Natural Treatments for Bell’s Palsy

by in Bell's Palsy, Kitchen Sink May 13, 2008

neuron.jpgBell’s Palsy is a very frustrating typically benign medical problem that causes one side of the face to temporarily droop.

Most patients with Bell’s Palsy are terrified they are having a stroke, however they are instead experiencing a temporary paralysis or weakness of the muscles of the face resulting from inflammation of the seventh cranial nerve, commonly referred to as the facial nerve.

Associated risk factors for Bell’s Palsy are exposure to cold, diabetes, pregnancy, upper respiratory infections, and being over the age of 30.

Although initially scary, this frustrating condition is typically not of much concern except cosmetically, and usually without long term negative outcome. However, it is possible to not completely recover function of the muscles of the face, or end up with annoying long term consequences like facial spasms and crocodile tears. Typical recovery time ranges from two weeks to several months. In order to have the best prognosis it is therefore important to provide the patient with natural complementary supportive and regenerative measures such as diet, herbs, supplements, and stress management.

A simple naturopathic cure to speed the recovery process is injectable B-12. Most doctors’ offices keep B-12 on hand for their patients with pernicious anemia, so it is a simple treatment for just about any medical office to implement. The recommendation according to the randomized trial listed below, is a 1000 mcg B-12 injection 3-7 times weekly. The injections can be tapered as the patient’s temporary paralysis of the face improves. Patients can come in to the office for injections, or can be sent home with a prescription for B-12 (methylcobalmin) as well as syringes and needles.

B-12 in the injectable methycobalamin form is most likely helpful because it’s role in the body is to aid the production of myelin in the nervous system. Myelin is the fatty coating that surrounds our neurons (pictured above) and speeds the conduction of electrical signals in the nervous system. Recent evidence supports a viral etiology to Bell’s Palsy, either by herpes simplex, herpes zoster, or an upper respiratory infection.

Patients may therefore respond well to an herbal anti-viral protocol along with the B-12 injections. I would prescribe Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice root) for its steroidal anti-inflammatory benefits, pending that the patient does not have high blood pressure or is not pregnant. It is very common for pregnant women to develop Bell’s Palsy, especially in the third trimester, which in my mind just further supports the suppressed immune system theory, as the body’s elevated progesterone levels in pregnancy naturally suppress the immune system so that the woman’s body does not attack the developing fetus. This is why women tend to get sick with colds and flus more often while pregnant, and unfortunately upper respiratory infections are common culprits causing Bell’s Palsy.

Stress is most likely a precipitating factor as it also suppresses our immune system. I would strongly recommend some simple stress management techniques such as “Square Breathing” or “Five Minutes to Zen”.

Because the standard approach is to implement steroidal therapy (which is still controversial and many family practitioners simply recommend watchful waiting), it would only be logical to reduce inflammation naturally with diet by avoiding McInflammation as well as utilize natural inflammation modulators such as ginger (Zingiber officinale) and turmeric (curcuma longa). I would also prescribe 1 tablespoon of lemon flavored Carlson cod liver oil daily (do not use if pregnant) taken immediately before a large meal. The fatty acids in fish oil aid the repair of the myelin sheath of the facial nerve. Any patient can easily use food as medicine and simply eat a cup of frozen blueberries daily for their powerful anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, and anti-oxidant effects.

Bell’s Palsy can be a tough hit to a patients vanity, so it is extremely important to get the condition resolved as quickly as possible using the most effective naturopathic treatments. Primarily we want to ensure the fastest recovery time, that the nerves and muscles recover in entirety, and that there is no long term negative sequalae such as crocodile tears, permanent paralysis, or facial tics.

Recommended Reading for those with Bell’s Palsy: Anti-inflammatory Diet, Immune Support Breakfast, Immune Support Diet

Standard Treatment Plan Summary for Bell’s Palsy:

  • Anti-inflammatory Diet
  • Immune Support Diet
  • Immune Support Breakfast
  • 1000 mcg methylcobalmin IM daily or every other day until resolved
  • 1 Tablespoon Carlson Cod Liver Oil immediately before meals once to twice daily (do not take if pregnant because excess vitamin A is a known teratogen that causes birth defects, pregnant women should use flaxseed oil, or a non liver fish oil that does not contain vitamin A such as salmon oil, or simply eat Alaskan wild salmon.)
  • 1 cup of frozen blueberries daily in a smoothie or enjoyed as a snack
  • Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice root not to be taken by those with high blood pressure, check with your doctor first as many drug-herb interactions exist, do not use if pregnant). Tincture dose (1:5 in 40%) 1 to 3 ml in a little water THREE times daily OR can take in capsules if cannot handle the taste of licorice, the German Commission E recommends an average daily dose of 5 to 15 grams of the root or the equivalent of 200 to 600 mg of the active constituent glycyrrhizin. Keep in mind that most capsules are about 5oo mg so you will need to take about 4 capsules three times daily.
  • Add turmeric (found in curries) and ginger to the diet liberally! Pregnant women can safely use up to 2 grams of ginger daily, according to Chinese Medicine, but please check with your doctor if you are pregnant before using ANY natural medicines.
  • Stress Management Exercises: “Square Breathing” and “Five Minutes to Zen”.

References: PMID: 8749227; Methylcobalamin treatment of Bell’s palsy. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 1995 Oct;17(8):539-44; “Medical Herbalism” by David Hoffman.

Feel free to leave your questions in the comments section!

~Dr. Nicole Sundene

Naturopathic Physician

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  2. Thank you so much for providing this information on how to treat bell’s palsy! I am 28 years old. I came down with bell’s palsy on Nov. 1st, 2008, ten days after the birth of my son. I was given prednisone and told to wait it out. I was in so much pain with this and severely depressed. I BEGGED doctors to help me and they all said (and still say) there is nothing they or I could do. I have been to 2 neurologists, an ENT, and my family doctor. I am about 75% recovered but still have mild paralysis, discomfort, and facial tics. I can’t smile like I used to which has led to some depression issues. Due to my frustration I have turned to acupuncture and natural supplements to help me. My family doctor finally agreed to give me B12 injections after he told me he had never heard of B12 helping with bell’s palsy and warning me not to believe everything I read on the internet. I realize that bell’s palsy is considered to be “no big deal” in the medical community because it poses no real risk to the patient. However, it’s a LOT different when you’re the one having to live with it. I would like these doctors to go 8 MONTHS without a working eye lid!! You never realize how awesome an eyelid is until you have one that no longer works! I’ve heard of so many people who suffer with this. I can’t believe doctors don’t have more compassion for their bell’s palsy patients. I cannot thank you enough for this advice. Thank you for caring. I am going to fight this bell’s as hard as I can. I am determined to have my face back again. I hope it works.

  3. I was diagnosed yesterday with Bell’s Palsy. This is the second time I have had this problem. The last time I was diagnosed with it was in February of 1990, nearly 20 years ago. I was 21 years old at the time. I’m 41 now, and this time the paralysis is on the right side of my face. Last time, it was on the left side of my face, and more severe. It took me a few months to recover. I am able to move the right corner of my mouth this time, which makes it somewhat easier to deal with, but I would love to be over this paralysis! The vitamin B-12 shots mentioned here sound like something I can do. Anything to get over this!

    Jennifer, a great big “AMEN” to what you said about doctors saying that Bell’s Palsy is “no big deal,” but it’s a lot different when you’re the one having to live with it. I couldn’t agree more! It may not be life-threatening, but it’s definitely not anything desirable. I’d love to tell one of these doctors, “You try living with a paralyzed face and tell me that it’s ‘no big deal!’ ” Maybe it’ll make them think. Apparently, the doctors who say this have never had Bell’s Palsy. When you have to live with this condition for God knows how long, and it affects certain parts of your life, it is a big deal. I should know!

    I’m going to look into getting some vitamin B-12 shots and see if it helps. I hate that this problem recurred for me right at the start of the Christmas Season. What a time for this to happen! Christmas is my favorite holiday, and now I have to spend it dealing with Bell’s Palsy. Not exactly a Holly Jolly Christmas, huh? Maybe the vitamin B-12 shots will give me some relief. I sure hope so!

  4. I know the feeling that the 3rd person (Jennifer) is going through! My problem got worse in January 2008.It started gradually a month or two before,but I didn’t notice the warning signs,as I couldn’t whistle properly and had problems swishing water in my mouth,so things came to a head around the 14th of January when I felt the total numbness of the right side of my face. I’ve been to an E.N.T who put me on prednisone and Vitamin B complex,plus I started facial massaging,but the recovery rate is very,very slow! I really ready to test/try anything to get this chapter over in my life and I’m willing to try nettle tea(and any other medication by the way!) as I refuse to accept that this is how my face will be for the rest of my life! It is so embarassing for me to be ashamed of smiling,laughing and eating in public!And I’m not even going to talk about dodging taking pictures!I’m grateful for this site as this is the first site that I’ve seen this type of interraction with sufferrers of this disease.

  5. In February of 2007, I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, for a third time. I was 18 years old. I was prescribed prednisone, but only one week’s dosage. They usually give you two weeks. I was sent to a neurologist, he didn’t help but put me through tests, and also sent to see a physical therapist. I am still having symptoms of BP. I struggle daily, because I know that there is nothing I can do. I will forever have the issues of the watery eyes and droopy mouth. I can not smile ‘right’. Being 22 now, and an education major, I constantly think about my students, I’ll never be able to smile at them or talk correctly with them. And then thinking about my potential wedding down the road, I won’t be able to ‘cheese’ in pictures or with my own children. I’m willing to try just about anything to ‘fix’ what BP has done to me.

  6. I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy on Jan. 15th 2011, the day my father was going into surgery for a very serious operation. Thank God he made it through. That day I had this huge head ache/ ear ache pain. Tried to take a drink of water and drippled all over…I knew something was wrong. It was getting harder for me to speak…then I looked in the mirror and noticed my face, my mouth drooping to one side. I took myself down to ER and had never in my life heard of Bells Palsy.
    I thought I had a small stroke….Doctors said it would go away on its own…most likely 3 wks…..take the steroids and other meds and try to relax. It’s been 4 months now and half my smile is back….and I can almost close my eye completely….but I still can’t move my eyebrows or flare one side of my nose. When I speak my mouth looks like (Rocky)…… “Yo Adriene”!!
    I still have my sense of Humor…but this Bells Palsy has taken alot from me.
    I have been called Crazy Face, crooket Face, and I have been made fun of behind my back by co-workers (women) and being a woman…I work with alot of men that used to talk to me all the time and now it is as if they are afraid to look at me let alone talk to me. I just don’t get it…With all the worlds advance technology why can’t doctors find a cure for this Bell Palsy….or some cure to prevent it.
    You never hear on these Doctors shows or Doctor Oz show on television any cure or preventive ways or meds to take to make this Bell Palsy disappear. Its a lonely time for people with this….Everyone should try to stay positive and just think your nerves in your face will heal…. I was told by a physcial theripist your nerves heal 1 cm every 30 days. It just takes a long lonely time! My prayers are with all of you.

  7. i feel for the people above so much- i am 31yrs & 32 weeks pregnant – im onto day 9 since the on set of bells palsy, today my last day of steriods – although my face is still paralayzed on the right – i can say it doesnt not feel as heavy … normally i am a smiling laughing person , who has very few down hours let alone days – but i can honestly say the last 9 days have been horriffic.

    I know it will fix over time ect, but the sheer thought of giving birth to my new baby with this face just breaks my heart.

    i’m back at work and on the brink of tears each time i need to talk to someone new on the phone as i am hard to understand.

    I am taking B12 tablets and will see a nathropath in a few days also, i will be patient with this healing as me worrying about it i guess will not help the progress… i really feel for people who have strokes and a permanent disability as they have to deal with these feelings each day.

    Ohhhh and how i am missing being able to taste…. i cant even drown my sorrows in a big bowl of ice cream and chocolate ….

    I truly believe only people who have suffered bells and truly empathise with other sufferers , i hope from this experience i can take away a lesson learnt in be kind to my body & be kind to others always – because you just dont realise the sometimes the simple things in life are the most precious

  8. I’m 35 and I was diagnosed with BP yesterday after feeling syptoms on Sunday. I woke up noticing I couldn’t bend my lips with out them twisting and my cheek was tingling. I immdiately went to the Dr. who put me on Prednisone & Aciylar (sp) and recommended theropy immediately.

    Is it wise to start the phisical therapy 2 days in? Also I will be trying the B12/Cod liver oil & eerything else. I also read about using castor oil packs, what are your thoughts?

    Tgank you for the information!

  9. Hi – Thanks so much for all the information – it’s very useful. I’ve got a child with Bell’s Palsy and although most of the treatments seem easily transferable to a child, I was wondering about the B-12 injections. Are there any doctors who will do this for a child, and if not, is there an oral form one can buy?

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