Journal American Apitherapy Society
How a Bee Sting Saved my Life:
Poison as Medicine
By Christie Wilcox, 24 March 2015
Ellie Lobel was ready to die. Then she was attacked by bees. Christie Wilcox hears how venom can be a savior.
“I moved to California to die.” Ellie Lobel was 27 when she was bitten by a tick and contracted Lyme disease, and she was not yet 45 when she decided to give up fighting for survival. Caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which enter the body through the bite of a tick, Lyme disease is diagnosed in around 300,000 people every year in the United States. It kills almost none of these people, and is by and large curable – if caught in time. If doctors correctly identify the cause of the illness early on, antibiotics can wipe out the bacteria quickly before they spread through the heart, joints, and nervous system.
But back in the spring of 1996, Ellie didnʼt know to look for the characteristic bullʼs-eye rash when she was bitten – she thought it was just a weird spider bite. Then came three months with flu-like
Volume 23, Number 2
symptoms and horrible pains that moved around her body. Ellie was a fit, active woman with three kids, but her body did not know how to handle this new invader. She was incapacitated. “It was all I could do to get my head up off the pillow,” Ellie remembers.
Her first doctor told her it was just a virus, and it would run its course, as did the next doctor. As time wore on Ellie went to doctor after doctor, each giving her a different diagnosis; multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia. None of them realized she was infected with Borrelia until more than a year after she contracted the disease – and by then, it was far too late. Lyme bacteria are exceptionally good at adapting, with some evidence that they may be capable of dodging both the immune system and the arsenal of antibiotics currently available. Borrelia are able to live all over the body, including the brain, leading to neurological symptoms and even with antibiotic treatment, 10–20 per cent of patients donʼt get better right away. There are testimonies of symptoms persisting – sometimes even resurfacing decades after the initial infection – though the exact cause of such post- treatment Lyme disease syndrome is a topic of debate among Lyme scientists.
Continued on page 4
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE
The Bee Bus Mission
From the Archives
El Rincón de la Abeja Curandera CMACC 2016 Information
9 10-11 12-13 14 16-19
Journal of the American Apitherapy Society April-June 2016
Journal of the American Apitherapy Society
The American Apitherapy Society, Inc.
15 Heights Road, Northport, NY 11768
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.apitherapy.org
EDITOR: Marilyn Graham
MEDICAL ADVISOR: Dr. Andrew Kochan, MD
PUBLICATION INFORMATION: The Journal of the American Apitherapy Society is published quarterly by the American Apitherapy Society (AAS). Readers are encouraged to submit articles and personal accounts related to apitherapy; the AAS reserves the right to select, edit, and condense these for publication. The AAS owns the rights to articles and original scientific research first published here.
ADVERTISING: Rate sheets and insertion orders may be obtained from the AAS office. Rates are available to nonprofit and for profit groups.
AMERICAN APITHERAPY SOCIETY, INC. The AAS is a tax exempt, nonprofit membership corporation that educates the public and the health care community about the traditional and the scientifically valid uses of apitherapy for maintaining and enhancing well-being in illness and injury. The AAS:
- Assemblesinformationonapitherapyandcollectsdataonthe administration of and reactions to hive products.
- Advisesthemedicalandscientificcommunitiesandthegeneral public, both national and international, about apitherapy through this Journal, a website, and courses, conferences, and workshops
- Maintains a network of people involved with apitherapy as apitherapists, beekeepers, and patients
- Establishes guidelines for the professional conduct of apitherapists.
- Educates the public on the use of hive products to promote health.
Statements made in this Journal have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. These statements are provided as teaching for informational purposes only; they are not intended as a substitute for advice from a physician or other health care professional. Testimonials published here are based on individual experience and do not constitute a suggestion that another person will or can achieve the same results. Articles appearing in this Journal are the personal opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent that of the AAS.
AAS OFFICERS AND BOARD MEMBERS President: Frederique Keller, DOM, LAc.
Vice President: Chris Kleronomos, DAOM, FNP, L.Ac. Treasurer: Michael Szakacs Secretary: Kathy Genova, RN, BSN
Dr. Andrew Kochan, MD, Glenn Perry, Vetaley Stashenko, PhD, ND Dr.Patrick Fratellone, MD, Hossein Yeganehrad, Kristine Jacobson, Dr. Frank Yurasek, PhD, L.Ac.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Marilyn Graham
ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS: Fountain Odom, Esq., Jim Higgins HONORARY BOARD MEMBER: Pat Wagner
Copyright © 2014 American Apitherapy Society. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited.
From the Editor
Hello AAS Members,
It has been an extremely
busy spring for us with the
planning of the upcoming
Charles Mraz Apitherapy
Course and Conference to be held in late October here in Redondo Beach, CA.
This area will provide a beautiful setting for those wanting to learn apitherapy and perhaps many will want to combine their stay with a vacation as this beach community offers not only perfect weather and stunning scenery, but also offers many activities for all types and ages. We are very excited that we were able to open CMACC 2016 registration in mid June so that participants will have more time to plan perhaps resulting in a most successful conference.
I encourage you to register early and take advantage of the Early Bee special rate which will expire at the end of July. We have put together an amazing preliminary schedule that you can view on page 17 of this journal and I have also included all other conference information on pages 16-19. We will be announcing any changes and any new developments as they unfold, such as who our guest speakers will be! If any of you have questions please do not hesitate to ask, just email me at the AAS office and I will do my best to get back to you in a timely manner. Have an amazing summer!
Apitherapy Bees Call the Allens
We provide bees for those using apitherapy.
The practical way to go.
Get BEE VENOM THERAPY BEES Delivered by mail. Year round delivery. Can be scheduled weekly, monthly,
or as needed.
ED ALLEN – 19150 Smith Lane,
Redding CA 96002 (530) 221-1458
2 Journal of the American Apitherapy Society April-June 2016
From the President
Summer is here once again
and the bees are in full swing
collecting linden and soon to
burst, sumac, here in the
Northeastern US. We are enjoying an amazing honey flow so far this season! Donʼt forget to visit your local farmersʼ markets to support your local beekeepers. Talk to them about apitherapy and buy their honey, pollen, propolis and beeswax. It is very important to raise awareness and educate them regarding producing apitherapy grade products. Suggest that they join the AAS or at least sign up for our free monthly newsletter. Volunteer to give an Apitherapy talk at one of their bee club meetings. We can provide you with an Apitherapy Overview powerpoint presentation so just ask!
If you would like a preview of whatʼs to come at the CMACC 2016 in Redondo Beach, CA come to the Introduction to Apitherapy presentations and work shops presented by myself and board member Dr. Patrick Fratellone, MD at the annual Eastern Apiculture Society Conference at Richard Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey (close to Atlantic City) July 27th & 28th 2016. For more information and registration visit
www.easternapiculture.org. Please come and visit us, especially if you are within driving distance. If you have thought about doing apitherapy, this is a great opportunity to learn, have your questions answered and get started! Looking forward to seeing many of you at CMACC in October. Please register early!
Peace, Bees & Great Health,
Frederique Keller L.Ac.
President, American Apitherapy Society, Inc.
American Apitherapy Society Inc. EAS Apitherapy Program
Wednesday July 27th Afternoon
• Apitherapy, Medicine of the Hive
A Historical, Current & World Perspective
• Bee Bread & Pollen
Demo an Apitherapy Super Green Energy Drink
• Lyme Disease & its Co-Infections Diagnosis & Apitherapy Treatment Protocols
Thursday July 28th Morning
• Apitherapy Strategy & Technique • Practical Apitherapy Workshop
Test sting, micro stings, mini stings
• Practical Apitherapy for Pain Management Workshop
• Sports injuries and muscular skeletal problems. Experience a test sting and be treated in a safe, supportive environment.
NOTE: AAS Informed Consent Form must be signed ahead of time for people participating in practical workshops
Journal of the American Apitherapy Society April-June 2016 3
How a Bee Sting Saved my Life:
Poison as Medicine
Continued from page 1
“I just kept doing this treatment and that treatment,” says Ellie. Her condition was constantly worsening. She describes being stuck in bed or in a wheelchair, not being able to think clearly, feeling like sheʼd lost her short-term memory and not feeling “smart” anymore. Ellie kept fighting, with every antibiotic, every pharmaceutical, every holistic treatment she could find. “With some things I would get better for a little while, and then I would just relapse right back into this horrible Lyme nightmare and with every relapse it got worse.” After fifteen years, she gave up. “Nothing was working any more, and nobody had any answers for me,” she says. “Doctors couldnʼt help me. I was spending all this cash and was going broke, and when I got my last test results back and all my counts were just horrible, I knew right then and there that this was the end.”
“I had outlived so many other people already,” she says, having lost friends from Lyme support groups, including some who just couldnʼt take the suffering any more. “I didnʼt care if I was going to see my next birthday. Itʼs just enough. I was ready to call it a life and be done with it.” So she packed up everything and moved to California to die, and she almost did.
Less than a week after moving, Ellie was attacked by a swarm of Africanised bees. Ellie was in California for three days before her attack. “I wanted to get some fresh air and feel the sun on my face and hear the birds sing. I knew that I was going to die in the next three months or four months. Just laying there in bed all crumpled up… It was kind of depressing.”
At this point, Ellie was struggling to stand on her own. She had a caregiver on hand to help her shuffle along the rural roads by her place in Wildomar, the place where she had chosen to die. She was just standing near a broken wall and a tree when the first bee appeared, she remembers, “just hitting me in the head.” “All of a sudden – boom! – bees everywhere.” Her caregiver ran, but Ellie couldnʼt run – she couldnʼt even walk. “They were in my hair, in my head, all I heard was this crazy buzzing in my ears. I thought: wow, this is it, Iʼm just going to die right here.”
Ellie, like 1–7 per cent of the worldʼs population, is severely allergic to bees. When she was two, a sting put her into anaphylaxis, a severe reaction of the bodyʼs immune system that can include swelling, nausea and narrowing of the airways. She nearly died. She stopped breathing and had to be revived by defibrillation. Her mother drilled a fear of bees into her to ensure she never ended up in the same dire situation again. So when the bees descended, Ellie was sure that this was the end, a few months earlier than expected.
Bees – and some other species in the order Hymenoptera, such as ants and wasps – are armed with a potent sting that many of us are all too aware of. This is their venom, and itʼs a mixture of many compounds. Perhaps the most important is a tiny 26- amino-acid peptide called melittin, which constitutes more than half of the venom of honey bees and is found in a number of other bees and wasps. This little compound is responsible for the burning pain associated with bee stings. It tricks our bodies into thinking that they are quite literally on fire.
When we experience high temperatures, our cells release inflammatory compounds that activate a special kind of channel, TRPV1, in sensory neurons. This ultimately causes the neurons to send a signal to the brain that weʼre burning. Melittin subversively makes TRPV1 channels open by activating other enzymes that act just like those inflammatory compounds. Jellyfish and other creatures also possess TRPV1 activating compounds in their venoms. The endpoint is the same: intense, burning pain.
“I could feel the first five or ten or fifteen stings but after that… All you hear is this overwhelming buzzing, and you feel them hitting your head, hitting your face, hitting your neck,” says Ellie. “I just went limp. I put my hands up and covered my face because I didnʼt want them stinging me in the eyes…The next thing I know, the bees are gone.”
Continued on page 5
4 Journal of the American Apitherapy Society April-June 2016
When the bees finally dissipated, her caregiver tried to take her to the hospital, but Ellie refused to go. “This is Godʼs way of putting me out of my misery even sooner,” she told him. “Iʼm just going to accept this.” “I locked myself in my room and told him to come collect the body tomorrow.” But Ellie didnʼt die. Not that day, and not three to four months later. “I just canʼt believe that was three years ago, and I just canʼt believe where I am now,” she tells me. “I had all my blood work done. Everything. We tested everything. Iʼm so healthy.” She believes the bees and their venom saved her life.
The idea that the same venom toxins that cause harm may also be used to heal is not new. Bee venom has been used as a treatment in East Asia since at least the second century BCE. In Chinese traditional medicine, scorpion venom is recognized as a powerful medicine used to treat everything from eczema to epilepsy. Mithradates VI of Pontus, a formidable enemy of Rome (and also an infamous toxicologist), was said to have been saved from a potentially fatal wound on the battlefield by using steppe viper venom to stop the bleeding.
“Over millions of years, these little chemical engineers have developed a diversity of molecules that target different parts of our nervous system,” says Ken Winkel, Director of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne. “This idea of applying these potent nerve toxins to somehow interrupt a nervous disease has been there for a long time but we havenʼt known enough to safely and effectively do that.”
Despite the wealth of history, the practical application of venoms in modern therapeutics has been minimal. That is, until the past ten years or so, according to Glenn King at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. In 1997, when Ellie was bouncing around from doctor to doctor, King was tearing apart the components of the venom from the Australian funnel-web, a deadly spider. Heʼs now at the forefront of venom drug discovery.
Kingʼs group was the first to put funnel-web venom through a separation method called high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) which can separate out different components in a mixture based on properties like size or charge. “I was just blown away,” he says.
“This is an absolute pharmacological goldmine that nobodyʼs really looked at. Clearly hundreds and hundreds of different peptides.”
Over the course of the 20th century, suggested venom treatments for a range of diseases have appeared in scientific and medical literature. Venoms have been shown to fight cancer, kill bacteria, and even serve as potent painkillers – though many have only gone as far as animal tests. At the time of writing, only six had been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for medical use (one other – Baltrodibin, adapted from the venom of the Lancehead snake – is not FDA approved, but is available outside the US for treatment of bleeding during operations).
The more we learn about the venoms that cause such awful damage, the more we realize, medically speaking, how useful they can be, like the melittin in bee venom.
Melittin does not only cause pain. In the right doses, it punches holes in cellsʼ protective membranes causing the cells to explode. At low doses, melittin associates with the membranes, activating lipid- cutting enzymes that mimic the inflammation caused by heat. At higher concentrations, and under the right conditions, melittin molecules group together into rings creating large pores in membranes weakening a cellʼs protective barrier and causing the entire cell to swell and pop like a balloon. Because of this, melittin is a potent antimicrobial fighting off a variety of bacteria and fungi with ease. Scientists are hoping to capitalize on this action to fight diseases like HIV, cancer, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
For example, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, have found that melittin can tear open HIVʼs protective cell membrane without harming human cells. This envelope-busting method also stops the virus from having a chance to evolve resistance. “We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV,” Joshua L. Hood the lead author of the study said in a press statement. “Theoretically, there isnʼt any way for the virus to adapt to that. The virus has to have a protective coat.” Initially envisioned as a prophylactic vaginal gel, the hope is that melittin-loaded nano particles could someday be injected into the bloodstream, clearing the infection.
Continued on page 6
Journal of the American Apitherapy Society April-June 2016 5
How a Bee Sting Saved my Life: Poison as Medicine
Ellie is the first to admit that her tale sounds a little tall. “If someone were to have come to me and said ʻHey, Iʼll sting you with some bees and youʼll get better,ʼ I would have said, ʻAbsolutely not!ʼ Youʼre crazy in your head!” But she has no doubts now.
After the attack, Ellie watched the clock waiting for anaphylaxis to set in, but it didnʼt. Instead, three hours later, her body was racked with pains. A scientist by education before Lyme took its toll, Ellie thinks that these pains werenʼt a part of an allergic response but instead indicative of a Jarisch–Herxheimer reaction – her body was being flooded with toxins from dying bacteria. The same kind of thing can happen when a person is cured from a bad case of syphilis. A theory is that certain bacterial species go down swinging, releasing nasty compounds that cause fever, rash and other symptoms. For three days she was in pain, then she wasnʼt. “I had been living in this… I call it a brown-out because itʼs like youʼre walking around in a half-coma all the time with the inflammation of your brain from the Lyme. My brain just came right out of that fog. I thought: I can actually think clearly for the first time in years.”
With a now-clear head, Ellie started wondering what had happened. So she did what anyone else would do: Googled it. Disappointingly, her searches turned up very little. She did find one small 1997 study by scientists at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana whoʼd found that melittin killed Borrelia. Exposing cell cultures to purified melittin, they reported that the compound completely inhibited Borrelia growth. When they looked more closely they saw that shortly after melittin was added, the bacteria were effectively paralyzed, unable to move as their outer membranes were under attack. Soon after, those membranes began to fall apart killing the bacteria. Convinced by her experience and the limited research she found, Ellie decided to try apitherapy, the therapeutic use of materials derived from bees.
Her bees live in a “bee condo” in her apartment. She doesnʼt raise them herself; instead, she mail orders
them receiving a package once a week. To perform the apitherapy, she uses tweezers to grab a bee and
press it gently where she wants to be stung. “Sometimes I have to tap them on the tush a little bit,” she says, “but theyʼre usually pretty willing to sting you.”
She started on a regimen of ten stings a day, three days a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Three years and several thousand stings later, Ellie seems to have recovered miraculously. Slowly, she has reduced the number of stings and their frequency – just three stings in the past eight months she tells me (and one of those she tried in response to swelling from a broken bone, rather than Lyme-related symptoms). She keeps the bees around just in case, but for the past year before I talked to her, sheʼd mostly done just fine without them.
Continued on page 7
Continued from page 5
6 Journal of the American Apitherapy Society April-June 2016
Modern science has slowly begun to take apart venoms piece by piece to understand how they do the things they do, both terrible and tremendous. We now know that most venoms are complex cocktails of compounds with dozens to hundreds of different proteins, peptides, and other molecules to be found in every one. The cocktails vary between species and can even vary within them by age, location, or diet. Each compound has a different task that allows the venom to work with maximum efficiency – many parts moving together to immobilize, induce pain, or do whatever it is that the animal needs its venom for.
The fact that venoms are mixtures of specifically targeted toxins rather than single toxins is exactly what makes them such rich sources of potential drugs – thatʼs all a drug is, really, a compound that has a desired effect on our bodies. The more specific the drugʼs action, the better, as that means fewer side-effects.
“It was in the 2000s that people started saying well, actually, [venoms] are really complex molecular libraries, and we should start screening them against specific therapeutic targets as a source of drugs,” says King.
Of the seven venom-derived pharmaceuticals on the international market, the most successful, captopril, was derived from a peptide found in the venom of the Brazilian viper (Bothrops jararaca). This venom has been known for centuries for its potent blood-thinning ability – one tribe is said to have coated their arrow tips in it to inflict maximum damage – and the drug has made its parent company more than a billion dollars and become a common treatment for hypertension.
Bryan Fry, a colleague of Glenn Kingʼs at the University of Queensland and one of the worldʼs most prolific venom researchers, says the captopril family and its derivatives still command a market worth billions of dollars a year. Not bad for something developed in the 1970s. “Itʼs not only been one of the top twenty drugs of all time,” he says, “itʼs been one of the most persistent outside of maybe aspirin.”
And itʼs not just captopril. Fry points to exenatide, a molecule found in the venom of a lizard, the gila monster, and the newest venom-derived
pharmaceutical on the US market. Known by the brand name Byetta, this has the potential to treat type 2 diabetes, stimulating the body to release insulin and slow the overproduction of sugar helping reverse the hormonal changes caused by the disease.
Rare cases like Ellieʼs are a reminder of the potent potential of venoms but turning folk knowledge into pharmaceuticals can be a long and arduous process. “It could take as long as ten years from the time you find it and patent it,” says King. “And for every one that you get through, ten fail.”
Since the 1997 study, no one had looked further into bee venom as a potential cure for Lyme disease, until Ellie.
Ellie now runs a business selling bee-derived beauty products called BeeVinity inspired after, she says, noticing how good her skin looked as she underwent apitherapy. “I thought, ʻWell, people arenʼt going to want to get stung with bees just to look good.ʼ”
Ellie has partnered with a bee farm that uses a special electrified glass plate to extract venom. As the bees walk across the plate on the way to and from their hive, harmless currents stimulate the bees to release venom from their abdomens leaving teeny little droplets on the glass which are later collected. Ellie says it takes 10,000 bees crossing that plate to get 1 gram of venom (other sources, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, quote 1 million stings per gram of venom), but “those bees are not harmed.”
For her, it is more than just a way to make a living: itʼs “an amazing blessing.” Proceeds from her creams and other products support bee preservation initiatives as well as Lyme disease research. In addition, she sends some of the venom she purchases – which, due to the cost of the no-harm extraction method she uses, she says is “more expensive than gold” – to Eva Sapi, Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven who studies Lyme disease.
Continued on page 8
Journal of the American Apitherapy Society
April-June 2016 7
How a Bee Sting Saved my Life:
Poison as Medicine
Continued from page 7
Sapiʼs research into the venomʼs effects on Lyme bacteria is ongoing and as of yet unpublished though she told me the results from preliminary work done by one of her students looks “very promising.” Borrelia bacteria can shift between different forms in the body which is part of what makes them so hard to kill. Sapi has found that other antibiotics donʼt actually kill the bacteria but just push them into another form that is more dormant. As soon as you stop the antibiotics, the Borrelia bounce back. Her lab is testing different bee venoms on all forms of the bacteria and so far the melittin venom seems effective.
The next step is to test whether melittin alone is responsible, or whether there are other important venom components. “We also want to see, using high-resolution images, what exactly happens when bee venom hits Borrelia,” Sapi told me.
She stresses that much more data is needed before any clinical use can be considered. “Before jumping into the human studies, I would like to see some animal studies,” she says. “Itʼs still a venom,” and they still donʼt really know why the venom works for Ellie, at least because the exact cause of post-treatment Lyme disease symptoms remains unknown. “Is it effective for her because itʼs killing Borrelia, or is it effective because it stimulates the immune system?” asks Sapi. Itʼs still a mystery.
Thereʼs a long way to go for bee venom and melittin and it takes a lot of work and money to turn a discovery into a safe, working medicine, but labs like Kingʼs are starting to tap the pharmaceutical potential that lies in the full diversity of venomous species. King, for one, believes that scientists are entering a new era of drug discovery.
In the past, venoms have been investigated because of their known effects on humans. Such investigations required both knowledge of the venomʼs clinical effects and large volumes of venom, so until now, only large species like snakes with easily extracted venoms have been studied in any depth. That is however changing.
Technological advances allow for more efficient venom extraction as well as new ways to study smaller amounts of venom. The preliminary tests for pharmaceuticals can now start with nothing more than a genetic sequence. “We can now genomically look at the toxins in these animals without having to actually even purify the venom,” says King, “and that changes everything.” Ken Winkel thinks venomous animals will be excellent drug resources for devastating neurological diseases as so many of their venoms target our nervous system. “We really donʼt have great drugs in this area,” he says, “and we have these little factories that have a plethora of compounds…”
No one knows exactly how many venomous species there are on this planet. There are venomous jellyfish, venomous snails, venomous insects, even venomous primates. With that, however, comes a race against time of our own making. Species are going extinct every year and up to a third may go extinct from climate change alone.
“When people ask me whatʼs the best way to convince people to preserve nature, your weakest argument is to talk about how beautiful and wonderful it is,” says Bryan Fry. Instead, he says we need to emphasize the untapped potential that these species represent. “Itʼs a resource, itʼs money. So conservation through commercialization is really the only sane approach.”
Ellie couldnʼt agree more. “We need to do a lot more research on these venoms,” she tells me emphatically, “and really take a look at whatʼs in nature thatʼs going to help us.”
Meet Ellie Lobel at CMACC 2016 where she will be presenting her Lyme apitherapy protocol. This article was originally printed in Mosaic the Science of Life, and printed here with special permission from Ellie Lobel.