A woman in Spain has reportedly died after being stung by a bee during an unusual kind of acupuncture treatment.
Apitherapy, or “bee therapy,” is an alternative medicine practice that uses products made by honeybees, including bee venom, to treat ailments from arthritis to burns to muscle aches. It’s been touted as a beauty regimen by actress Gwyneth Paltrow and holistic health practitioners, but research has shown there can be health risks in using this type of treatment.
One type of apitherapy ― live bee acupuncture ― was administered to a 55-year-old woman as a treatment for stress and muscle contractions. The procedure involved placing live bees on the patient’s body so she could be stung and injected with bee venom.
The woman was treated with live bee stings on a monthly basis for two years and suffered no ill effects, researchers wrote in a case study published in the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology. However, during her last treatment, she suffered a severe allergic reaction, slipped into a coma and died from multiple organ failure several weeks later.
Previous tolerance to bee stings does not mean later stings carry no risk. In fact, the researchers noted that “repeated exposure to the allergen was found to carry a greater risk of severe allergic reactions.”
The study’s authors said they believe this was the first reported case of death by bee venom apitherapy “due to complications of severe anaphylaxis.” The study did not provide a date for the woman’s death.
A 2015 study of apitherapy published in PLoS One found that nearly 30 percent of patients experienced some kind of negative reaction. Researchers issued warnings against the treatment and suggested better training for practitioners and better emergency care.
“The risks of undergoing apitherapy may exceed the presumed benefits, leading us to conclude that this practice is both unsafe and unadvisable,” the authors stated.
In 2016, Paltrow told The New York Times that she found live bee acupuncture “pretty incredible,” adding: “But man it’s painful.”
Last year, actor Gerard Butler revealed that he went into anaphylactic shock after being injected with the venom of 23 bees during treatment for muscle problems. His apitherapy didn’t involve the use of live bees.