Question: I am a 57-year-old man in relatively good health, although I had knee and hip replacements two years ago (I was a competitive rower for much of my life). I have recently developed tinnitus, and it’s driving me mad! My GP has told me I just have to put up with the constant buzzing in my ears, but there must be something I can do. Can you help? (C.R., via email)
Answer: Natural medicine can successfully treat tinnitus—the official medical name for persistent ringing, buzzing or hissing noises in one or both ears. Usually, an osteopath or chiropractor, who will attempt to manipulate the neck or jaw, is the first alternative port of call for people suffering with tinnitus. But while this can be an effective treatment for the related condition of vertigo, only occasionally will this help with tinnitus.1
Instead, I find that dietary and lifestyle changes are the best non-pharmacological approaches. Here’s a step-by-step guide to what works.
Steer clear of salicylates
Well known to cause tinnitus, these are chemicals found naturally in most plants (see box, page 54, for a long list of common salicylate-rich foods and drinks) and also used in aspirin and other drugs.2
If you’re sensitive to these chemicals, do a salicylate check of your medicine cabinet, and try a salicylate-free diet, which may well improve your symptoms and even lead to complete relief.3 After three months, you should be able to tell if there’s been any improvement.
Trim the fat
Try cutting down on foods high in saturated fats, like meat and hydrogenated fats (those which are solid at room temperature). In patients with high cholesterol, ringing in the ears is often reduced and sometimes disappears once they have less fat in their diet.4
Up your antioxidants
Supplementing your diet with a combination of vitamins A and E can often improve or cure tinnitus.5 In an Italian study of 31 patients with tinnitus, 18 weeks of oral antioxidant therapy, including beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E, reduced the intensity of tinnitus and the discomfort experienced by sufferers.6
Check your mineral status
Tinnitus has been linked to having depleted levels of zinc, magnesium and potassium, and supplementing with these minerals seems to help.3, 7
According to one review, elderly tinnitus sufferers in particular tend to be lacking in zinc, and supplements can be beneficial.8 One study reported that supplementing with zinc in elderly patients who were only marginally zinc-deficient improved tinnitus and hearing loss in about one-third of them.9
You can get your mineral status checked with a sweat test or hair mineral analysis by companies like Biolab Medical Unit, based in central London (www.biolab.co.uk; tel: 020 7636 5959).
The following homeopathic remedies can work for tinnitus: Abroma augusta, Atrax robustus, Antipyrinum, Cannabis indica, Carboneum sulphuratum, Glycosmis pentaphylla (also known as Atista indica), Hydrophis cyanocinctus, Melia azadirachta, Ocimum sanctum, Salicylicum acidum and Terminalia arjuna.10 For optimal results, consult a qualified homeopath for an individualized prescription.
Go for Ginkgo
The most promising approach in medical herbalism is with Ginkgo biloba extract, according to two double-blind clinical studies. In the first, tinnitus symptoms were improved with 13 months of treatment, however dire the prognosis was;11 in the other, 12 out of 33 patients were completely cured and five noted significant improvement of their symptoms.12 One review of studies with Ginkgo concluded that “there is evidence for the successful treatment of tinnitus with [a standardized extract of dried leaves containing 24 per cent Ginkgo flavonol glycosides]”.13
Watch out for salt and sugar
If your tinnitus has not responded to the natural methods mentioned so far, try reducing your daily intake of salt to 150–400 mg.14 You should also avoid refined commercial sugar too, as some tinnitus sufferers are sensitive to the sugarcane plant. In fact, there appears to be a link between tinnitus and hyperinsulinaemia—when there’s too much blood insulin in relation to glucose—which is often the first step towards developing full-blown type
Cut the carbs
Occasionally, tinnitus sufferers have high insulin levels with abnormal glucose tolerance test results at the same time. In such cases, a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet is likely to help.16
Be mindful of metals
A well-acknowledged cause of tinnitus is the heavy metals used in some cancer treatments, such as cis-platinum.17 Metal sensitivity is another potential cause worth considering. Metal implants (such as knee and hip replacements) can adversely affect the bones in your body, including the tiny bones in the ears which have to do with hearing and so cause other sensitivity reactions like tinnitus. Patch tests may be able to identify the metals behind your adverse reactions.18
You could also try supplementing with O-(beta-hydroxyethyl)-rutoside, a bioflavonoid related to rutin, which may improve or even completely resolve your symptoms, as it’s been shown to significantly improve symptoms typical of Menière’s disease, including tinnitus.19 Also, these supplements may be particularly helpful if your tinnitus is caused by a circulatory problem, as hydroxyethyl rutosides have “positive effects” on cholesterol and vascular factors.
High-salicylate foods and drinks
•Most culinary herbs, especially mint, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, dill, sage, marjoram, basil and oregano
•Most spices, particularly aniseed, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cumin, curry powder, fenugreek, kümmel (a liqueur flavoured with caraway, cumin, fennel), mace, mustard, paprika and turmeric
•Most fruits, except bananas, peeled pears, pomegranates, mangoes and paw-paws (papaya)
•Most vegetables, except cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bean sprouts, celery, leeks, lettuce and all types of peas; cucumbers, gherkins, olives and endive are particularly rich in salicylates; potato skins score high, but not white potatoes themselves
•Almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamias, peanuts, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, coconut and water chestnuts
•Coffee, black tea, peppermint tea, cola, fruit juices, most alcoholic drinks, but not gin, vodka, white rum and cachaça (sugarcane spirits)
•Honey, liquorice, peppermint, yeast spreads like Marmite, stock cubes, yeast-rich products like champagne, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, peri-peri sauce, many processed foods and instant meals
•Low salicylate foods include meats, fish, shellfish and other seafoods; milk, cheese and eggs; wheat, rye, oats, barley, maize, quinoa and rice