As many as 70 million Americans suffer from the chronic joint pain that we call arthritis. Of the many varieties, the most common is osteoarthritis, which tends to develop with age. Why some people suffer from stiff, sore, aching joints and others are seemingly immune from arthritis remains a mystery. The drugs that are most often used against arthritis pain—the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or diclofenac—may often ease pain in the short term. However, side effects, such as digestive tract irritation, including bleeding ulcers, as well as possible increased risk of hypertension, heart attacks, stroke, or congestive heart failure, certainly limit the appeal of these drugs. That’s why inexpensive home remedies for joint pain and arthritis are so popular.
I’m a nurse in a rural hospital. Some of the mountain folk I care for tell me that a bee sting every two years or so will significantly decrease arthritis inflammation and pain. They attribute awareness of this remedy to the Chinese who came to this area a hundred years ago to work on the railroads and in the logging industry.
Apitherapy, or bee venom therapy, for arthritis dates to ancient Egypt and China. Hippocrates (460–377 b.c.) is said to have written about bee stings for treating painful joints. Doctors in this country used apitherapy to treat arthritis during the first part of the 20th century. Hospital pharmacies even stocked venom for injections. After World War II, this approach was considered unscientific and fell out of favor. Proponents claim that honeybee stings can alleviate the pain of tendinitis, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and postherpetic neuralgia (nerve pain that lingers after a shingles attack). The American Apitherapy Society can provide more information (www.apitherapy.org).
I was stung on my left leg five times by yellow jackets. I have osteoarthritis in my left knee, and the pain has been gone since I was stung. I’m hoping that it will last!
You’re not the first person to share such a story with us. Years ago a reader wrote, “While snoozing on the porch I was stung on the finger by a tiny bee. The result: intense pain and, after that, a great reduction of arthritis in my arm.” Today apitherapy is undergoing a resurgence. Proponents claim that honeybee stings can alleviate the pain of arthritis. Yellow jackets can be dangerous, however, and should not be used in apitherapy. People who are allergic to bee stings should never try this therapy, which is best applied by a trained apitherapist.
I have arthritis in my fingers. Using the computer compounds the pain. I can’t take anti-inflammatory medication because I have an ulcer. Could you suggest other supplements that might help? Many herbs and dietary supplements can ease inflammation. One person offered the following: “The combination of boswellia and glucosamine-MSM replaces nonsteroidal pain relievers and works well for me. Nine years ago I was literally falling down because of the pain in my spine. I heard someone say that the herb boswellia had saved her life because of back pain. That Saturday I started boswellia. In two weeks the pain decreased, and after a month there was an enormous difference. At last I could sleep and I could walk. Several years later the arthritis increased and I added MSM [methylsulfonylmethane supplement], and glucosamine and chondroitin. I take them with boswellia and get good relief.”
You recently had a question from a person with arthritic fingers who can’t use anti-inflammatory drugs because of an ulcer. Many years ago, an old man panning gold in icy water told me of an arthritis cure. He’d had arthritis in his fingers so bad he could hardly move them. He started taking a teaspoon of cayenne a day in a small glass of tomato juice. He said this remedy took a month to take effect and a month to wear off. When I got arthritis in my hip, I started taking cayenne. I found that one-quarter teaspoon a day in a tall glass of orange juice works for me.
We’ve heard lots of arthritis remedies over the years but never one recommending cayenne. It is, however, a time-honored ingredient in arthritis rubs.
Joe Graedon & Terry Graedon, The People’s Pharmacy: Quick & Handy Home Remedies, published by National Geographic