Bee sting treatment offers help with multiple sclerosis Self-inflicted therapy provides hope

October 19, 1993|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

Mel Buckowitz has been stung by bees about 400 times in the past two months.

Mr. Buckowitz is not the victim of an incredible streak of bad luck, but the willing recipient of stings for medicinal purposes.

Except for a seven-month period, he has been stung 10 to 15 times daily since December 1991.

Mr. Buckowitz, 58, of Randallstown, subjects himself to this regimen in an attempt to treat the multiple sclerosis that has weakened his body for the past 11 years.

And he says it works.

Since he began to get stung, he says, his condition has improved dramatically. He says he no longer has to use a cane when he walks and his energy level has increased.

"The bees are an integral part of my functioning," Mr. Buckowitz said. "I do believe I'm going to heal myself."

Mr. Buckowitz will discuss his experiences using stings to treat multiple sclerosis at a forum tomorrow sponsored by the Carroll County Beekeepers Association.

The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Bear Branch Nature Center north of Westminster.

Stephen McDaniel, president of the Carroll County Beekeepers Association, said he hopes the meeting can be an information-trading session between beekeepers and multiple sclerosis patients. He supplies Mr. Buckowitz with a jar of bees about every two weeks.

Mr. McDaniel decided to arrange the discussion because local beekeepers have recently gotten calls from multiple sclerosis patients inquiring about the treatment.

"We'd like to find out whether it's doing any good or is just another unfulfilled hope," said Mr. McDaniel, who provides bees free of charge to two multiple sclerosis patients.

A 'chicken soup' remedy?

Dr. Hillel Panitch, a professor of neurology at the University of Maryland, said bee sting treatments for multiple sclerosis have never been tested under controlled conditions.

"Admittedly there are people who have had it and feel better," he said. "Whether they are actually better on a physical exam is another story. There's no objective evidence that this is an effective kind of therapy.

"There is a remote chance there is something to it, but as it stands now, like other folk remedies, it may not be significantly different from chicken soup," he said.

Multiple sclerosis causes degeneration of the central nervous system. It often robs patients of their control over movement and body functions.

One theory behind sting therapy is that bee venom stimulates the production of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress, Mr. McDaniel said.

Dr. Panitch said this is possible, but the amount of cortisol produced in response to a bee sting is minuscule compared with the amount of synthetic cortisol, or cortisone, often used to treat MS patients.

"I'd like to see it investigated," Mr. McDaniel said. "People tell me it helps, but you want something more than anecdotal evidence."

FTC In a statement released in June, the National Multiple Sclerosis -- Society said it cannot recommend use of bee stings to treat MS in the absence of scientific or clinical studies.

In addition, the society cautions that, for people allergic to bee stings, the treatment can be dangerous.

The professional advisory committee of the Maryland chapter of the society is developing a statement on bee sting treatments.

"We're concerned because people are wanting to find something that will help them, and we don't want to keep them from it if it is efficacious," said Kate Jacobsen, services coordinator with the Maryland chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Ms. Jacobsen said MS patients began experimenting with bee sting therapy about 10 years ago. Recently there's been a resurgence of interest in the treatment, she said.

Mr. Buckowitz is convinced bee stings have played a crucial role in his improvement over the past two years. He also practices self-hypnosis, visualization and meditation.

In February he stopped the bee stings because he thought he could maintain his improved health without the treatment.

In addition, he said, he was becoming vain about the sting marks on his legs.

"It was not a good move," he said. "My body started immediately deteriorating, and I had to use a cane again."

Returned to stings

He said his doctors put him back on steroids, with no success. He decided to return to the bee stings in August, and he said the results have been encouraging.

"I've been able to jump three inches off the ground," Mr. Buckowitz said. "When I did that it felt like the world was opening up."

Mr. Buckowitz doesn't deny that pain is a part of the treatments.

"Sometimes you don't want to hear me scream," he said.

Despite the discomfort, Mr. Buckowitz plans to continue with the bee stings and expects to get his own beehive back soon from Mr. McDaniel. He returned the hive when he stopped the bee stings.

Lynn Carder, who runs a support group in the county for multiple sclerosis patients, got three stings at the group's August meeting when Mr. Buckowitz came to demonstrate the treatment.

She said the first, on her left knee, produced a spasm. She had no reaction to the other two stings, which she said she didn't feel.

Ms. Carder said she realizes a few bee stings are not sufficient to determine if the treatment can help her.

"It's a mind-boggling thing -- do you do it or don't you do it," Ms. Carder said. "If there was a doctor behind it, I'd be a lot more comfortable with it."

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