The Connection Between Diet and Tinnitus
Whether you’ve had ringing in your ears after leaving a show at ACL, or you hear a buzzing noise seemingly louder than everyone around you on a daily basis, you have experienced tinnitus. Tinnitus is the perception of any sound-whether it’s ringing, buzzing, whooshing, or whistling-that does not originate from an external sound source. It actually arises from the ear or brain! This ringing can be acute and short-lived (think the scenario above from ACL), or chronic and possibly debilitating. For those suffering from chronic tinnitus, there are several factors that can exacerbate it. The good thing about knowing these factors is they can be adjusted to affect the perception of tinnitus. One of these factors is DIET.
The new year has just started, and most people are more aware of their health and the connection between our bodies and our diet or exercise routines. We are aware that altering your diet to be more health-conscious may reduce body fat, combat disease (i.e. diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis), improve sleep quality, improve skin and hair conditions, boost energy, improve overall mood, lift “brain-fog,” improve longevity… need I go on? Okay I will. Altering your diet as a chronic tinnitus sufferer may also reduce the perception of your tinnitus!
Diet-related exacerbating factors of tinnitus include a high caffeine consumption, excessive alcohol use, high sodium or sugar intake, and excessive consumption of pre-packaged or processed foods. Let’s take a further look at how these may impact your tinnitus:
- Caffeine: There have been mixed reviews on the effect of caffeine in relation to tinnitus in recent years, but there is no question caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and can affect proper blood flow to the inner ear. The safe bet is to limit caffeine intake.
- Alcohol: Drinking alcohol increases blood flow within the inner ear, causing the opportunity for tinnitus to be enhanced. Additionally, frequent episodes of alcohol-induced tinnitus or hearing loss may permanently alter inner ear funciton;
- Sodium: Exccess sodium in the body causes increased water retention to maintain the appropriate fluid and salt balance. This increases blood volume leading to increased blood pressure, restricting blood flow to important areas like the inner ear. This can cause a significant increase in the perception of your tinnitus and make it more noticeable.
- Pre-packaged or processed foods: We just talked about sodium... 1 cup of Chex Mix Bold Party Blend holds 400mg of sodium... and who stops at 1 cup?! The higher saturated and trans-fats in a majority of processed foods are also contributors to poor tinnitus health.
- Sugar or sugar substitutes: The blood supply to our ears and brain are quite literally feeding these structures with oxygen and glucose (sugar). Disrupting your blood sugar levels can lead to a host of issues such as increased insulin production, possibly leading to Type II Diabetes and increased tinnitus.
Now, it sounds like I just took all the best things in life away from you: coffee, margaritas, chips and salsa… This isn’t the case. It’s not about eliminating every ingredient that makes food taste delicious, but they should be monitored if your tinnitus is driving you crazy. For example, the FDA recommends no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day for an average individual, reducing that number to 1,500mg for “certain groups” such as those with hypertension (or who have tinnitus exacerbated by high salt intake). This means that rather than hitting Shake Shack for a Shackburger on your way home from work (which packs a whopping 1,610mg of sodium by the way), you head home to cook up your own burgers with whatever seasonings float your boat.
Preventative care is recommended over palliative care, but if everything I’ve said isn’t enough to convince you to change your diet to improve not only your tinnitus but your overall health, welp, you can always see your audiologist for tinnitus masking recommendations and counseling.