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Bell’s Palsy

Bell’s palsy is a disorder in which a nerve that controls the facial muscles becomes dysfunctional, resulting in weakness or paralysis of one side, or more rarely, both sides of the face. It often manifests rapidly, such that those affected may rise from bed in the morning with inexplicable one-sided facial weakness or paralysis and fear that they have experienced a stroke (Baugh 2013).

Bell’s palsy is the most common disorder affecting the facial nerve, with more than 60 000 cases diagnosed each year in the United States (Kölln 2009; Zandian 2014; Basic-Kes 2013; NINDS 2012). Bell’s palsy can occur at almost any age and is equally common in men and women, but diabetics have a 4-fold increased risk. Also, the risk triples during pregnancy (especially in the third trimester or first week postpartum) (Tiemstra 2007; Marson 2000; Ronthal 2013a; Zandian 2014; Riga 2012; Kölln 2009).

The core underlying cause responsible for Bell’s palsy is not known with certainty, but evidence indicates that inflammation and reactivation of a dormant viral infection affecting the facial nerve, also called the seventh cranial nerve, appear to be important contributing factors in many cases. Herpes viruses, specifically herpes simplex virus type 1 and herpes zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, are thought to be involved in a substantial proportion of cases (Holland 2004; Zandian 2014).

Physicians may use corticosteroids to treat Bell’s palsy as they are helpful in reducing inflammation of the facial nerve and may shorten symptom duration if initiated soon after onset. Antiviral drugs such as acyclovir are sometimes used for the condition. However, some studies suggest that antiviral drugs do not provide significant benefits when used alone or together with steroids such as prednisolone. Therefore, if there is a benefit with antiviral drugs, the benefit is likely modest at best (Baugh 2013; Ronthal 2013b; Lampert 2012; Sullivan 2007; Holland 2004; Zandian 2014; Gronseth 2012).

Given the role of inflammation in Bell’s palsy, natural agents that help manage the inflammatory response, such as curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, may help support a more balanced immune response during viral reactivation in the facial nerve. In addition, nutrients that support healthy nerve cell function such as vitamin B12 and acetyl-L-carnitine may also confer benefits to those afflicted with Bell’s palsy. For example, vitamin B12 has been shown to improve recovery time of facial nerve function in Bell’s palsy patients compared to those treated with only steroids. Additionally, nutrients that inhibit the herpes viruses may be supportive (Lu 2010; Singer 2008; Kandhare 2012; Kulkarni 2010; Liu 2013; Mezzina 1992; Jalaludin 1995; Kennedy 2010; Fiore 2008; Pompei 1979; Pu 2013; Sekizawa 2001; Nabeshima 2012; Gaby 2006; O’Dell 1990; NINDS 2012; Flodin 1997; Griffith 1987; Ozden 2011; EBSCO CAM Review Board 2011).

In this protocol, you will learn about the biology of Bell’s palsy and possible triggers. You will also learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of this condition, and how it is diagnosed and conventionally treated. Finally, you will learn about novel and emerging therapies as well as integrative interventions that may help speed recovery and reduce the severity of symptoms.