"It hath flown against me. It hath attacked me. O seven heavens, seven earths, seven winds, seven fires, by heaven be ye exorcised." If you suffered from Tinnitus in Mesopotamian times (4000BC-500BC), this chant would be whispered in your ear until the demon spirit was expelled or the patient faked recovery, favouring the illness over the cure! In ancient Egypt they used infused oil, frankincense, tree sap, herbs and soil and administered the mixture via a reed stalk that they put in the external ear.
The Greco-Roman medicine folk were first to distinguish two types of tinnitus, one stemming from a cold (respiratory) and the other from the head (vascular) – either way, their cure was placing radish, cucumber juice, honey and vinegar in the ear and hoping for the best. In the Middle Ages, they continued with this pouring of things into the ear - a Welsh treatment recommended to take “a loaf of hot bread, divide it in two, and put it in each ear as hot as you could take it and thus perspire and by the help of God you would be cured”! These days, a cure for tinnitus remains elusive and treatment options are as varied as the people who suffer from it, but nutrition can play a positive role its management although it has more to do with eating the right food rather than sticking it in your ear!
Tinnitus is the perception of noise, buzzing, hissing or ringing in the ears, coming from within the ear rather than an external source. Affecting around 20% of the population, tinnitus isn't a condition itself per se, rather it is a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury, wax build-up or cardiovascular system disorder. There is good information of risk factors – prolonged exposure to loud noises, stress, ear wax and blockages, smoking and the natural aging process. Medical conditions associated with tinnitus include high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, circulatory problems, anaemia, allergies, an underactive thyroid gland and diabetes. Conventional treatment is largely dependent on these risk factors and the management of underlying issues with medication. Nutrition is an overlooked option for many yet most of the associated health conditions are well managed through diet and lifestyle measures.
Excess consumption of sodium is directly linked to tinnitus. It restricts blood vessels, increases blood pressure, and significantly reduces blood flow to the cochlea in the ear. It is also involved in the maintenance of cellular fluid balance which can affect the ear as well as other areas in the body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the kidney and ear are associated organs – not only are they similar in appearance, but also share common adversaries. A low-sodium diet involves using little or no salt in cooking, and never adding salt to your food at the table. Processed meats, ready-made foods, canned/powder soups, commercial bread products, many breakfast cereals and certain cheese are especially high in salt which is used as a preservative to increase shelf life.
Sugar metabolism is a factor worth noting, particularly if you also have type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes. The cochlea of the ear affected by tinnitus have a limited supply of nutrition, with only oxygen and glucose really making any impact to support proper function. Impaired sugar metabolism can directly affect the ear, as it can contribute to many of the conditions associated with tinnitus including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Do not be tempted to substitute sugar with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, even though it is marketed as a diabetic-friendly option. Aspartame and flavour-enhancer MSG are excitatory neurotransmitters. That is, they excite brain neurons and increase levels of electrical activity in the brain and the auditory cortex, the area where tinnitus is perceived. Studies have shown that people with tinnitus may have an elevated level of electrical activity and reducing this activity is helpful. Increasing electrical activity increases intensity and duration of tinnitus.
A diet rich in saturated animal fats and trans fats have a detrimental effect on our vascular system, clogging up the blood vessels and inhibiting the smooth flow of blood and nutrients to organs including the ear. Similarly, elimination of toxins out of organs can be impeded by restricted blood flow to and from organs. Healthy fats such omega 3 from oily fish, nuts and seeds, maintains blood flow by keeping blood thinner and supporting the walls of blood vessels for optimal circulation. A Mediterranean-style diet is the most studied and appropriate diet for both cardiovascular health and tinnitus as it can help prevent many of their common risk factors.
Eating foods that are close to their natural state, varied wholefoods, vegetables and fruits and simple, uncomplicated ingredients offer the best overall management for tinnitus and many of the conditions that are linked with it. For those unwilling to look to diet, I refer you back to the chanting and wish you luck!
Researched and written by Irene :)
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