What's My Alternative: Bell's Palsy

By Linda Childers

When Ally Crosson, 35, woke up one morning and found the left side of her face partially paralyzed, her first thought was that she’d had a stroke. “I was so frightened,” she says.

An emergency room visit revealed that Crosson was suffering from Bell’s palsy, a neurological disorder that affects 40,000 Americans each year. The facial paralysis, which usually lasts no more than a year, results from inflammation to the seventh (facial) cranial nerve. Although the cause of the inflammation remains elusive, researchers point to the herpes simplex virus (also responsible for cold sores) as the primary suspect.

The conventional Rx: Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as the steroid prednisone, and antiviral medications to reduce swelling in the affected facial nerve. But steroids can cause depression, blood thinning, and weight gain—and don’t always work.

The alternative rx: Acupuncture. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Bell’s palsy can be caused by exposure to cold elements—not necessarily a virus. “Cold and dampness attack the network vessels, channels, or collaterals in the face,” says Kathleen Albertson, LAc, PhD, an acupuncturist, herbalist, and holistic nutritionist in Irvine, California. “If those are blocked, it can cause numbness, loss of muscle tone, or paralysis.” Albertson combines several types of acupuncture (such as traditional, electro, and moxibustion) with herbs (including the formulas Symmetry and Flex (NP) by Evergreen Herbs) for best results.

The outcome: After two weeks and six treatments, Crosson regained about 60 percent of muscle function in her face. She received acupuncture twice a week for six months and regained 95 percent of movement.