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How Does Meat Tenderizer Ease the Pain of Stings?

A paste of meat tenderizer and water can stop the pain of a wasp or bee sting quickly. The papain in it may break down the venom proteins.
How Does Meat Tenderizer Ease the Pain of Stings?
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If you’ve ever been stung by a wasp or a bee, you know something about pain. Not only does the sting hurt immediately, but it can also swell up and be painful and itchy for several days. Look for relief in your kitchen cupboard. You might cut a slice of onion and slap it on the sting, but if you don’t have an onion handy, meat tenderizer will do the job.

Meat Tenderizer for Insect Stings:

Q. A long time ago I visited a friend in the mountains. I stepped on a wasp in the shower stall and the sting was horribly painful.

My friend put a paste made from water and meat tenderizer on the sting. Within ten minutes, the pain and swelling had totally disappeared.

Now I don’t go anywhere in the summer without meat tenderizer. Believe me, it’s come in handy more than once, especially if I drive with the window open. Just use a pinch of it, use your spit to make a paste and put it over the sting to feel it do its magic. It’s never failed, even for a bumblebee sting.

Meat Tenderizer Contains Papain:

A. We first read about using a quarter teaspoon meat tenderizer mixed with a teaspoon of water for a painful insect sting in the Journal of the American Medical Association (April 24, 1972). The doctor recommending this remedy suggested that the papain (Papay-in) in meat tenderizer breaks down the venom in the sting. It is, after all, an enzyme that breaks down proteins.

If you’ve been stung by a bumblebee or honeybee, however, the first step is to flick the stinger out with the edge of a credit card.

Using Meat Tenderizer for a Bee Sting:

Q. I used to have several beehives. Sometimes I would accidentally crush a bee when working on the hives. When that happened, they went into attack mode, and I got stung a lot.

A name-brand meat tenderizer was the ticket to take the pain away. I think it dissolved or chemically altered the venom. I’d make a paste and get it on as soon as possible.

A. Many other readers agree with you that a paste of meat tenderizer and water can ease the pain of a bee sting. This was first written up in JAMA (April 24, 1972), as we note above.

Dr. Harry Arnold wrote:

“There is, however, an immediately effective remedy for such lesions, available in most kitchens: meat tenderizer. The effectiveness of this material, applied in a dilute solution of tap water, prepared on the spot by mixing a quarter-teaspoonful or so with a teaspoonful or two of water, presumably depends on its content of papain. This proteolytic enzyme probably breaks down the venoms and kinins injected by the insect. The solution is merely rubbed into the skin at the site of the sting, and virtually all pain stops within seconds.”

As far as we can tell, there has been no rigorous research to test this treatment. If you would like to learn more about simple ways to overcome common conditions and the science to support them, you may be interested in our eGuide to Favorite Home Remedies

An Important Warning:

People who are allergic to stings should not rely on home remedies. They must keep an epinephrine injector available and seek emergency medical attention.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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