Apitherapy: Bee Healthy!

People have long venerated bees for their honey production and crop pollination. Few people know that bees can do more than that. Bee byproducts are now widely used as health supplements, and doing something as simple as eating local honey can give you health benefits. This blog will review a few common bee byproducts and their physiological benefits.


Besides being a delicious sweetener, honey has been proven to be useful in medicine. One of the proven applications is the use of honey as a wound dressing. In this it has been shown to reduce healing times and scarring when used on wounds, even in post-operative wounds. It is also known to have a greater than average amount of certain nutrients such as niacin, however none of these are prevalent in amounts that equal what is considered an average daily dose.
There are also a great deal of speculated uses for honey. One of the most prevalent “home remedies” involving honey is the use of raw honey to treat pollen allergies. Eating 2-3 tablespoons of raw honey daily is recommended for relief of mild to moderate allergy symptoms during the spring and summer months. More possible health problems treated by honey include relief of pharyngitis, constipation, duodenal ulcers, liver disturbances, kidney function disturbances, and fever. Some reports have even claimed improvement in heart problems of convalescents with a honey solution injection.
It is important to note that for each of these uses of honey it is raw, unprocessed, multifloral honey that is being used. Honey in this form conserves many more healthy chemicals including protein, antioxidants, amino acids, and vitamins to name a few.

Bee Pollen Pellets

Most people know that bees collect nectar, but did you know they also collect pollen in a leg structure called “pollen baskets”? This pollen is consumed by bees as a source of protein. Pollen not directly consumed is often stored in a form known as “bee bread,” which is pollen that undergoes a lactic acid fermentation as a means of preserving the pollen.
Bee pollen has been scientifically proven to improve a number of prostate difficulties, even in some cases of prostate cancer. Some other possible benefits of bee pollen ingestion are improvement of allergies, anemia, male sterility, ulcers, high blood pressure, and nervous and endocrine disorders. It has been speculated to improve acne, skin vitality, athletic performance, and even sexual prowess!


Propolis is a mixture that is used as a sealant for small spaces in the hive. It has been shown to have significant antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity. When propolis extract is used in combination with current antibiotics a synergistic effect has been observed. Some have also claimed it can be used in anti-asthmatic mouth sprays, act as an anti-rheumatic, aid in anemia improvement, and aid in tissue regeneration and wound healing.

Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is a substance fed to bee larva and queens. It has proven antibacterial effects when used topically. There could possibly be anti-wrinkle effects and epithelial stimulation and growth effects when applied topically. According to some sources there are also blood pressure normalizing effects, cholesterol level decreasing effects, and improvements in anemia when ingested.

Bee Venom

Most people try to avoid bee stings but there is evidence for a number of medicinal effects of bee venom, especially pure bee venom. Bee venom has been shown to act as an anti-inflammatory. For this reason it was tested as a wound dressing, and it was found that a Hydrogel dressing loaded with 4% bee venom had excellent anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties.
Bee venom is also used in acupuncture-like treatments where a patient is stung purposefully on a regimen to try to elicit effect. These therapies could have positive effects in epileptic patients. Furthermore circumstantial evidence has been collected to suggest bee venom may help with a huge list of other complications like arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, migraines, sinusitis, sore throat, and many more. Oddly enough it has also been investigated as a way to protect against the damaging effects of xrays.

I hope after reading this blog you are more educated on the healing effects of bee byproducts. I highly encourage you to try some of these remedies if you are seeking natural medicine treatments.


“Bee Venom-Loaded Hydrogel Accelerates Wound Healing, Exhibits Anti-Inflammatory Effect.” Apitherapy News. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2013. .

“Honey for Allergies.” Apitherapy Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2013. .

Krell, R. “Value-added products from beekeeping..” Corporate Document Repository . FAO, n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2013. .

Bee Guts

     This summer I have had the good fortune of continuing my work in the vanEnglesdorp lab, and I have learned a variety of new techniques for assessing hive health. The one I will be talking about today is a project I have just begun work on- bee autopsies. This may sound gruesome, and maybe it is, but I have thoroughly enjoyed learning how to correctly dissect and evaluate honey bee digestive tract health. This dissection, in the most basic terms, requires that the entire contents of the abdomen be removed and examined. This includes structures from the crop, or honey stomach, all the way to the sting sac.

     For those of you without a background in entomology below are a few pictures of my dissections with labeled anatomy and a brief explanation of how these parts all function to keep the bee buzzing.


The Foregut

     The foregut is composed of the pharynx, esophagus, and crop. The latter is the only part that is contained within the abdomen, and is often referred to as the “honey stomach.” This amazing little structure can hold up to 100 mg of nectar, although the usual load is only about 20-40 mg.1 For perspective, this means that a pound of nectar (notice this isn’t even the final honey product) takes about 12,000-24000 trips outside the hive to collect.1

The above picture is one of my early dissections, pictured with the bee thorax and head for perspective. Some of the main structures of the abdomen are highlighted and will be discussed presently.

The Midgut

     The midgut is comprised of the proventriculus, the ventriculus, and the small intestine. The proventriculus controls the flow of honey into the ventriculus, and also collects pollen in specialized pouches. These pouches allow pollen to be passed through the ventriculus tract as a single bolus.1 The ventriculus is lined with epithelial cells which constantly detach from the ventriculus lining to expel enzymes. These epithelia are constantly regenerated to keep the correct enzymes active in the ventriculus.1 Here, inside the ventriculus, is where the fungal parasite nosema “attacks.”1 If you haven’t been keeping up with our lab’s blogs, this is a parasite of great interest that will hopefully become a good indicator of hive health. From the ventriculus food is moved by peristalsis to the small intestine, an organ with pleated walls to increase nutrient absorption. Separating the large and small intestine is the pyloric valve. Another structure, technically not part of the GI tract connects here. This is the Malpighian tubules, which connect to the small intestine just before the pyloric valve. This structure is exceedingly important as these tubules essentially function as the kidneys of the honey bee. Like the human kidney they filter the bee’s circulatory fluid, which in this case is hemolymph. Unlike human kidneys, there are about 100 of these tubules which drain into the small intestine instead of a urinary tract.

The above picture was taken by Michael Andree, and shows the ventriculus, small intestine, and malpighian tubules that are reduced in number and size. This is one of the indicators of bee health assessed in the autopsy report.


The Hindgut

     This section of the digestive tract is made up of only 2 structures, the rectum and anus. The rectal contents are mostly undigested pollen husks, pollen fat globules, and spent ventriculus epithelia.1 If bees have been fed food substitutes fermentation of the undigested products can cause an increase in hive temperature. In the winter this may even get extreme enough to cause premature brood laying.1

The above picture is was taken by Michael Andree, and shows 3 bee rectums that are at varying degrees of fullness. From left to right they may be described as thin, half full, and full. This is another dimension used in the autopsy report to assess bee health.

     The poison sac and attached sting gland is situated in the posterior of the abdomen and is filled with the bee’s venom. This venom is mostly formic acid, hence the colloquial name for the sting gland, the acid gland. The inside of the gland has thick cuticular lamina which creates folds and rings to keep the transverse neck of the gland open so that the venom may be released.2

The above picture is one of the venom sac (left) and sting gland (right) taken by Michael Andree.


Autopsy Assessment

     Now that you are familiar with the various abdomen structures of the honey bee, I will give a quick list of how each of these components is assessed.

General- Black tissue (present or absent), White nodules (present or absent. These may be attached to tergites, free floating in the abdomen, or attached to the GI tract)

Ventriculus- Coloration (light, dark, or very dark), Size (small, medium, or large)

Malpighian tubules- Color (normal, slightly discolored, very discolored), Number/Size (normal or reduced), Iridescence (normal- non-iridescent, abnormal- iridescent spots)

Pyloric Valve- Scarring (abnormal- scarred)

Rectal contents- Size (Full, half full or thin), Color (light, dark, very dark), Consistency (soft, semi-hard or hard), Food Packet presence (present or absent)

Venom Sac- Color (clear or discolored), Debris (present or absent)

Venom gland- Size (normal, slightly swollen, or swollen), Color  (clear, slightly discolored, or very discolored), Melanosis (present or absent)


     All of these components are to be analyzed in a set of bees that were sampled through the National Honey Bee Survey. The set of interest has had data collected about the pesticides used on plants these bees fed on. It is our hope that we may be able to eventually correlate honey bee health with the pesticides used in the area. In this way methods for honey bee preservation in the presence of pesticides can be developed.

     I hope you have enjoyed learning a little bit about the squishy bits of bees. Don’t forget about your pollinators and above all, Bee Informed!




1 Dade, H. A. Anatomy and Dissection of the Honeybee. London: International Bee Research Association, 1977. Print.

2 Snodgrass, R. E. Anatomy of the Honey Bee. Ithaca, NY: Comstock Pub. Associates, 1956. Print.