Tinnitus is the medical term for “ringing in the ears.” It is the perception of ringing, hissing, or other sound in the ears when no external sound is present. It affects one in five individuals worldwide. It can range from mild to severe, and intermittent to constant. It may or may not be associated with a hearing impairment. Tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a symptom that can be caused by many medical conditions, including blood sugar disorders and chronic inflammation.
Causes of Tinnitus Include:
- Damage to the microscopic endings of the hearing nerve in the inner ear.
- Lack of blood flow to inner ear caused by hyperinsulinimia.
- Long-term use of aspirin in large doses, quinine, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Trauma-related damage to your inner ear or sustained exposure to loud noise.
- Lyme Disease; tinnitus can be a symptom. Lyme may be detected with a blood test.
- Candida: yeast can colonize anywhere in your body, including your ear canals. Your ears may itch or you may experience “fluttery” sensations.
- Temporomandibular joint problems (TMJ) may result in clicking or grating noises when you move the jaw.
- A rupture of the eardrum.
- High blood cholesterol clogs arteries that supply oxygen to the nerves of the inner ear. Older age can be accompanied by hearing nerve impairment and tinnitus.
- Specific foods may trigger tinnitus, including grains and grain-based spirits, dairy, red wine, chocolate and quinine/tonic water, high intake of hydrogenated fats, and excessive sodium.
- Ringing in the ears also sometimes accompanies vertigo (dizziness).
We approach tinnitus from a dietary perspective. Hyperinsulinimia, candida (yeast) and inflammation can cause or aggravate tinnitus.
According to tinnitus specialist Michael Seidman, MD, tinnitus sufferers will want to reduce or eliminate their use of processed salt, simple sugars, saturated and trans-fats, nicotine, caffeine and alcohol.
Excess salt restricts blood vessels, increases blood pressure and reduces blood flow into the ears, eyes and brain. Increased blood pressure is directly linked to increased tinnitus.
AVOID: Iodized table salt; instead, use mineral-rich natural salts such as RealSalt.
Also avoid processed and pre-packaged foods. For example, a can of soup contains more sodium than the recommended daily allowance for an adult person.
Sugar metabolism has an important role to play in the proper functioning of the auditory system. The auditory system and brain have no built-in food supply. They are completely dependent on the regular delivery of oxygen and glucose (sugar) from the blood supply. When this supply of nutrients is disturbed or interrupted, imbalance and damage can occur.1
Hyperinsulinemia is an elevation of insulin levels in the bloodstream. It is a direct consequence of a metabolic disorder known as insulin resistance. Insulin becomes less effective in transferring glucose from the bloodstream to the cells. The pancreas then produces more insulin in order to lower blood glucose levels and insulin levels increase. Hyperinsulinemia is known to be related to hypoglycemia and, as it progresses, can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. Studies have shown that 84% to 92% of people with tinnitus have a sugar metabolism disorder known as hyperinsulinemia.
Researchers at the Federal University in Brazil conducted a clinical study by treating tinnitus patients with a diet suitable for diabetics. For two years they were instructed to eat every three hours to prevent hypoglycemia; to avoid refined sugar and simple carbohydrates; to restrict their intake to two cups of coffee per day, limit intake of alcoholic beverages and drink four to six glasses of water per day. At the end of the study, 76% of the participants who observed the diet had improvement ranging from moderate to complete resolution of their tinnitus.2
Sugar Substitutes Worse Than the Real Thing?
Refined sugar and simple carbohydrates are something that should be avoided by people with tinnitus. Many sugar substitutes are worse than sugar itself. One of the worst is aspartame, sold under the trade names NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful and Indulge. Aspartame, along with glutamate, is an excitotoxin. It causes neurons to fire repeatedly until they become depleted and die. This damages the nervous system and can lead to neurodegenerative conditions including tinnitus.
Natural, unrefined sugars take longer to digest and do not provide a sugar rush to the bloodstream that triggers excess insulin production. Stevia and Xylitol are two natural sweeteners that are low on the glycemic index and are safe for diabetics. They can be found in health food stores or online at Amazon.com.
All Fats are Not Created Equal
Saturated and trans-fats adversely affect the body and aggravate tinnitus. Hydrogenated fats increase bad cholesterol (LDL), decrease good cholesterol (HDL), increase triglycerides and can lead to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is not only a risk factor in stroke and heart disease but also significantly reduces blood flow. Tinnitus can be cause by decreased blood flow to the ear. People who suffer from tinnitus need to increase blood flow to the inner ear to remove toxins and maintain healthy cells.
Good fats include coconut oil, pastured lard and ghee (clarified butter). These fats reduce inflammation and are energy sources for the brain. Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil have been shown to reduce inflammation and pain. They also increase insulin sensitivity and are helpful for people with diabetes and hyperinsulinemia.
Studies suggest that Omega-3s can improve insulin sensitivity in those with Type 2 Diabetes. An overview of clinical studies published in a 2002 Journal of the American College of Nutrition details how Omega-3’s are effective in the management of automimmune and inflammatory diseases. It states that coronary heart disease, depression, aging and cancer are characterized by an increased level of interleukin 1 (IL-1), a proinflammatory cytokine. Inflammation also can escalate tinnitus.
Supplement and Dietary Recommendations for Tinnitus
Omega-3 fatty acids are potent mood regulators. One theory is that they work like lithium and dampen over-active communication channels in the brain.3 People with tinnitus have hyperactive communication channels in the auditory cortex, which results in excessive electrical activity. Omega-3’s may help calm this electrical activity.4
In 23 cases of tinnitus treated with an infusion of Cordyceps, eight were reported as cured and nine significantly improved, while six found no improvement. The researchers concluded that Cordyceps was effective for tinnitus caused by fluid accumulation in the middle ear, while it was ineffective in cases with a long history of auditory nerve disorder.
2. International Tinnitus Journal, Volume 10, Number 1, 2004
4. 1. Valkov, Nathalie PhD, L.Ac Cordyceps: Treating Diabetes, Cancer and Other Illnesses. 2010.