For centuries, honey, bee pollen, and bee venom have been used to treat a number of ailments that vary between chronic pain to skin conditions. Apitherapy, or the medical use of honeybee products that range from royal jelly to bee venom, was used by the ancient Egyptians as a homeopathic remedy for arthritis. Today, bee venom therapy, or bee sting therapy, has captured the attention of medical science as a potential homeopathic remedy for multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms.
Bee venom therapy (BVT), or apitherapy, uses the stings of live bees to relieve symptoms of MS such as pain, loss of coordination, and muscle weakness. Stinging is not limited to any specific area of the body, as stings in different places seem to produce different results. Apitherapy researchers suggest that certain compounds in bee venom, namely melittin and adolapin, help reduce inflammation and pain, and that the combination of all the "ingredients" in bee venom somehow helps the body to release natural healing compounds in its own defense.
Given the fact that no major studies on BVT have been done so far, it is estimated that only about 50 U.S. physicians use it to treat MS or other diseases. And the evidence that BVT helps MS patients, although encouraging, remains anecdotal. Despite this, of the more than 250,000 cases of multiple sclerosis nationwide, thousands of patients are said to use bee venom as an alternative approach to the interferon, corticosteroids, and other drugs typically used. Word on BVT has spread to where the American Apitherapy Society says there are about 10,000 people providing this therapy - apitherapists, beekeepers, and acupuncturists, as well as those with no health background. Some patients even treat themselves. But the lack of medical training among most practitioners and the risk of dangerous allergic reactions to the treatment have raised concerns about BVT among the medical establishment.
Nonetheless, bee venom therapy has generated enough "buzz" that Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., has begun a one-year preliminary study, funded by the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, to research apitherapy as a potential treatment. In the end, researchers hope to settle the debate whether bee venom should be considered a serious treatment for MS.