Gwyneth Paltrow’s bee stings

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Honey bees are used for their sting venom in apitherapy
Honey bees are used for their sting venom in apitherapy. Photo credit: Beate

I’ve said a little on the manifest dangers of using alternative medicines that have not undergone sufficient clinical tests in the past. When this flagrant sales pitch centered around Gwyneth Paltrow (and, coincidently, penned by none other than “Bee Shapiro”) popped up on my phone’s news app, I felt it was time to add once more to the general background noise on the subject.

The article is largely about the pricey array of accoutrements that help keep the ageing, and admittedly impressive, Paltrow physiognomy like a newborn’s rump, while giving her own Goop a little mainstream exposure.

Towards the end of the piece, Ms. Paltrow reveals that she has used bee sting therapy. Employing a textbook Appeal to Tradition fallacy, she recounts “I’ve been stung by bees. Its a thousands of years old treatment called apitherapy. People use it to get rid of inflammation and scarring.” She then invites an eager readership to discover how “pretty incredible” it is “if you research it”. So I took the opportunity to do just that.

The technique is included under the broad umbrella of alternative treatments known as Apitherapy. Apitherapy refers to the use of any bee related products, including honey, pollen, royal jelly, and bee venom, for their supposed healing effects.

Frankly, the process seems a little ridiculous. Honey bees are placed on to the skin and agitated until they sting the ‘patient’. Some patients are reportedly stung upward of 80 times in a day. Unsurprisingly, the therapy hasn’t entered the mainstream yet, but will, perhaps, gain a little more popularity thanks to Ms. Paltrow’s endorsement.

Proponents seem to be a little hazy about any scientific evidence supporting any of their claims. The American Apitherapy Society claims apitherapy is used to treat multiple sclerosis, arthritis, wounds, pain, gout, shingles, burns, tendonitis, and infections. I couldn’t find any recent peer-reviewed papers to support any of these claims. Reverting to other territory, the best I could muster were a few papers where studies had been conducted on rats and mice.  One 30-year old paper reported among its findings that bee venom slowed the rate of action of certain cytokines responsible for regulating inflammatory responses.

On a related note, If you think a bee sting is painful for the recipient, then spare a thought for the poor bee. Due to the way in which honey bees are physiologically configured, stinging is apiarian kamikaze. Once the barbed stinger is inserted in to the comparatively thick skin of a mammal, such as Ms. Paltrow, it cannot be withdrawn so it’s left behind. Sadly for the bee, the upper end of the stinger is attached to a venom sac, the bee’s lower digestive tract and a knot of surrounding tissue, all of which it leaves behind at the sting site. Lacking a substantial part of its innards, the bee then buzzes off to die.

 

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