By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness
A few weeks ago, I told you about the damage noise can do to both our hearing and our health. But, imagine being assaulted by constant noise in one or both ears? That’s not a stretch for one third of all adults who report experiencing ringing, hissing, roaring, pulsing, whooshing, chirping, whistling or clicking in their ears—a condition known as tinnitus—at some time in their lives. And up to 15 percent of them suffer from prolonged tinnitus that can last for years.
Unknown Causes of Tinnitus
The problem is, no one really knows what causes tinnitus. Some scientists speculate that the culprit is nerve irritation from an unknown source. Luckily, for most of us, tinnitus isn’t permanent or serious. However, it can be the only symptom of an underlying condition such as hypertension so you should be checked by a doctor. At the very least, tinnitus can be extremely irritating.
Many cases of tinnitus follow eardrum damage, which can occur with long-term exposure to loud noises. Except in severe cases, taking 240 mg. of gingko biloba daily may help by bringing extra blood flow to the eighth cranial nerve, which controls turning mechanical sound waves into audible nerve impulses. Look for a ginkgo supplement that is standardized to contain 24 percent flavone glycosides and 6 percent terpene lactones.
Vinpocetine is another herbal supplement that can quiet the noise within—especially if the tinnitus is caused by a high volume trauma. In one study, vinpocetine supplements taken within one week of trauma relieved the symptoms in half the subjects. Even in people with older injuries, vinpocetine eased the severity of the ringing and improved hearing in more than two-thirds of cases.
Typically, people with tinnitus take 10 mg. of vinpocetine three times a day. And make sure you take it with food for best absorption. If you take it on an empty stomach, only 6.7 percent of the vinpocetine is absorbed, but with food the absorption rate shoots up to 60 to 100 percent. It’s also incredibly safe and the only side effects are occasional skin flushing or minor gastrointestinal upset in people taking larger than normal doses.
Tinnitus isn’t just triggered by overly loud rock music or nerve damage. Surprisingly, many drugs can also contribute to the condition. The primary culprits include aspartame, aspirin, steroids, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, antihistamines, anti-seizure drugs, some antibiotics and painkillers. If the drug use corresponds with the onset of your tinnitus, talk to your doctor about alternatives.
Whatever causes tinnitus, one nutrient that can help is zinc. In fact, zinc supplements have been used to successfully treat folks with both tinnitus and hearing loss. In one study, about 25 percent of the participants experienced improvement after taking 100 mg. of zinc daily for 3 to 6 months. What’s so special about zinc? It’s an essential component of the powerful antioxidant superoxide dismutase (SOD) and it is important for proper function of the immune system. Other studies show that up to 69 percent of people with tinnitus are also deficient in zinc. If you think you are deficient, have your doctor check your levels and work with him or her on the appropriate dosage. Otherwise, you can take 15 mg. of zinc daily. Just be aware that, if you take zinc on a long term basis, you also need to take 2 mg. of copper per day to prevent becoming deficient in that mineral.
Vitamin B-12 Deficiency
A vitamin B-12 deficiency can also negatively impact the auditory pathway. In one study of 113 soldiers, 47 percent of those with tinnitus were also lacking in vitamin B-12. Have your doctor test your levels and if needed, take a B complex. The B vitamins work in concert, so take them together.
Your Last Resort- Masking
Tinnitus can be notoriously tough to treat, but these natural strategies can make it more bearable. And, while some cases do disappear by themselves, don’t be surprised if your doctor tells you that you just need to learn to live with the noise. If ginkgo, vinpocetine, zinc and B12 don’t help, there’s one last thing you can try—masking. While this technique won’t get rid of the racket, it may make it easier to tolerate. Masking involves the use of a low-level white noise machine that blocks out the sound created by the tinnitus. This “white noise” sound effectively creates a sense of calm, making it easier to concentrate, relax and sleep.
Coelho CB, et al. Zinc as a possible treatment for tinnitus. Progress in Brain Research. 2007;166:279-285.
Hahn A, et al. Multimodal therapy for chronic tinnitus. International Tinnitus Journal. 2008;14:69-72.
Morgenstern C, et al. The efficacy of Ginkgo special extract EGb 761 in patients with tinnitus. International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2002;40:188-197.
Savage J, et al. Tinnitus. Clinical Evidence. 2007 Aug 1;2007. pii: 0506.