Natural Treatments for Bell’s Palsy
Bell’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.
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