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Does diet influence tinnitus?

August 16, 20235 min read

What we eat has a profound effect on the way our bodies function and our risk of developing many diseases. But is there any evidence that dietary changes can actually influence tinnitus? Let's explore that subject in more detail:

We’ve all heard these two timeless maxims:

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT 

and 

FOOD IS MEDICINE

Many may view these sayings as trite, but the more I have learned about biochemistry and the influence of diet on health, the more I have come to appreciate the wisdom of these precepts. 

Our dietary choices are directly tied to our risk of obesity, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, stroke, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. These chronic diseases are among the most common causes of morbidity and premature death.

Collectively, metabolic risks, primarily caused by an unhealthy diet, accounted for nearly 20% of total health loss worldwide in 2019— that’s 50% higher than it was in 1990. These metabolic risks are also responsible for a huge number of deaths globally—with high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol contributing to almost 27 million deaths worldwide in 2019.  

In fact, of the ten risk factors associated with the highest numbers of deaths in 2019, seven are largely related to dietary choices.

But how is this related to my tinnitus, you may be asking.

Although there is not great scientific evidence to date that dietary choices influence tinnitus directly, we know that diet shapes a number of tinnitus modulators such as:

Sympathetic nervous system activity- some research suggests that carbohydrates in our diet may increase sympathetic nervous system excitation. (We discuss a lot about the relationship between sympathetic nervous system activity and tinnitus in the Alleviate Integrative Tinnitus Therapy program). 

Mood and mental health- Two randomized controlled clinical trials, one called HELFIMED and the other called SMILES, demonstrated that eating a Mediterranean style diet for several months significantly reduced the severity of depression.

Sleep quality- Studies suggest that a diet high in carbohydrates and fat negatively impacts sleep architecture and that a diet deficient in vitamin D results in poorer sleep measures and quality of life. (The relationship between sleep problems and tinnitus is another key topic in the Alleviate Integrative Tinnitus Therapy program).  

Feelings of well-being- Several studies have documented a dose-response relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and measures of psychological and subjective well-being. That means the more fruit and vegetables we have in our diets, the better we tend to feel. 

Healthy brain and auditory function- Observational studies have demonstrated that those with more fish consumption in their diet appear to develop less hearing loss over time. 

In addition, the amount of certain polyunsaturated fatty acids in our diets has a significant effect on our brain health. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential components in our diets because humans and animals cannot manufacture them ourselves. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are key components of the cell membranes of our brain neurons and they play a role in the manufacture of many signaling molecules that regulate inflammation and other important processes. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in our diets appears to be important. The typical modern western diet has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of about 10:1. The optimum ratio is probably around 4:1. Some research suggests that improving our omega-3 intake, either by eating more foods like fish, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and avocados or by taking a fish oil supplement may help improve our brain function, sleep, and mood, and potentially protect against dementia.  

Christopher Spankovich and his research group at the University of Florida published several studies between 2013 and 2017 that investigated the relationship between diet, hearing loss, and tinnitus. They poured through tons of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey database and compared the Healthy Eating Index of subjects with their hearing function and reports of tinnitus. The Healthy Eating Index is a score between 0 and 100 that estimates how closely a person’s diet matches the US recommended dietary guidelines. What they demonstrated was that subjects with higher healthy eating index scores had less hearing loss and were less likely to suffer from persistent tinnitus. 

In addition, a small randomized controlled trial in Greece demonstrated that 3 months of supplementation with a comprehensive multivitamin along with several antioxidants including alpha lipoic acid significantly reduced both tinnitus intensity and discomfort in a group of patients (The details of what is contained within this supplement is available to Alleviate members).

Also, a randomized controlled trial in the Netherlands demonstrated that taking a folate supplement daily for 3 years slowed the decline in hearing among aging adults.

Unfortunately, there is so much conflicting messaging in the media about what kind of diet is the healthiest. It’s also confusing because recommendations have evolved over time. In the 1980s, dietary fat and cholesterol were declared the enemies so many food companies tried to modify their products to be lower in fat. However, the food didn’t taste as good without the fat, so many food companies replaced the fat with sugar. Now, it seems the extra sugar in our diets, influenced by such changes, has further fueled the obesity epidemic and increased the incidence of Type II diabetes. We’ve also come to realize since the 1980s that not all fats are bad. Certain healthy fats in our diet are essential and actually improve our overall health. 

For more information on our specific diet recommendations, sign up for the Alleviate Integrative Tinnitus Therapy Program at www.AlleviateTinnitusTherapy.com 

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