After being approved as an official medical practice by the Chinese government in 2007, the buzz around apitherapy (otherwise known as fengliao) has made it the fastest growing trend in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The treatment, which involves the use of honeybees for medicinal purposes, is being increasingly incorporated into the regimen of local hospitals and has been touted as a cure for everything from multiple sclerosis to shingles.
Dropping by the Shunyi Apitherapy Hospital to try out its ‘bee venom therapy’, we can’t help but wonder if getting stung by bees in order to improve your health can really work?
As abrasive as it may sound, the therapy is a lot more complicated than simply swatting the nearest hornets’ nest. Our doctor selects a live bee with his tweezers (to ensure the potency of the poison), kills it with a quick squeeze, and, with a steady hand, positions the stinger with surgical precision. Incorporating other aspects of Chinese medicine, the stinger is then applied to the acupuncture points best suited to where the patient’s ailment lies.
Despite its folk medicine vibe, there is science behind the treatment. The poison is thought to be of benefit because the sting causes the body to emit anti-inflammatory hormones; these are said to help reduce swelling in injury – although anyone allergic to bee stings should stay clear. From a TCM point of view, the acupuncture points connect to key nerve paths and these help to distribute the ‘heat’ and healing effect from the bee’s poison.
As for the answer to the obvious question: yes, it does hurt. Surprisingly though, not as much as your average bee sting. Despite the initial fear instigated when your doctor opens up a big box of bees next to your face, there is almost no feeling when the stinger goes in, and the pain from the poison only lasts for about 30 (albeit pretty intense) seconds. Shunyi Apitherapy Hospital’s head doctor Wang Menglin attributes this to the two-year training the nurses and doctors undergo to hone their skills on how best to coax the bee’s stinger out of its abdomen.
To our surprise, after taking the stinger out (two to three minutes after application), we were left feeling quite comfortable. So should you do it? as Wang puts it: ‘Yes, it hurts for a bit, but it’s worth getting rid of a sickness that causes you pain constantly.’ Treatment starts from 100RMB per session, with the necessity for follow-ups depending on your condition. Of course, we personally have no conclusive proof as to its long-term results; and while the treatment isn’t necessarily a cure, it is said to be particularly effective on muscle-based pains such as arthritis. The constant stream of new patients at the clinic seems to attest to its effectiveness. Moreover, we were told by one patient, who came all the way from Jiangxi to get stung three times a week, that ‘you get used to the pain.’
For those interested in bee venom therapy, one thing to remember (although we didn’t) is that the clinic has a list of certain foods that you shouldn’t eat after treatment. While eating them won’t reduce the therapy’s effectiveness, it will increase the possibility of side effects (swelling, pain and possibly fever). It’s easy to forget (and it may seem a bit irrational to the average Western medicine user), but it’s advice you want to heed – trust us. Less than ten minutes after eating a couple of lamb chuan’r (one item on the ‘do not eat’ list), we could already feel a change in our once-oddly comfortable sting spots; after a day, swelling had increased dramatically and the treatment went from feeling like focused medicine to, well, feeling like being stung by a bee. So bee warned.
Shunyi Apitherapy Hospital
Unit 2, Building 8, 101 Jianxin Nan Qu, Shunyi district (6944 1779). Open 9am-4pm daily. Treatment starts from 100RMB. Some staff speak basic English, but it’s best to go with someone who knows Mandarin. 顺义区建新南区8栋2单元101
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