found to be of great efficacy in point selection. Heavily inflamed areas or areas that have yet to recover from previous treatment with bee venom are not to be stung.

WHAT NEXT?
Today, more than ever before, we have a better understanding of the mechanisms of action of apitherapy and its possible therapeutic potential. Some of the most prominent research was done in the Soviet Union. Much of it has been published in Russian and remains untranslated. However, there were sporadic instances where it has appeared in English (example: Appendix to Bee Venom by Joseph Broadman, M.D., republished by Health Resources Press). In addition, China has embraced all aspects of the therapeutic use of bee products including honey bee venom, and research and therapeutic writings are available. However, the bulk of this is in Chinese and remains unavailable in English. More recently interest has been expressed in apitherapy by American researchers, especially in response to a tremendous groundswell of support on the part of the public. Many lay practitioners of apitherapy have promoted bee venom via the media, as well as using such other venues of expression as the Internet.

Readers interested in closely following developments in bee venom therapy, networking with other like-minded persons and wanting to learn more about this field are advised to contact the American Apitherapy Society. This organization, which has been around since 1978, is the central clearing house in the United States for all matters related to apitherapy. It publishes a quarterly magazine. Bee Well, which is sent to all members and which contains a wealth of related information. The group also sponsors annual conferences which provide a great opportunity to meet and learn from others in the field.

More than at any other time apitherapy has now really taken on a life of its own. The field is approaching a certain critical mass where it is being trans-formed from an anecdotal experience of interested individuals to a full-fledged art and science with its own literature, researchers, and, in the case of China, even its own hospital and therapeutic centers. Every day many more people are discovering how they can transform their lives and restore their health by using the ancient principles of nature's powerful gift, bee venom. For all of these individuals and many others interested in this field Doctor Beck's classic work will serve as an invaluable guide and inspiration for years to come.

Harold Goodman, D.O.
Silver Spring, MD

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