from the Hive
The information contained on this page is from an
article written by Christine Norris
in the July/August 1997 issue of the MSAA's The Motivator.
You can access their website by clicking here.

MSAA funds a historic study to investigate the therapeutic properties of honeybee venom.

For Donna Domby of Michigan, just getting through the days was a chore. The 42-year-old mother of two grown children was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977. At first she felt numbness in various parts of her body, had poor vision, and was very clumsy. Even with the fatigue and vision problems, she still was able to take care of her children and to work at a video store for 10 years. When her fatigue worsened and her vision started to go, she was forced to quit her job. Eventually her physical health deteriorated to the point where she was almost totally bedridden. "I couldn't get up the stairs to go to sleep, so a day bed was put in the living room. I needed help going to the bathroom. My mother had to come in and help me every day to make meals and do housework," Donna remembers.

Then one night her daughter and husband watched a story on bee venom therapy (BVT) reported by Connie Chung on television. The segment shared the stories of MS patients who found some relief from their symptoms with the use of bee venom stings. Highly skeptical since no other treatment had worked for her, Donna finally agreed-after much insistence from her family-to try BVT. Donna and her family traveled nearly 500 miles to the home of noted BVT activist Pat Wagner, who also suffers from multiple sclerosis. Known as the "Bee Lady," Pat has stung more than 7,000 people with honeybees and has applied 17,900 bee stings to herself to alleviate her MS symptoms. "That evening after only one day of bee venom therapy, I could feel spasms in my feet, and I could feel my husband applying pressure to my toes," Donna remembers. "It was the first time I had felt anything but numbness there in many years."

Armed with a jar of bees, Donna began her regimen of receiving 60 stings every other day. A year later, she walked across the room at an MS support group meeting without the use of her cane. The other members couldn't believe her progress, and wanted to know her secret. To help others like herself, for three years Donna opened her house to MS pa-tients from all over the country and Canada to learn more about bee venom therapy. Five years after receiving the therapy for the first time, Donna now only gets stung on an "as needed basis."

Donna knows it works for her because she once agreed to stop being stung to participate in a BVT study and her symptoms worsened. When she resumed BVT, her symptoms again improved.

"Bee venom therapy is not a cure. But until they find a cure for MS or come up with something better, it's what I have to rely on. What caused my MS may be different than what caused it for another person," Donna explains. "That's why this therapy may not work for everyone. It works for me."

One of the patients Donna helped was Ann Meythaler, also of Michigan. Diagnosed with chronic progressive MS in 1985, Ann had garbled speech, serious vision problems, extreme fatigue, cognitive trouble, numbness, and lost her ability to walk. When Ann discovered BVT four years ago, it changed her life. She still uses a wheelchair, but her quality of life has improved dramatically. For example, she says on the days that she doesn't get stung, just unloading the dishwasher can be a difficult task, both physically and cognitively, and her speech is mottled.

Stung every other day, Ann feels a tremendous energy boost and her problem solving skills improve. "Even though I am in a wheelchair, my quality of life is so much better. Just doing everyday tasks is easier. It may sound mundane, but now I can take care of my house and cook," Ann says. "You name the therapy, and I have tried it. But nothing has worked for me like bee venom therapy. These teeny honeybees are God's gifts. They may not stop the disease from progressing, but they have helped me manage my symptoms. I don't get that terrible fatigue, my vision clears, and I have no numbness."

Like Donna and Ann, thousands of multiple sclerosis patients are singing the praises of bee venom in helping relieve their symptoms. Seeing this growing trend, MSAA knew hard science must be called in to investigate. Through a $250,000 research grant, the MSAA is the first MS organization in the country to release funds for the human scientific study under FDA guidelines of honeybee (Apis melittin) venom therapy as a treatment for MS. The Phase I study, being conducted at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC this summer, will examine the safety and tolerance of honeybee venom extracts as a possible therapy for patients with chronic progressive MS.

Under the direction of Dr. Joseph A. Bellanti, principal investigator and director of the Georgetown Medical Center's Immunology Department, the first phase of the study will begin this summer and end a year later. Eight individuals with chronic progressive MS will receive two injections per week of honeybee venom extract for one year. Each study participant will undergo monthly evaluations primarily for safety and tolerance of the treatment and also to monitor the efficacy of the procedure.

Chronic progressive multiple sclerosis patients have few treatment choices, some of which are experimental and pose serious health risks. In recent years, thousands of MS patients have reported significant symptom relief through the alternative practice of bee venom therapy (BVT). For centuries BVT has been practiced in many eastern countries, including China, Japan, and Korea. The therapy in-volves repeated stings from honeybees to various parts of the body.

Experiments have demonstrated that bee venom is far more potent an anti-inflammatory agent than some currently used anti-inflammatory drugs. In addition, other bee products such as honey and bee pollen offer a variety of beneficial uses. Honey kills bacteria by converting an anti-bacterial enzyme it contains to hydrogen peroxide, which aids in the healing of burns and wounds. Bee pollen contains more than 20 percent proteins and 12 percent amino acids, more than grains, cereal, or any product of animal origin. It is considered by many to be nature's most nearly perfect protein food source.

Somewhat new to this country, BVT is practiced by MS patients and by those who suffer with arthritis and other degenerative diseases. Although MS patients engaged in BVT receive 25 to 30 honeybee stings per session and average more than 3,000 yearly stings, there is no way to accurately measure how much extract is delivered nor how safely the stings are being administered. The study will determine dose-response relationships by giving known quantities of honeybee venom in calculated increasing doses.

"With so many people stinging themselves, it's kind of haphazard. By performing this study, we hope to give some kind of scientific basis for dosage and potential side effects. This first phase will also evaluate how to give the stings safely," explains Dr. Bellanti.

Dr. Bellanti is excited with the prospect of unlocking the secret power of bee venom to help some MS patients and dismisses the opinion of some of those in the medical community who view the alternative therapy as a bit 'kooky.' "We came to this study with bee venom because of the widespread use of bee venom therapy for the treatment of MS which is currently going on in this country. As far as I am concerned, there are two kinds of research: good research and bad research. Good research asks valid questions and is conducted using proper methodology," he notes. "It's hard to argue with preset biases. As scientists and medical professionals, we need to keep an open mind in order to help our patients. In the beginning I thought it was a little strange. But after researching it, I found that there are definite immunological changes the body undergoes after bee ven-om therapy. So I thought it may not be so far-fetched. How do we find out if it really works, unless we investigate it in a scientific way?"

If Phase II of the study proves promising, Dr. Bellanti hopes to work with the MSAA on a second phase double blind study, where some MS patients receive bee venom and others receive a placebo. "The best outcome would be that bee venom therapy could become a safe alternative treatment for chronic progressive MS patients," says Dr. Bellanti. "We are very excited with the prospect, but we don't want to give false hope. While we hope it will be efficacious, we have to wait and see what it shows."
- Christine Norris

A Word of Caution From the President of the MSAA

"BVT entails a real risk of dangerous allergic reaction, as well as an emotional and monetary cost in chasing false hopes. The MSAA does not recommend or endorse the use of honeybee venom for the treatment of MS or other disorders. We are funding this study to determine if this approach has any neurological benefit. If the results prove positive, then additional clinical studies and possible treatment practices of MS can begin. If the results prove negative, then the MSAA has helped to eliminate false hope. Any-one interested in BVT should first consult his or her physician."
- John Hodson, Sr.


The following resources can provide you with more information on bee venom therapy:

Health and the Honeybee by Charles Mraz, "the dean" of bee venom therapy, and The Four Seasons of Charlie Mraz video. To order these titles created by the world-renowned apithera- pist, call or write Honeybee Health Products at P.O. Box 4326-B, Burlington, VT 05406; 1-800-603-3577.

The American Apitherapy Society Inc. is a non- profit membership organization that informs the world of the benefits of valuable products from the beehive. Its fairly extensive membership base includes beekeepers, apitherapy patients, and apitherapists. Members share information with each other on a regular basis. Yearly membership costs $40 per year and includes a quarterly newsletter. For more information, write or call The American Apitherapy Society c/o Linda Day, Office Coordinator, 5370 Carmel Road, Hillsboro, Ohio 45133; 937-466-9214.