Ouch ... bee therapy causes a real buzz
Updated: 2013-09-14 01:43
By WANG QINGYUN (China Daily)
It may be among China's most controversial therapies, but Liu Yu insists she is able to walk again thanks to the power of bee stings.
The 26-year-old, who has multiple sclerosis, has been receiving bee acupuncture in Beijing for more than two years.
A bee sting is used to treat a patient at a traditional Chinese medicine clinic in Beijing. ZOU HONG / CHINA DAILY
"My treatment is painful," she said. "But I'm sticking to it because my disease is much worse than any bee sting."
Liu is treated at a traditional Chinese medicine clinic run by 73-year-old Wang Menglin in the capital's northeastern Shunyi district.
Wang said his team has used bee acupuncture to treat more than 3,000 people with MS — a condition that damages nerve cells in the brain and spine — for the past 20 years. He said the treatment has helped many patients retain or regain their mobility.
During a typical treatment, Liu, who has a line of scars down her spine from the bee stings, lies face down while Wang or one of his colleagues select honeybees from a wooden box with tweezers and place them at certain points on her back. The bees are removed after they have stung.
The process is quick but painful. However, Liu said she can feel the benefits.
Diagnosed in early 2010, she said her body became completely numb after an initial five-day course of hormone therapy, the only modern medicine she has taken to address her MS.
"My doctor couldn't explain the numbness," she said, recalling the early treatment in her native Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.
"Doctors also advised me to take interferon beta, but it's very expensive and only works to prolong the time before I'm confined to a wheelchair. I don't want to take it every other day for the rest of my life."
By the end of 2010, Liu said she was unable to walk, so she decided to try Wang's clinic.
"I went every day for two months for bee acupuncture, injections and transfusions before I was able to walk again," she said.
Liu is still unable to stand, sit or walk for long, but credits the therapy with enabling her to take care of herself.
"I can still do things on my own, like buying groceries, cooking and cleaning," she said.
Wang said venom from a live bee can boost the body's immune system and activate other bodily functions, as well as bioplasma, which is "similar to stem cells and can help repair a damaged nervous system".
But many medical experts remain skeptical, as no clinical trial has been carried out to prove the theory.
Guo Yi, a neurosurgeon at Peking Union Medical College Hospital, urged caution. "A clinical trial should be assessed by a professional third party," he said. "Any treatment needs to be verified by different medical institutes before it's deemed effective."
As well as MS patients, clinic owner Wang said people, including new mothers, are also turning to bee acupuncture to cure aching joints, back pain and rheumatic ailments, while some have used it to try to reduce tumors.
Wang Yuming, director of the rheumatism unit at Beijing Hospital of TCM, confirmed there is interest in the method, but added that she has received patients who have tried it and seen no results.
She described the treatment as a folk therapy whose effect is often exaggerated.
"Maybe it works for some, but rheumatoid conditions can't be treated with this therapy alone," she said, adding that her hospital does not offer bee acupuncture.
"There are more than 100 illnesses under the category of rheumatism. It needs further study to determine which diseases suit the therapy," she said.
Wang's clinic also offers bee products such as queen cells and proplis. Wang said they are helpful for patients suffering from cancer because they contain ingredients that help "get rid of tumors".
But Chen Wanqing, deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences' National Central Cancer Registry, said that as far as he is aware there is no conclusive evidence that these bee products are effective in treating tumors.
The American Cancer Society also states on its website: "Although the anti-tumor properties of some ingredients in bee products have been studied in the laboratory, there have been no clinical studies in humans showing that bee venom or other honeybee products are effective in preventing or treating cancer."
The National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic policymaker, included bee acupuncture on its list of approved medical services in 2007.
But none of Beijing's 30-plus public TCM hospitals offer the therapy, said Tu Zhitao, deputy director of the city TCM management bureau.
"It's for the hospital to decide whether to provide certain medical services," he said.
Tu also said that Wang Menglin does not have a valid license to practice medicine.
The clinic owner confirmed this, saying his license expired in 1998, but added that the other three doctors in the clinic, who all have licenses, carry out most of the treatments.
First Person | Jiao Ruineng
Walking, talking without pain
Editor's note: Jiao Ruineng, 44, is from Shanghai and has multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells.
When I was diagnosed, doctors in Shanghai told me my treatment would cost more than 700,000 yuan ($113,500).
But they couldn't guarantee that it would cure my disease.
In April, I visited Wang Menglin's traditional Chinese medicine clinic in Beijing and received two months of bee therapy.
I got a transfusion of TCM and injections of bee venom every day.
I feel much better. It used to hurt so much that I couldn't walk or talk. Now I can walk and talk without feeling pain.
I don't want to use Western medicine, as the treatment the clinic in Beijing offers is less painful than chemotherapy and has fewer side effects.
Jiao Ruineng was talking to China Daily reporter Wang Qingyun.