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Scorpion Stings, Bee Stings, and the Umami Hypothesis

Posted Jun 22 2009 11:03am

Someone who lives in the southwestern US posted this on a helmenthic therapy forum:

One [scorpion keeper] reported how a pain in his leg from a motorcycle accident that had been with him for years spontaneously resolved after getting stung by some fairly nasty [scorpion] . . . .  It’s fairly well-known that beekeepers don’t face the same risk from arthritis as the general public.

I haven’t managed to find support for this “fairly well-known” idea. But it’s quite plausible because bee stings are used to treat arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In this video, an Indonesian therapist says that 85 out of 100 sufferers are “cured” by the treatment.

“A therapy most of us would find taboo,” says the narrator of this video. I wonder. Here’s what Wikipedia says:

There is no known cure for [multiple sclerosis].  . . MS medications can have adverse effects or be poorly tolerated, and many patients pursue alternative treatments, despite the lack of supporting scientific study.

Multiple sclerosis and some forms of arthritis are autoimmune disorders. My “ umami hypothesis ” says that autoimmune disorders and other immune disorders, such as allergies, are deficiency diseases. They are caused by not enough immune-system stimulation — stimulation that long ago we got from bacteria-laden food. This suggests a new interpretation of what’s going on with bee-sting therapy. Their healing properties have been attributed, at least in these videos, to special properties of the venom. The umami hypothesis suggests that the foreign proteins in venom calm the immune system and that quite different foreign substances would do just as well. I don’t know of anyone treating arthritis or MS with fermented food — but before the Shangri-La Diet, I didn’t know of anyone drinking sugar water to lose weight. The fact that such hugely different agents as hookworms, bee stings, and fermented foods have similar effects is considerable support for the hypothesis. Without the hypothesis, no one would have grouped them together.

Now I wonder about acupuncture: Could it work, at least some of the time, because it injects foreign substances? Surely acupuncture needles put plenty of bacteria into the body. This line of thought explains why stabbing a knee with a scapel apparently helps arthritis (and involves a lot less hand-waving than calling that result a placebo effect). Keep in mind that this is the hallmark of deficiency diseases: They get a lot better, almost miraculously and without side effects, if you supply even a little of what’s missing. The cure rate can be very high.

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