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Apitherapy: Honey and Bee Venom for Your Health. Does It Work?
by Robert A. Pendergrast, Jr., M.D.



Apitherapy is the practice of using honeybee products for health purposes.

Claims made for its benefitits are quite remarkable, leaving almost no disease category unturned. But I'm here to answer the question, has apitherapy been proven to work?



Does Honey Work for Coughs?
In October 2007, an FDA advisory panel declared that cough medicines were ineffective—maybe even dangerous—for young children. Then, in the December 2007 Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, researchers reported that honey works better than the cough medicine dextromethorphan (DM) for kids' nighttime coughs.

Apitherapy proponents could merely react in one way: "Sweet." In the Archives study, researchers used the following doses of buckweat honey nightly:

  • newsletter-graphic2–5 years old: 8.5 mg (1/2 tsp.)
  • 6–11 years old: 17 mg (1 tsp.)
  • 12–18 years old: 34 mg (2 tsp.)

I'd be OK with giving kids honey for cough (but never to an infant under the age of 12 months; it may cause infant botulism).

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Does Bee Venom Work for Arthritis?

Some doctors (as well as unlicensed healers) promote bee venom for arthritis. There is, however, little scientific literature supporting the treatment, and it should be viewed as experimental.

Does Honey Work for Wound Healing?
At least some anecdotal evidence supports honey's use in wound healing and burns. It has strong antibacterial activity, mainly because of its low water/high sugar concentration: It literally sucks all the water out of bacteria. That's why properly stored honey doesn't spoil—ever.

If you want, you can try honey on scrapes, cuts and burns to prevent infection. But that comes with a couple of precautions.

"Using honey correctly to treat a serious wound requires considerable expertise," writes nationally known integrative physician Andrew Weil, M.D., on his Web site. Get professional treatment for a bad burn or open wound.

In addition, in their 1998 book Honey, Mud, Maggots, and Other Medical Marvels, Robert and Michèle Root- Bernstein note that some honeys may "have low levels of the bacteria that cause botulism or other toxins that can be harmful to infants and people with preexisting medical problems. Thus most medical professionals do not recommend home use of commercially available sugars and honeys" for wounds.

If you still want to try it, Dr. Weil mentions New Zealand manuka honey (not necessarily botulism-free) and a brand of treatments called Medihoney (which are botulism-free). Manuka honey is in some health food stores. Medihoney products are sold in pharmacies.

Does Apitherapy Work for Other Ailments?

The rest of apitherapy's uses are definitely on the experimental side. They should be tried only with caution and preferably under doctor supervision. But stay tuned: A few more years may uncover exciting new uses for this natural (but unusual!) way to affect the body.

ROBERT A. PENDERGRAST, JR., M.D., is an integrative physician and board-certified pediatrician in Augusta, Ga., and director of adolescent medicine at the Medical College of Georgia.

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Last updated and/or approved: October 2011.
Original article appeared in May/June 2008 former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
Comments (5)add comment
Manuka honey
written by Manuka honey , December 10, 2012

Yes Manuka honey which comes from New Zealand works well in healing wounds.

manuka honey

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Re: Not Many Options
written by James Hubbard, M.D. , July 04, 2011

Hello, Kurt. I might suggest a humidifier. If I heard any wheezing, that could be a source of the cough, so I would treat it with appropriate medication.

James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

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Not Many Options
written by Kurt Bockoven , June 24, 2011

Seems like my previously prescribed cough medicines for kids are no longer available: Rondec, Silidec, Ceron DM. Interesting about honey. I may recommend it. But what to do for those infants younger than 1 year old. Besides nasal bulb syringe any suggestions?

Kurt Bockoven FNP

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Mamma was right!
written by Danh H. Nguyen, MD , May 24, 2011

Honey and lemon for the cough. I doubted her all these years. I thought there would be more proven uses for honey, but I guess that's good enough for now until we get more data.
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written by Cori , November 11, 2010

I have tried honey to treat a burn and it works even better than my aloe vera cream.. I also used honey to treat acne. And my mother uses propolis for her arthritis pain.
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