Dietary and Lifestyle Interventions
Since Bell’s palsy is linked to reactivation of the herpes simplex virus, dietary strategies that help fight this virus may also prove effective at treating or shortening the duration of Bell’s palsy. One strategy is to deprive the virus of the amino acids it needs to make the proteins required for replication. One amino acid that appears to be particularly important for the replication of herpes simplex virus is arginine. Multiple studies have found that depriving the virus of this amino acid can halt its replication (Inglis 1968; Tankersley 1964). Reducing the activity of the herpes simplex virus as a result of a low-arginine diet could help prevent or shorten the severity or duration of the inflammation. On the other hand, the amino acid lysine can help slow the growth of the herpes virus, as it can make it harder for the virus to utilize arginine. Increasing lysine intake, either via supplementation or by eating lysine-rich foods combined with a low-arginine diet may help combat the herpes virus. Foods high in lysine and low in arginine include dairy products, fish, and some kinds of animal proteins such as chicken. Foods such as nuts and grains are high in arginine (Gaby 2006).
Acupuncture, a technique that originated in Traditional Chinese Medicine, may also be used to treat Bell’s palsy. It involves inserting small needles into specific points on the skin to harmonize the body’s life force (also known as qi [or chi]), strengthen the body, and improve the function and healing of nerves (Chen 2010). This process is generally considered to be safe and can be used to treat many of the symptoms of Bell’s palsy (Kim 2012). Multiple studies have found that acupuncture can help improve symptoms and return normal facial function in people with Bell’s palsy, but analyses of these trials have found that their quality is rather limited, which makes it hard to draw firm conclusions about the efficacy of acupuncture for Bell’s palsy (Kim 2012; Chen 2010; Cumberworth 2012).
Biofeedback is a process in which people are helped to learn how to voluntarily control muscles and body functions that were previously thought to be involuntary. It can be used to treat certain disorders, including the involuntary muscle movements that can occur after incomplete recovery from Bell’s palsy. In one small study, researchers instructed individuals with Bell’s palsy to work on keeping their eyes open during 3 mouth movements (pursing the lips, baring the teeth, and puffing out the cheeks), which can be difficult for people with Bell’s palsy. After 10 months of 30 minutes of daily training, these people had better facial symmetry than the control group that received no treatment (Nakamura 2003).
Physical therapy can also help people with Bell’s palsy recover muscle function. It appears that facial exercises, such as practicing emotional expressions (Beurskens 2006), may help improve muscle function and reduce involuntary facial movements in people with Bell’s palsy (Teixeira 2011). Physical rehabilitation, consisting of stretching and manual and verbal input, applied at an early stage resulted in overall improvement of the condition of Bell’s palsy patients and accelerated their recovery compared with non-rehabilitated patients (Barbara 2010).