Bee Sting Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

Questionable Benefits and Risks Associated With Using Bee's Venom

Honeybee collecting pollen from a flower.
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Bee sting therapy is one type of “apitherapy,” a term which refers to the use of bee products to treat medical conditions. Other forms of apitherapy include the use of bee pollen, propolis (a waxy substance produced by bees), raw honey, and royal jelly. Bee sting therapy, also referred to as “bee venom therapy,” is pretty much just what it sounds like—getting stung with bees in a controlled setting.

It's estimated that between 5,000 to 10,000 people with MS in the United States use bee sting therapy, so some people must find that it helps them and isn’t unbearable. 

Health Conditions Bee Sting Therapy Is Used For

It's used by people with many different autoimmune disorders, including MS, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and scleroderma. Bee sting therapy is also used for a number of other diseases and conditions, including depression, skin conditions, menstrual cramps, and varicose veins.

How Does It Work?

It's claimed that bee sting therapy works with the patient's own body to reduce inflammation. The theory is that because the bee stings produce inflammation, the body mounts an anti-inflammatory response. Presumably, this would then work to reduce inflammation where the myelin is being attacked by the immune system in a person with MS.

What Happens During Treatment

Bee sting practitioners include nurses, acupuncturists, naturopaths, and interested laypersons, including beekeepers.

Also, some patients just order some bees and perform the sessions themselves. Bee sting therapy can also be given by physicians, who use venom in an injectible form, administering it under the skin, rather than live bees.

Before the treatment begins, the therapist may inject the patient with a weak form of the venom to test for an allergic reaction.

A bee (usually a honeybee) is held with tweezers up to a part of the body. The stingers are left in for up to 15 minutes, then removed with tweezers. Between 20 to 40 stings are done each session, and a patient typically gets three sessions a week.

What Does Treatment Feel Like?

It feels like being stung by 40 bees, to put it plainly. Since different people have different tolerances for pain and different reactions, the amount of discomfort will vary (or at least be perceived differently) between patients. Sometimes ice is used before and/or after the stings to lessen the pain.

How Effective Is Bee Sting Therapy for MS?

Bee sting therapy has been studied on a limited basis for MS. A couple of studies used bee sting therapy in mice who had experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE), a condition that resembles MS in humans. The treatment not only showed no benefit, but some of the mice receiving bee stings seemed to have worsening symptoms.

In addition, a 2004 randomized crossover study was conducted in the Netherlands among 24 people with either relapsing-remitting MS or secondary-progressive MS.

While the bee sting treatment was well-tolerated, no beneficial effects were seen on the MRIs or clinically among these patients.

Despite a lack of scientific evidence, bee sting therapy has been reported anecdotally by people with MS to increase stability, as well as reduce fatigue and spasticity. In fact, more than one thousand people with MS have sent testimonials to the American Apitherapy Society in support of the therapy.

Are There Any Risks to Bee Sting Therapy?

Most people experience some degree of swelling and redness at the sting site. In addition, some people experience itching, hives, fatigue, anxiety, or flu-like symptoms.

While rare, there are a couple of important risks and precautions to be aware of:

  • Death: A small number of people (less than 100) die every year from reactions to bee stings. These deaths could be due to anaphylaxis (severe allergic reactions) or heart attacks brought on by a mild allergic reaction in combination with other factors. It's important that an Epi-Pen Autoinjector is available in case of an allergic reaction.
  • Optic Neuritis: This inflammation of the optic nerve has been caused in people, even without MS, when bee stings are given on or near the eye area, including the temple or eyebrow area. It's important to avoid all bee stings in this area.
  • Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis: This is a rare form of inflammation of the central nervous system, which is very similar to that which occurs in MS.
  • Cautions: Bee sting therapy should not be used by people with insulin-dependent diabetes, syphilis, gonorrhea, tuberculosis or severe allergies.

The Bottom Line

Bee sting therapy is a meant to be a complementary MS therapy, meaning that it should not be used as a substitute for disease-modifying therapies. At this time, there simply does not seem to be enough robust evidence to support it as an effective treatment (I would probably opt for something more relaxing and peaceful like massage or yoga). In other words, more clinical studies are needed to really understand its benefit and potential risks in MS. 


Bowling, Allen C. “Chapter 9: Bee Venom Therapy and Other Forms of Apitherapy.” Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. 2nd ed. Demos Publishing: New York. 2007.

Castro, H.J., et al. (2005). A phase I study of the safety of honeybee venom extract as a possible treatment for patients with progressive forms of multiple sclerosis. Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, Nov-Dec;26(6):470-6.

D'Epiro, Nancy Walsh. "Bee Venom for Multiple Sclerosis." Patient Care 33, 14; September 15, 1999. Pages 27-31.

Namjooyan, F., Ghanavati, R., Maidinasab, N., Jokari, S., & Janbozorgi, M. (2014). Uses of complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis. Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 4(3):145-52.

Wesselius, T. (2005). A randomized crossover study of bee sting therapy for multiple sclerosis. Neurology., Dec 13;65(11):1764-8. 

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