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Can bee stings help osteoarthritis?

Q) I’ve had osteoarthritis for about 10 years and have tried all sorts of dietary and medicinal treatments, but to no avail. I recall a well-known saying that beekeepers don’t get arthritis, so asked my GP if I could have regular injections of a small quantity of bee venom. My GP is bound by NHS regulations and can’t help. Is there any institution that could help me try this treatment?
David Denton, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire (Autumn 2013)

A) Yet again there may be some truth to old wives’ tales! Bee venom has recently undergone some laboratory studies in mice and there is early evidence that it can favourably influence the arthritis process. The active ingredient isn’t yet known but no doubt it will be ‘discovered’ in due course. If you had regular injections of the venom your body would soon develop resistance to it so, even if you could get these on the NHS, it would be a futile exercise. My advice would be to wait until the active ingredient is available and has been shown to work in scientific studies, and is a licensed product with all the safety and quality implications that entails.

This answer was provided by Dr Philip Helliwell for the Autumn 2013 edition of our magazine, Arthritis Today, and was correct at the time of publication.

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