A stinging cure or simply getting stung?

Sting of comfort: Do honey bees hold the magic medicine to ease the aches of multiple schlerosis? Some MS patients swear by the positive effects BVT (bee venom therapy) have on improving the quality of their lives. (Photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Sting of comfort: Do honey bees hold the magic medicine to ease the aches of multiple schlerosis? Some MS patients swear by the positive effects BVT (bee venom therapy) have on improving the quality of their lives. (Photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture)
I’ve got a friend who’s been dealing with MS for nearly 40 years. Don’t ask him about his doctors’ treatment of it. His normally mild manner will quickly turn sour.

Another friend recently gave me information to pass on to him about a growing alternative medicine treatment for MS: BVT. That’s Bee Venom Therapy when it’s all spelled out. And yes, they use honeybees to sting patients up to 60 times a day every other day to treat the painful symptoms of MS.

One webpage my other friend asked me to pass on to my MS friend told the story of a middle-aged woman who decided to take drastic action. After seeing a television report about BVT – bee venom therapy – she agreed to try it herself.

After one year’s worth of treatments, she was able to walk across a room without her cane, something she hadn’t been able to do in 10 years. Now she has MS patients come to her home to receive similar treatments.

How does BVT work?

Just as cases of MS vary by patient, BVT’s impact on them varies as well. Some patients get a huge improvement in their quality of life. Some have little or no improvement. The bee venom doesn’t cure the disease, but can ease the symptoms of MS. It’s also been used to ease symptoms in arthritis patients.

Some research has shown that bee venom is a more effective anti-inflammatory agent than many of our current drugs. The problem is that receiving a dose BVT from a bee not carefully dosed out. And there’s debate if it makes much of a difference where the bee stings you on your body. Plus there’s the danger of patients not knowing if they’re allergic to bee stings.

Applying science to BVT

Is there a scientifically provable reason for BVT to work? Researchers at Georgetown University have recently wrapped up the first phase of a medical research study on BVT.

Patients were injected with a bee venom product, not actual stings from bees, so that researchers were able to measure and control the amount of BVT they received. What they found was that there were no major adverse reactions to the treatments. Some minor problems were encountered where patients were injected in the same spot twice in one week. But there were no consistent results between patients to improved physical symptoms of their MS.

Since it’s not a medically approved treatment, medical insurance plans don’t cover BVT. And it takes a lot of ongoing treatments, usually every-other-day, for effective treatments to go on. Does that make BVT a less “sound” medical treatment for pain?

So the book is still out, medically, on the effectiveness and safety of BVT. Would you consider BVT treatments if you had MS or some other painful medical condition or recommend it to someone else? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Thor's picture
Thor says:

More medical stinging news: Researchers in Norway are looking for volunteers to get stung by jellyfish. They're doing tests on a new sun screen product that they hope will prevent jellyfish stings.

They want volunteers to come in, put the sun screen on one are and leave the other bare. Then they'll have participants put both arms in a tank with jellyfish and see which arms get stung.

So far just five people have stepped forward.

posted on Wed, 07/25/2007 - 2:31pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Ouch! I've been stung, and I wouldn't volunteer for the experience!

I was maybe 12 or 14, and I was at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. I got stung on the arm, between the wrist and the elbow. And I developed a fairly disgusting red and swollen rash. It was amazingly painful for a surprisingly long time, in sort of the same "hot" way that a bee sting is painful. The good part, though, was that my arm looked so gross that people tended to get out of my way on the boardwalk and I didn't have to wait very long to play air hockey or my favorite video games!

posted on Wed, 07/25/2007 - 2:46pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Does anyone know of any BVT providers in the San Jose, CA area?

posted on Fri, 01/16/2009 - 12:54pm

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